Facebook's urgent task
Q: The ongoing privacy controversy at Facebook raises the familiar dilemma of what to do when fast-growing startups threaten to outgrow the management abilities of creative young founders. The Google guys got kudos for bringing in industry veteran Eric Schmidt as CEO, but things didn't work out as well when Pepsi's John Sculley took the reins from a young Steve Jobs at Apple. What's the leadership wisdom here?
The developmental trajectory of most organizations bends from infancy toward maturity. In the early stages, the founder is equated with the organization, and the vision, passion, energy, and the leader's persona infuses everything. The commitment of followers at the beginning is as much to the leader as it is to an idea or a product. The group's mode of working tends to be informal and organic and is accompanied by a high degree of trust and intra-group cohesiveness.
If the organization grows, the need for a higher level of management ability becomes clear. While the passionate, visionary leader remains critical to success, the need for structure, internal consistency, stability and accountability become paramount.
The skills that give birth to an organization are frequently not the same skills needed to sustain it. It is rare to find a leader who is highly competent in both of differing skill sets, regardless of their stage of maturity.
The challenge Facebook has at this juncture is no different from any other organization seeking maturity. It must avoid slipping into the insularity or rigidity that can accompany success. To accomplish this and capitalize on its impressive pattern of growth the board will need to assess whether the current leader's set of skills is a match for this stage of development, and for what will be needed in the future. The changing of the guard at this juncture should be predicated on such an assessment and with an understanding of the Facebook culture.
Leaders are architects of culture and the founder of Facebook has defined his company's culture. Culture is the container of the core values and the character of an organization; and any changes in leadership would need to understand this. Returning to an organization's beginning is one way to understand its culture.
Facebook originated in controversy and its early developmental stages involved alleged and real breaches of boundaries and violations of confidentiality. It is currently embroiled in controversy about breaches of confidentiality. The founding story reveals the founder's initial capacity to imagine what others could not fathom and his propensity to defy established authority and conventional thinking.
These are two reasons why Facebook has succeeded in becoming the world's largest social networking site. The urgent task of Facebook's leadership is the retention of the creative drive and bold innovation that gave it life while simultaneously ensuring that it will have a culture of ethical practices and trustworthy service.
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