Five things you can learn from Facebook
Facebook’s meteoric rise, astonishingly large user-base and world’s youngest billionaire CEO make it one of the most fascinating businesses on the planet right now. But despite its $46bn stock market listing and unparalleled cultural influence, the social network’s Silicon Valley HQ is nothing like you’d expect.
I discovered this last week when I visited Facebook’s Menlo Park campus with a handful of LBi clients – including Virgin Atlantic and E.ON – for a rare look behind the scenes at the once humble start up that has fundamentally changed the face of the internet forever.
1) Your business is always a work in progress
The first thing you notice when you walk into Facebook’s reception is that there is virtually no branding anywhere. There are no giant ‘F’ logos, no flashing ‘Likes’, no digital tickers counting the ever-increasing number of users in real-time. In fact, signs for former Menlo Park tenant and now defunct software giant Sun Microsystems still hang on the walls as a reminder of how quickly it can all go wrong. The reason for this is simple; despite its size and success, Facebook still sees itself as a work in progress. This is so fundamental to the social network’s DNA that the company’s unofficial motto is ‘the journey is 1% finished’. Simon Lloyd, director of global marketing at Virgin Atlantic Airways, is convinced that brands of all shapes and sizes learn from Facebook’s ‘disruptive culture’ to help them adapt to change. “Facebook is constantly evolving and innovating,” he says. “During our visit we saw that this journey is never finished.”
2) Make time to innovate
Innovation is such an over-used word these days, but much like Google and other Silicon Valley pioneers, Facebook goes to great lengths to encourage innovation to happen naturally. The social networking giant celebrates ‘hack days’ allowing colleagues to take time out to work collaboratively on new ideas and projects of their choosing. Many of Facebook’s biggest innovations (including Timeline and Graph Search) have been dreamt up during one of these hack days. However, Mark Zuckerberg has worked hard to take things a stage further by creating a ‘hacker culture’ where Facebook staff are constantly encouraged to go beyond their day-to-day remit to fix things and make them better. This is something that Anthony Ainsworth, sales & marketing director at E.ON, was struck by. “Hacking isn’t just something to do on designated days at Facebook,” he says. “It’s a way of life. It’s an integral part of the company’s culture.”
3) Treat people like grown-ups but allow them to play
Facebook’s campus really does feel like just that – a university campus where staff can roam around, ride bikes and generally please themselves. The campus environment creates a sense of freedom and fun, but also reflects the deep level of trust Facebook has in its employees. As long as they meet their deadlines, Facebookers don’t have to clock in or out. Their time is their own to do with as they please. They can help themselves to as much free food as they can eat, access vending machines full of the latest gadgets and knock off early whenever they feel like it. Crucially, no one abuses the system because they’re trusted not to. There is clear a lesson here for all companies hoping to attract and retain the best possible talent.
4) Blur the boundaries between work and play
A well-groomed office is all well and good, but Facebook’s employees are actually invited to co-create their working environment. They are given the opportunity to paint murals on the office walls to represent what Facebook and its culture means to them. As Anthony Ainsworth comments: “It was impressive to see how Facebook creates a sense of ownership amongst its people. The co-created artwork on the walls is a great way to engage staff and make them feel more connected to their space”.
5) Take your meetings for a walk
As we toured the Facebook campus, we were told that many of the Facebookers we could see walking around were actually having meetings. It turns out staff are encouraged to have meetings walking around the campus. It may sound a bit hippyish, but discussing things whilst walking around feels far more natural and helps you focus on the right things. My best ever meeting took place while walking through San Francisco with a colleague, and I’ll definitely be taking this habit back to the UK – so look out for me around Silicon Roundabout when (or should I say if) the weather picks up.
Whilst these observations may at first appear trivial, together they emphasise the importance that Facebook places on culture and the extent to which it’s own social customs galvanise its business and ultimately drive its success. If sweating the small things can help build a $46bn company then surely we should all start paying a little more attention to what we can learn from Facebook and their cultural practices?
Anil Pillai, UK chief executive, LBi