A former Facebook HR exec says many bosses are too uncomfortable to ask people a hugely important question

A former Facebook HR exec says many bosses are too uncomfortable to ask people a hugely important question

sarah wagener

Courtesy of Sarah Wagener

Make it OK to talk about failure, says Sarah Wagener, pictured.

  • A boss should ask employees: "Do you believe you've mastered your current role?" and if not, where they'd like to improve.
  • That's according to Sarah Wagener, chief people officer at Doordash and a former recruiting leader at Facebook.
  • Wagener said it's important for managers to create space for people to talk about failure, which companies like Google say they do.

When she works with employees who are just itching to take the next step in their careers, Sarah Wagener likes to ask a simple question: "Do you believe you've mastered your current role?"

Typically, the answer is no.

But Wagener - who is the chief people officer at DoorDash, a former vice president of human resources at Pandora, and a former recruiting leader at Facebook - often hears a curious follow-up comment: "I haven't really ever had a conversation this openly about what I'm not that great at or where I'm not as strong."

To be sure, Wagener gets why this happens. "As human beings, we tend to like to focus on the stuff that we do really well," she said. "I know that I love nothing more than to be in my sweet spot." That is to say, most of us aren't inclined to reveal to the person who determines our employment status all the ways we're falling short.


That's why Wagener thinks it's even more important for managers to create a space "where members of your team feel safe and comfortable talking about what they're not great at just as much as they like talking about the things that they're really good at."

Employees may realize there are new challenges to take on even within their current role

Google has been known to use some version of this strategy. Laszlo Bock, Google's former SVP of people operations, previously said "we spend probably an equal amount of time actually talking about failure" and planning for future success ("we" being Google managers in their conversations with employees).

In fact, talking openly about failure - and even encouraging it - may be an effective way to manage younger workers. An article in Quartz by millennial Jake Poses, former vice president of product at Thumbtack, posits that managing millennials comes down to letting them fail.

Poses writes: "I often give millennials on my team something that's a real stretch. I put them in charge of a project with a big and ambiguous scope, ask them to build something with a new technology, or even give them the responsibility of managing their first person."

Read more: A former Google HR exec says people have been asking him how to get promoted for years, and he always responds with the same question


That doesn't mean the burden falls entirely on managers' shoulders. Wagener also told Business Insider that it's important for employees to ask their managers for help in areas where they're struggling.

"If you're trying to put on a facade that everything is perfect to your manager," Wagener said, "they're not going to be in a position to, A, help you or, B, keep an eye out for things that could be a barrier for you."

The ideal result of embracing weaknesses is twofold. For one, employees will be able to address their flaws and boost their performance.

Less obviously, employees may realize that career progression doesn't necessarily mean "moving upward," Wagener said. It may mean tackling parts of your current job you haven't yet approached and seizing "other opportunities that maybe weren't completely vertical from where you're sitting."