A Case Study of Facebook’s Simply Amazing Talent Management Practices, Part 2 of 2

Sep 16, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 12.00.32 PMIn part 1 of this series I covered the first 24 amazing talent management practices at Facebook. In this part, I will cover the remaining unique 21 best practices that you can learn from.

If you’re not aware of Facebook’s success, within 15 months of its IPO, its average employee produces over $1.3 million in revenue and $120,000 in profit each a year. has rated the firm No. 1 for employee satisfaction and its employees rate its CEO No. 1 with an almost perfect 99 percent approval rating. My primary contribution in this case study is to provide insight into the business reasoning behind each of its unique practices. The 45+ features are separated into 10 different categories. As you scan through these best practices, see if you don’t agree that they are unique. If you would like to learn from what I can only call simply amazing and results generating talent practices, read on.

The physical space encourages openness, collaboration and innovation

  1. An open floor plan to encourage collaboration — its office space design may even surpass Google’s in encouraging openness, collaboration, and innovation. Rather than offices or cubicles, everyone it seems has a simple standing desk (for its health benefits) but also because it improves sharing and collaboration. Without obstructions between employees, one can easily see and hear a dozen coworkers whenever they have an issue or a success. Because the corporate message is clearly one of openness, you simply won’t find a lot of locked doors or keep out signs like you do at most corporation headquarters. The main campus has a striped two-lane “road” running down the middle of the entire campus length and because there are free bikes located everywhere, it encourages interaction between “distant” teams on different ends of the campus. Also when its new “across the street building” is ready, an underground tunnel will make interaction still quite easy.
  2. Despite being a social media firm, Facebook is a “come-to-work” culture — as a firm that has a 100 percent online product, you would think that it would encourage work from home. But like other firms in the neighborhood (Google, Apple, and Yahoo) it encourages physically showing up to work by offering great food, amenities, and a free shuttle ride to work. In a culture where continuous rapid innovation is the lifeblood, the data simply shows that face-to-face interaction between non-team members is the driver of collaboration.
  3. “No meeting Wednesday” provides uninterrupted time — the firm informally emphasizes avoiding scheduled meetings on Wednesday. This midweek meetingless day assures “makers” (programmers) will have at least one complete a day of uninterrupted time. Being free of interruptions is especially important to programmers because a single interruption like a meeting can require a whole or half day to get back into the flow of their work. To add flexibility, many employees use Wednesday as a work-at-home day when they need it.
  4. No place makes it easier to get to work — in order to make it as easy as possible for employees to get to work, Facebook offers free Wi-Fi shuttle buses from distant locations as far as an hour away. The buses not only improve attendance but they also increase productivity because employees can both collaborate and work while they are riding. The firm also offers free train passes, van pools, and of course free auto parking. Few firms treat bicyclists better than Facebook because it has a bike commuting program and a manned full-service bike shop on campus!
  5. Working out and play are easy — of course Facebook has an onsite fitness center, and for busy employees, there are even treadmill desks for workouts when you are working. For fun, it has a fully stocked videogame room, a movie theater, a print shop, a skateboard course, and free on-campus bicycles. In addition the campus is located right on San Francisco bay, so it has a beautiful walking and biking path with a breath taking view.
  6. No need to leave campus for personal needs either — Keeping employees on-campus not only makes it hard for them to run into recruiters from other firms, but it also saves them “no-value” travel time that would be wasted sitting in traffic on busy Silicon Valley streets. Facebook employees enjoy free wash-and-fold laundry services, haircuts, and dry cleaning. There is also an onsite doctor’s office, acupuncturist, and a chiropractor, so there is little need to leave campus for personal services, and many stay later because they have few personal errands to run after work.
  7. A woodshop encourages “making things” — In a tech world, it may seem antiquated or out of place, but Facebook (like Google) offers its employees a full woodshop. It helps some to relax but it also serves to stimulate employee creativity, thinking, and most importantly, to develop the habit of making things. The making of personal items is therefore encouraged.
  8. Everyone gets whatever technology they need — because Facebook is a technology-driven firm that is full of software engineers and staff that rely on their computers, the firm goes out of its way to provide everyone with superior technology tools. Every building has its own tech support office (some are open 24 hours). Nothing demonstrates its commitment to supplying technology then its strategic placing of 24/7 vending machines around the headquarters that dispense needed replacement technology items (like keyboards) for free. To a geek, this is a WOW.

Unique approaches for managing employees

  1. Employees are excited by having an impact — My own research reveals that doing the best work of your life and having an impact on the world are the top two energizers of top performers. Leaders at Facebook also realize the importance of impact. So in order to ensure that employee impact is real, engineering staffing levels are purposely set to maximize the direct impact that an individual engineer has on customers. Imagine the excitement of every engineer knowing that what they do, on average, impacts over 1 million customers.
  2. Becoming a manager is not a promotion — at most technology-driven organizations, engineers strive to become managers primarily because they desire the added pay and prestige. However, at Facebook, becoming a manager is a lateral transfer and not a promotion. As a result, there is little incentive to move away from your technical work, unless you really desire to become a manager in order to make a difference. Lowering the incentive may also indirectly reduce some of the politics typically associated with selecting managers.
  3. Every new manager gets a mentor and a coach — even though it’s not a promotion, all new managers should succeed for the good of the team. Few firms give new managers more support than Facebook. At Facebook, new managers are generally given an internal mentor for four months and an external “strength coach” for three months. Facebook also has an extremely comprehensive employee feedback program for all managers and team leaders.
  4. Performance feedback — Facebook is fanatic about continuous feedback. Formal performance appraisal is done every six months, based on the results received from manager and employee online feedback tools (feedback is received typically from up to seven individuals). Managers and employees are also provided with real-time success metrics that quantify their results.
  5. A project-based team organization is fluid — Facebook has a 100 percent team environment, where most of the teams are small (usually around six) but they can be larger up to 30. In addition, almost everything is done on a project basis. An engineer will usually stay on a team until the project is completed; however, they may simultaneously advise several teams. The project work makes the organization extremely fluid, because most teams dissolve after the project is over. As a result, over a three-year period, an engineer may work on three different teams and have as many as five different managers. This fluid environment ensures that almost everyone gets to know and to work with many different colleagues, which in turn helps to reduce the building of the all-too-common corporate silos.
  6. Metric driven decision-making where “code wins argument” — in many organizations, decisions on ideas are frequently influenced by the status, tenure, and rank of those proposing the idea. However, because its CEO is a college dropout who had no formal management experience or training when he started, the title or the education level of the person with the idea means much less at Facebook. Instead it prides itself on data-driven decision-making where “code wins arguments,” (i.e. whether something works well) and metrics and data are the basis for most decision making. If there is an area that might use upgrading, it would be the expanded use of more advanced people analytics, more in line of what is happening at Google.
  7. Zuckerberg is rated as the No. 1 CEO — it’s hard to argue against the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is an outstanding CEO, based on his track record of gaining 1.2 billion customers, maintaining a dominant market share, continuing profitability, and most recently, the well-performing stock price. But most are surprised that based on employee ratings (99 percent are satisfied with his leadership), Glassdoor rated him its No. 1 CEO for 2013, well ahead of Google’s or Apple’s CEO’s. His second-in-command, COO Sheryl Sandberg, has an equally successful track record, and in addition, she has been called the most powerful woman in Silicon Valley.
  8. The most casual dress code in the corporate world — if there were to be a dress code at Facebook, it would be one that discourages “over dressing.” In an organization where the CEO is famous for wearing only hoodies or T-shirts, it is obvious that if you are going to impress a coworker, it won’t be through your clothes, so it will have to be through your work.

Transparency and openness are emphasized

  1. “Be open” — Facebook is clear that externally, it believes that a more open world is a better world, but it also believes that openness should also apply to its company culture. If you believe that informed people make better decisions and have a greater impact, it makes sense to emphasize “we work hard to make sure everyone at Facebook has access to as much information about the company as possible.” An open-book management approach is also another way to reveal that management trusts its employees. This is a practice that wouldn’t be found at other firms like Apple.
  2. All-hands meetings encourage openness — Facebook’s openness is illustrated on most Friday afternoons when the CEO makes himself available in an open to all-employees q-and-a meeting. During that meeting the CEO listens to ideas and he answers all questions from the employees. Most who describe him say that there is often a healthy exchange of often contrasting perspectives.

Unique practices for solving corporate problems

  1. War rooms for the sprint to ship toward the end of a project when a team is “sprinting” toward a product shipping date, a dedicated war room can be set up. The war room ensures that the team has a dedicated workspace, but it also sends a message to all others that this project is important, so they should support the final sprint. Some even use a countdown clock so that everyone knows unambiguously when they must deliver.
  2. Hackathon a chance to build something — “hacking” is a core value of Facebook. The rule for these anything-goes sessions is to build something that is “not your day job,” which makes them more fun. Hackathons, which are eight-hour, all-night employee driven large group sessions that begin in the mid evening and don’t end till the wee hours of the morning. They aren’t just brainstorming sessions where employees offer new product concepts, because there is a requirement that they end with a developed rough prototype. Many of their products including the Like thumb, comment tagging, timeline, chat, Facebook videos, and their photo product came initially from these sessions.
  3. Project Mayhem” — Facebook recently added a “project mayhem” event to supplement the more traditional Hackathons. The initial event attracted a couple hundred employees. These longer 27-hour sessions begin at 11 a.m. one day and continue until 2 p.m. The longer timeframe will give engineers more time to “facilitate the development of mobile products specifically, which often require more careful planning and development than Web-based products.” At the event’s conclusion, engineers get three minutes to pitch their ideas on stage during the prototype forum.

Final Thoughts

It is hard for many to justify labeling a firm that is still in its infancy, like Facebook, as a great firm, and one that is in the same league as Apple, Amazon, and Google. I disagree. Facebook does deserve its place on the virtual “Talent Management Hall of Fame List” because of its many thoroughly thought out and unique approaches to talent management. Its unique talent practices like boot camp onboarding, Hackamonth, Hackathons, acqui-hiring, unlimited sick days, not requiring a college degree, and of course the free ice cream shop set them apart from every other firm.

Its real triumph and strength lies in its laser focus. Unlike many great firms that try to do numerous things in many diverse areas, Facebook is laser focused on connecting the world together. Unlike any of the other 250+ firms that I have worked with, every employee and leader from the top down to the bottom seems to know exactly what the role of the company is and how they contribute to it. Every time I visit Facebook I am struck by the energy, focus, sense of urgency, and the desire to be first every time. I have yet to meet anyone there with a big ego, and in my experience, the lack of obvious corporate politics matches only the low levels at W.L. Gore and Zappos. The level of openness and employee trust is second to none, as is its willingness to try new things in talent management that can’t be benchmarked because no one else has ever tried them before.

After reading this case study, you might not agree with all of its practices or even feel comfortable with them, but you have to admit that taken together, they are unique and they have produced some amazing results in an incredibly short period of time. After scoring No. 1 on best places to work and No. 1 with the most effective CEO, you have to admit that there’s something going on here that is simply amazing.

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