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The change Facebook drastically needs

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Facebook has been in the limelight lately—and not for good reason. With the departure of 11 senior managers in the last several months, its longest service outage just recently, and a scandalous 2018 that included investigations from the FBI, the FTC, and the SEC and a variety of other privacy and security problems. Facebook has not been a model for talent optimization.

Unfortunately, the company’s troubles continue to grow. Facebook recently discovered it had exposed hundreds of millions of passwords to employees in a plain-text format and its AI failed to detect a live broadcast of a terrorist shooting. Meanwhile, Facebook’s stock is justifiably down, analysts continue to downgrade the stock, and stakeholders have been pushing for CEO Mark Zuckerberg to step down from his role as chairman of the board.

With all the bad news surrounding Facebook, it’s hard to have hope that a solution is on the horizon. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The solution: talent optimization

What Facebook could really benefit from is the practice of talent optimization—a revolutionary discipline that aligns people strategy with business strategy.

The talent optimization discipline has four components:

1. Diagnose: Measure critical people data, analyze that data in the context of your business, and prescribe remedies as needed.

2. Design: Purposefully build the right structure, leadership team, and culture.  

3. Hire: Bring in the right talent across the organization to achieve business goals.

4. Inspire: Use people data to drive high performance through better leaders, teams, and culture.  

Talent optimization takes a programmatic and disciplined approach to helping businesses succeed by being purposeful about the alignment of talent and business strategy.

All that to introduce that Facebook needs to do things very differently, very quickly. In this case, the best place to start is with Design.  

Flipping the quadrant

As with Snapchat and Tesla, it’s become increasingly obvious that these companies are operating in the wrong quadrant. For this reason alone, they’re wholly unprepared to deal with the challenges they’re facing. Their strategies, leadership, and cultures are not designed to effectively attack regulatory, process, and operating excellence strategies. There are probably many at Facebook that long for the days when they were smaller, could innovate more, and didn’t have the eyes of the world reacting to their transgressions.  

The PI Strategy Model

Let me introduce you to the PI Strategy Model that sits at the core of our approach to the talent optimization aptitude of Design. The PI Strategy  Model is based largely on the work of Miles, Snow, Meyer, and Coleman and Quinn and Rohrbaugh. It provides a modern take on four areas of strategy, while also providing a foundation for building inferences about complementary and conflicting nature of culture and behavior. The model is a powerful tool for understanding the alignment of strategy, leadership behaviors, and organizational culture.   

Innovative technology companies tend to build their strategy, culture, and leadership in a way that’s heavily aligned with the upper two quadrants of the model (see Figure 1). These models involve building a highly engaged workforce (Cultivating) and executing on a strategy that’s all about being nimble, fast, and innovative (Exploring).  

Figure 1: PI Strategy Model

Despite Facebook’s infamy, it’s well-known for creating a highly engaged workforce through their amazing corporate campus, laundry list of employee benefits, and, up until recently, a #1 ranking as best place to work.

As for innovation and agility, the results are pretty self-evident, as Facebook has literally changed the world.  

But as companies like Facebook grow, there becomes an increasing need for discipline, process-orientation, operational excellence, and controls. If these are not implemented, what happens is what Facebook is currently experiencing: tech failures, security problems, investigations, and so on. With this in mind, we see where Facebook needs to redesign the company to meet these new strategic needs. That’s flipping the quadrant.  

What flipping the quadrant looks like


Figure 2 shows an extreme example of flipping the quadrant, where the strategy, leadership, and culture must realign towards more risk mitigation, efficiency, security, and structure (Stabilizing). It’s about finding success by moving past just inventing to getting more performance out of existing offerings with the goal of increasing customer loyalty. In other words, stop building new products and start fixing the problems in your current offerings.  

Figure 2: Flipping the quadrant

Flipping the quadrant seems rather simple, but it’s by no means an easy task. In fact, moving from Exploring to Stabilizing can be a monumental challenge, because the underlying structural elements mean a company must transition from being flexible with an external focus (e.g., the customer and the market) to putting significantly more emphasis on control and internal focus (e.g., process). That would require an entirely new structure, new leadership, and a new culture.  

That’s just not realistic for many organizations, nor would it help Facebook. Because, while they’re fixing some of the existing problems, they would likely begin to lose to competitors, eventually becoming MySpace 2.0.  

Flipping the quadrant at Facebook  

Realistically, what does Facebook need to do?

They need to perform a partial quadrant flip, similar to what you see in Figure 3. That is, they need a portion of their strategy, leadership, and culture to be aligned to tackle the increasing regulatory and operating challenges they face. Wishing the problems away won’t work, and hoping that innovative leaders can roll up their sleeves and internalize the needed behaviors isn’t going to help.

Here are feasible next steps for Facebook:

Figure 3: Minor quadrant flipping

1. Align on strategy.

To rectify the severe challenges Facebook is facing, they need to align their business strategy to solve those problems. This means that privacy, security, and other operational elements need to become key initiatives that the leadership prioritizes over innovation. If the leadership team is not aligned on this strategy, the rest of this is irrelevant. But let’s move forward assuming that there’s alignment on these critical issues.

2. Hire the right leaders.

Facebook is hemorrhaging talent and key leaders are leaving. Instead of replacing them with other Silicon Valley executives with innovative spirits, it’s time to think differently.

Some of the new leaders need to be proven stabilizers. They must be leaders who value doing things right, strategically, rigorously, and procedurally. They should be given the tools, power, and freedom to tackle these serious issues how they need to—even if it’s contrary to Facebook’s usual operating procedure.

3. Update the culture.

Because the company’s longevity now requires more than just innovation, it’s time to create room in the culture to reward the painstaking work of doing no harm. It may not be fun or visionary. It may require less collaboration and more rules and structure. But if Facebook is going to succeed, it can’t just change strategy and hire a few leaders to execute on that strategy. It needs to make sure that company values align with this new strategy and it becomes ingrained as the way things get done now.

The Design phase is about getting critical alignment at the top between the strategy, leaders, and culture. It should be noted that Design is not a one-time event. It should be revisited on an annual basis, at a minimum, so the company can stay ahead of needed change.

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Incorporating talent optimization into the Facebook culture

Once Facebook has the Design aptitude under control, leadership can move on to the other three components of talent optimization.

Diagnose

Measure and analyze people data about the employee experience and make sure the culture is actually accepting the increased focus on rigor and process.

Facebook already does a good job at measuring the employee experience, but they could improve by assessing behavioral change at the ground level (e.g., Are process, security, and privacy matters getting more time and attention?).

Hire

Hire more of the right people who have stabilizing tendencies to build teams that are more aligned with the organizational goals. This is going to be a challenge, because while Facebook likely has “stabilizers” in many roles, there’s going to be a need to hire more to fill roles that were once occupied by innovative and entrepreneurial types.  

Inspire

Inspire the entire organization by helping them work better together. As Facebook brings on more talent who are driven by safety, security, privacy, and doing things right, there will be more need for employees to understand how to work together and communicate more effectively. Think about the conflict that will arise between the different personality types, as some are wired to grow, while the others are wired to stabilize; some are wired to do things the right way, others are wired to do things the fast way. Managers will need new tools to facilitate better team collaboration, improve their ability to understand and coach, and help team members deal with conflict and build stronger relationships.   

Ultimately, for Facebook to really turn things around and thrive, they need to reorient themselves—starting with their talent. Bringing on leaders and employees who relish making things right, while rebuilding an already strong culture with elements that value the “do no harm” philosophy, is sorely needed for this struggling giant.

Greg is the SVP of science at PI.

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