Talking with Arun Chandra, Vice President of Scaled Operations at the Facebook company, is like taking a masterclass in leadership. With more than 25 years of experience, many of which were in senior leadership roles, Arun has a lot to say. His affable style makes you want to listen and learn. It’s no wonder he was recruited to lead the Scaled Operations team at Facebook.
The Scaled Operations team oversees tens of thousands of people around the world, who support a number of business lines across the company—from content moderation for community safety and integrity, to commerce, to labeling operations. It’s Arun’s responsibility to provide the best level of support to these teams while ensuring the ecosystem is working effectively and efficiently.
Managing and scaling a team of that size requires patience, empathy and compassion, qualities Arun displays when talking about his own path. We sat down with Arun for a conversation on his journey to Facebook and what keeps him here, his leadership philosophy, and guiding teams through change.
You joined Facebook in 2018. What led you to make that decision? And what keeps you at Facebook?
Learning new things has always been a driving motivator for me. At my previous company, I was starting to feel as though my learning curve was flattening out. So when Facebook called, it was that growth and learning mindset that inspired me to have the conversation and pursue the opportunity.
I genuinely enjoy solving complex operational problems and with the scale of Facebook, there is absolutely no dearth. There are few places where you can actually work at this scale. I also knew coming into the role that there were big challenges to solve, particularly around content moderation, and that was very motivating to me.
The people I met during my interviews and the research I did led me to believe the biggest misconception about Facebook was that people externally feel we are not doing enough. That we don't care. However, across Facebook there is an intense focus on ensuring we prioritize the safety of our teams and communities.
Joining Facebook and experiencing the culture firsthand immediately reaffirmed my decision to join the team. The people and Facebook’s mission keep me here.
Over the last 25 years, you’ve held different senior leadership roles at other large companies and even stints at start-ups. How would you compare that experience to your time at Facebook?
The uniqueness of Facebook’s culture really stands out to me. This is a very people-centric, relationship-oriented, bottom-up culture, which is not the case for all companies. In other organizations, the focus might be more on costs or business outcomes. At Facebook, we start from a position of putting people first. That is a very distinct part of our culture.
When I first joined the team, there were a lot of issues that needed to be solved immediately. I went into overdrive and assumed everyone was aligned. While people appreciated the problems being solved, I didn’t take the time to build deep relationships. I quickly learned it’s not always about work. People want to know their teammates and leaders. There’s a personal investment in building relationships that is critical to being a good leader.
I also appreciate that Facebook encourages leaders to be vulnerable and bring their authentic selves to work. You occasionally hear people talk about leaders always needing to project an image of strength and never expressing weakness. But leaders are human too, and they all have their own insecurities. They don't have all the answers. The encouragement to be a vulnerable yet strong leader is also unique to Facebook.
“Ensuring people are given opportunities to have open and honest conversations is more important now than ever before. We have to provide people with the grace and space to navigate this time.”
Art by Sofie Ramos (@sofieramos) through Facebook Open Arts
Between the global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, an intense election year and more, how has this moment in time changed your views on leadership?
I'm an optimist who’s always trying to find the silver lining. Operationally, we went through a lot of challenges because of COVID-19 but we learned so much more about our business in the process. The same is true for the Black Lives Matter movement following the George Floyd murder. This was a wake-up call for many people. At Facebook, we tried to create space for people to come together to listen and learn, and also look inward to discover what we could change internally to become a more inclusive company.
The most important thing we can do for our teams right now is to operate from a place of empathy. As a leader, it’s critical to understand where people are coming from. We must realize that everyone is in a different place and facing different issues.
And this is true around the world–for example, our team in Dublin is very diverse. People on the team speak 67 languages and come from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Romania, and other places. They’re away from their families and friends, and stuck in their apartments because of COVID, so it’s important that we approach all of these challenges with a global mindset.
When it comes to social justice, within the Global Operations team we’ve launched a very comprehensive diversity and inclusion (D&I) program. We created a D&I council to generate ideas and build deliberate action plans to find, grow, and keep diverse talent across all our teams.
Ensuring people are given opportunities to have open and honest conversations is also more important now than ever before. We have to provide people with the grace and space to navigate this time. Every one of my leads meetings now starts with a personal check-in. We spend the first few minutes inviting people to share how they are doing outside of work. As a team, we have developed more trust and empathy because of these conversations. We have forged tighter bonds knowing there's a safe space for us to be able to share our personal situations.
How do you stay motivated?
Working out motivates me, but my biggest source of inspiration comes from being mission-oriented. I’m a huge believer in the Facebook mission. I feel accountable and responsible for everyone on my team. This sense of responsibility and accountability motivates and drives me. If I’m not motivated, how can I expect my leaders to be motivated?
The root of all of these things—leading through change, motivating and inspiring yourself and your team—goes back to relationships. Building strong relationships with each other leads to a foundation of trust. In turn, this fosters a culture of collaboration. And from an operational perspective, I’ve found that clarifying roles and responsibilities is also a great team motivator. It may sound counter-intuitive, but if there’s lack of clarity, collaboration is challenging because nobody is ultimately accountable. It’s my job to provide that clarity.
That’s excellent advice for up-and-coming leaders, to think about clarity of roles in the same way you think about building your team’s foundation. Could you also share with us what you look for when you’re interviewing someone for a role on your team? What experience or skills do you look for?
Experience will vary greatly based on the role but one trait that applies to all roles is a positive attitude. By that I mean how interested are they in the role? Are they really keen to join Facebook or are they just looking for a job? Do they want to help solve problems? That goes such a long way.
From a hard skills perspective, we look at a few things. Ideally, the person is passionate about operations or has an operational bent. So even if you don’t have direct operations experience, having an operational bent means you’re a structured thinker and have discipline in your approach to solving problems. You’re intellectually curious.
You talked a bit earlier about the importance of starting each day with a workout as your motivation for the day. So working out aside, what’s the best part of your day?
The best part of my day is in the evening when I have dinner with my family, especially after a long work day. It is the time to put work aside and spend quality time with my wife and daughter. My son is already in college and next year my daughter will leave as well. My wife and I have been married for over 30 years and now we are planning for the next chapter: being empty nesters.
Explore Career Opportunities on the Scaled Ops Team
Teams at Facebook span the globe, working cross-functionally and through external partners to help give people the power to build community and keep people safe on our platforms. Our Scaled Operations team is responsible for the effectiveness, efficiency, and wellbeing of this global workforce. Check out these open opportunities: