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Snapchat, it’s time for a talent optimization triage.

February 1, 2019

Snapchat, it’s time for a talent optimization triage.

By Greg Barnett, PhD February 1, 2019

A recent article on Recode explained that in the last 18 months, Snapchat has had massive turnover at the executive level. At least 10 executives who reported directly to CEO Evan Spiegel left the company. High turnover at the top is brutal to a company. It tells the world: “Even these highly-paid people aren’t willing to stick around.” 

Digging a little deeper, we can see that Snap’s problems trickle down to employees at lower levels. Snap has a paltry 3.0 Glassdoor rating. Forty-three percent of employees approve of Spiegel while 44 percent would recommend the company to a friend.

When the captains of the ship jump overboard, the employees will too because disengagement and turnover are contagious. Where will they go? Well, Snap’s competitor Facebook starts looking pretty good with its 4.4 Glassdoor rating, 94 percent CEO approval, and 87 percent willingness to recommend to a friend.

With high executive turnover, low employee engagement, and a declining stock price, Snap and Spiegel are in a world of hurt—and it’s likely costing them tens (if not hundreds) of millions per year.  

So what’s the solution to Snap’s woeful problems? A gut reaction might be to bring down the axe and send Spiegel packing. And on the surface, this seems to be a reasonable solution.

But there’s a better way to solve Snap’s business challenges—a discipline that will reduce turnover, drive higher engagement, and align talent with the business goals. As an added bonus, this solution will create a foundation for talent greatness in the future.

Talent optimization is the solution to Snapchat’s business woes.

I’m talking about talent optimization—in this case, a talent optimization triage! Ideally, Snap would bring in Gordon Ramsey to implement its talent optimization triage because some yelling might be necessary. (Kidding.) What’s really needed is a good talent optimization consultant, a willing CEO, a pissed off board, and some elbow grease.

Taking a talent optimization approach, here’s what a consultant might tell Snap to do:

1. Stop everything.

Don’t hire another executive, make a talent move, or try to paint the vision to employees. It’s not working so don’t keep doing it.

2. Align on strategy.

Get your remaining business leaders to ask themselves some important questions: What’s our business strategy? Is it agreed upon? Is there alignment? Is there confidence in it? Why or why not?

If you’re struggling to get on the same page here, you’re going to do even worse when it comes to hiring the right people, inspiring them to perform, and keeping their hearts and minds in the game. All your efforts need to map back to your strategy.

3. Diagnose culture and engagement.

Companies that don’t diagnose their organizational culture and employee engagement are making a huge mistake. If Snap had regularly collected, measured, and analyzed its people data, it would have seen these problems coming and it could have prescribed corrective actions proactively.

In this case, you need to diagnose in response to the problem: high turnover. Doing this means you uncover the root cause of your business problems … but it also means you hear the brutal truth from employees. But it’s necessary.

Analyze the data to see which forces are zapping employee engagement and productivity, then plan a lightning strike.

talent optimization consultant

4. Evaluate leadership abilities against the strategy.

Evaluate the C-Suite. If you have the right strategy but the wrong senior leadership it’s like bringing a fork to the ice cream shop.  

Do your senior leaders have the skills needed to execute the business strategy? Where are there gaps? What skills, personalities, values, or experience are needed to fill those gaps? While executives can work to build skills, you’ll need to do some hiring too. Get the right people with the right fit on board to do the heavy lifting.

After evaluating leadership abilities, some companies find that their founder is no longer the right person to lead the company. Innovators don’t always make great operational managers or people leaders. We see this all the time where someone is great at driving innovation and change but doesn’t know how to slow down, connect with people, and establish structure. 

5. Inspire at the grassroots.

Your investigation will likely uncover some major, widespread organizational culture problems. These will take time to fix.

In the meantime, make meaningful changes to re-engage the rest of your employees who are in the trenches every day. Arm every employee with people data insights via a talent optimization platform to reduce workplace friction, improve communication and collaboration, and create better interpersonal synergy. Give managers access to employee experience data and have them work hand-in-hand with their team to find fixes—using the platform’s insight to tailor the way they manage each individual according to their behavioral preferences.

The more in-sync employees feel with their role, their team, their manager, and their culture, the more engaged and productive they’ll be. Research shows that improving engagement by just a tiny bit can have huge implications to the bottom line.  Make talent a priority, align people with business strategy, and witness the greatness that can result. 

6. Upgrade hiring.

Build a selection system that’s focused on finding the right people for the culture, for the strategy, and for the roles. There are plenty of ways to do this right and none of them involve coming up with bizarre interview questions like “How many tennis balls fit in an Olympic-sized swimming pool?”

Hire smart. Look at your business strategy and your diagnosis results to reinvent what your A+ players look like. Make sure they people you bring in are a behavioral and cognitive fit for the role, a fit for their team dynamics, and an organizational culture fit.

Companies that implement talent optimization often discover that the behavioral profile of the people they have may not be the model of success for the future. That’s why the hiring process must be continuously evaluated and optimized as needed. 

7. Go all in.

Seriously, pour your heart and soul into making these needed changes. CEOs often find this step silly. But a great product person like Spiegel needs to invest as much effort into his employees as he does his product. That means doing the things that drive engagement like showing people how they’re playing on a winning team, how much they’re valued, that their pain is felt, and that things are going to get better.  

Employees need optimism; they have to believe there’s a way to win, their leadership is committed, and there’s a plan.

8. Keep the cycle going.

Talent optimization isn’t a one-time event. Implementing talent optimization in an organization means adopting a philosophy where people and business strategy must remain in alignment. Keep diagnosing your people data (ideally proactively), correcting any issues (or brewing issues), and creating an environment where people have trust and understanding for each other.

It takes this type of proactive, ongoing work to attract and retain the kind of A+ talent you need for the future.  

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Talent optimization is a discipline.

To Spiegel or any other CEO who’s struggling with people problems: the discipline of talent optimization isn’t a silver bullet, but it is a strategic way to turn things around if you’re willing to do the work. 

For Snap and countless other companies who have hit tough times, the answer isn’t always to outsell, out-innovate, or out-compete. The answer is to take a strategic, data-driven approach to problem-solving, to align your people strategy with your business strategy, and to treat your people with the care they deserve. 

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