Facebook’s Talent Management Practices? They’re Simply Amazing

First of four parts

Almost everyone is aware of Facebook.

Usually that knowledge comes from either using its social media product or by reading about its CEO. However, the unique aspects of the firm that almost no one is aware of are its distinct and powerful talent management practices.

In most cases, it takes literally several decades to develop an exceptional company that has a unique set of talent management practices that produce phenomenal business results. But occasionally there are exceptions.

Lessons to learn from one of the best

Apple became exceptional again in little more than a decade after the return of Steve Jobs. Google developed exceptional people management practices and business results in much less than a decade. But Facebook has gone from a college dorm room idea to an undisputed social media dominance in literally less than a handful of years.

I’ve previously done case studies on the amazing talent management practices of both Google and Apple ) and now it’s time to cover the amazing talent management practices at Facebook that result in breathtaking workforce productivity levels.

Here within 15 months of its IPO, the average employee produces over $1.3 million in revenue and $120,000 in profit each a year. The firm’s global product reaches over 1.2 billion users, its stock price has been on a tear, and it has successfully shifted from an exclusively PC web-based platform to one that instead relies on the rapid growth of the mobile platform. Glassdoor 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.

If your firm would like to learn from what I can only call simply amazing and results-generating talent practices, read on.

Facebook’s Most Unique Talent Management Practices

I’ve been visiting and studying Facebook since 2008 (I have no financial relationship with the company). During that time I’ve compiled a list of management and talent management practices* that it has implemented. Most are unique and many have clearly not been directly copied from talent competitors like Google, Twitter, and Apple.

My primary contribution in this case study is to provide insight into the business reasoning behind each of its unique practices. The 45 plus features I will detail are separated into 10 different categories. As you scan through these best practices, see if you don’t agree that they are unique in that they push the envelope.

Employees are a high value corporate asset

1.  A powerful business case – Of all of the things to remember about Facebook, it is that someone in HR or lower management convinced executives to fund and implement each one of the “crazy” and unique things that you will read about in this case study. Remember that Facebook is no different from any other firm; crazy ideas go nowhere unless a compelling ROI business case is first made to executives.

2.  Quantifying the value of employees – Nothing spurs executives to focus on talent management like quantifying in dollars the added economic value of having top-performing versus average ones. Facebook (along with Google and Apple) has taken the time to put a dollar value on its employee assets.

For example, Facebook’s Director Of Corporate Development Vaughan Smith has estimated that when recruiting, “Engineers are worth half a million to $1 million” (each). When a single engineer is worth up to $1 million, you strongly invest in recruiting and in increasing their productivity, and you certainly don’t focus on the relatively miniscule cost per hire that it takes to recruit them.

WOW features that give employees’ amazing choices

3.  Extended six-week boot camp onboarding with a choice – Most corporate onboarding is a relatively simple and often boring one day “form filling out” exercise (Facebook instead provides the needed paperwork to the employee before they start). Its approach is unique because it is extended over an industry-leading six weeks. And during that time, rather than watching videos and hearing lectures, employees actually work on teams that spend their time working on multiple real projects.

And to demonstrate its trust in new hires, during this time boot campers have full access to the complete computer code behind Facebook. Each employee is assigned a mentor. But the most powerful part of the onboarding is that at the end of the process, each employee is asked, “Which team and project within Facebook would you like to join?”

This is powerful because when you apply for a job, you really have no way of knowing which team or project would be a best fit for you. I know of no other organization on the planet that gives new hires a team choice.

4.  Hackamonth self-directed internal movement – At most organizations, getting approval to move to a new job is a complex often political process where the employee has little control. However Facebook’s Hackamonth process is the opposite because it is a self-directed internal movement process. It allows employees who have worked on a project for a year to select their own next project team and after working with them for a month, if they like it, they can stay.

* Note: just like at any firm, benefits and features are continually changing; however, unless noted otherwise, those listed here were current at its headquarters as of August 2013.

It doesn’t just have free food, it has amazing food

5.  Free ice cream and cookies is a life-changing experience – Google is justifiably famous for publicizing free gourmet food, but Facebook wins the award hands down for the most compelling food. With a relatively young and healthy employee population that doesn’t have to overly worry about its weight, what could be more compelling than a free ice cream store and bakery? A dozen varieties of ice cream, low-fat yogurt, milk shakes, sundaes, as well as cakes, pies, and the absolutely essential cookies, all unlimited and for free. After one visit and without hesitation, I classify this as the No. 1 most compelling “fun” company features on the planet.

6.  Free barbecue — Even though the Silicon Valley isn’t in Texas, who doesn’t love barbecue? Facebook’s open-pit barbecue is particularly compelling because it is centrally located, and as a result, the smoke from the barbecue waffles throughout the campus making employees think of barbecue. You simply can’t miss it. Of course the barbecue is free but the best feature is that the BBQ shack is in the middle of an open courtyard, where employees can collaborate while in line and then sit in the California sun and eat on picnic tables and chairs.

7.  A global array of food keeps employees on campus – Because its 3,000 plus employee population includes a large number of younger people from all over the world, it makes sense that it offers food day and night that fits every “global fast food group.” The last time I was there I had sophisticated French food that was as good as I eat in Paris, and just like the French, they also bake all of their own bread on site. But they also offer hamburgers, pizza, and tacos as well as an espresso bar and unlimited snacks throughout the day.

Being in California, they of course also offer health food including a salad bar, a juice bar, and sushi, as well as vegetarian and vegan options. Employees clearly take advantage of the free food because its roughly 2,400 employees at headquarters eat an average of 7,200 meals a day. The Facebook Culinary Team accepts food requests from employees and it lets employees know what’s on the menu, using of course a Facebook page.

8.  Happy Hour every Friday – One of the features that seem to startle most corporate people outside of the Silicon Valley is the availability of alcohol at Silicon Valley firms. At Facebook, it is available on Friday happy hours and during employee-generated special events. A reason for allowing it at these firms is that management simply can’t be credible when it says that it “trusts its employees” if it doesn’t trust its employees to be reasonable in the use of alcohol.

A management approach focused on speed and risk-taking

9.  Speed is essential, so “move fast and break things” — Facebook isn’t unique in that speed is critical to being first to market. At Facebook, management proactively encourages employees to move incredibly fast, even though it will obviously result in some failures.

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Many firms have slogans, but Facebook goes to the extreme of painting corporate culture slogans larger-than-life on walls throughout the facility, and one of Facebook’s most prominent slogans is “Move fast and break things.” The concept follows the CEO’s idea that “If you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.”

At Facebook, “We’re less afraid of making mistakes than we are of losing opportunities.” Another slogan emphasizes the importance of getting things finished and implemented rather than waiting until they are perfect, and that slogan is … “Done is better than perfect.”

10.  “Be Bold” and take risks — Most corporate cultures are risk averse, and in many cases, to the point where everyone is afraid to fail even once. Facebook is the complete opposite; its culture encourages bold decision-making and risk-taking. Its approach is illustrated by these less-than-subtle slogans: “The riskiest thing is to take no risks,” and “We encourage everyone to make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time,” and “In a world that’s changing so quickly, you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t take any risks.”

In a world where going first and being innovative is of course full of huge risks, you have no choice but to find a way to convince your employees to avoid the more common and natural conservative approach.

11.  The strong culture enabled a 180-degree shift in direction — The real strength of any company culture is its ability to change and shift the focus of its employees when the market requires it. The Facebook product has always been a website-housed product that was accessed through a PC.

However you have to credit the CEO and the company culture for quickly realizing that the smart phone would eventually become the dominant platform. And in a period of less than two years, the company made a successful shift so that its product is now primarily accessed through the mobile platform and the smart phone.

To make the 180-degree shift even more impressive, the advertising revenue from the mobile platform is now becoming a larger part of Facebook’s profit. The culture has also survived the loss of significant revenue from the decreased popularity of Facebook-based games from Zynga.

Tomorrow: More of Facebook’s results-generating talent practices.

Dr. John Sullivan

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.