The limits of Mark Zuckerberg’s recruitment strategy

Media recruiting: Facebook logoAt the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year, Mark Zuckerberg made an interesting comment about what he looks for when making important hires.

“I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person,” he said. “It’s a pretty good test and I think this rule has served me well.”

To a large extent, it’s obvious that Zuckerberg’s model has served him well. It has helped create one of the most successful and fast-growing businesses in corporate history. And the principle of wanting to work alongside like-minded people, with whom he enjoys working, is a good one. Who wouldn’t want to work that way?

But there are limitations, too. Facebook, like every business, will have periods of great success and periods of challenge. Currently, it’s one of the biggest equity plays out there, but shareholders will get agitated when great growth becomes average growth. Then, what happens when growth becomes stagnation? Changes will surely be demanded and that culture of ’employ your fantasy boss’ could be seen as poisonous.

Most of our clients are undergoing change. The phrase we hear most often is “we need new blood”. A client who thinks they know all the answers is usually doomed. It is a fast-moving landscape, and the tendency to recruit from a diminishing gene pool of like-minded people can be a death-knell to many businesses.

But change needs to be handled carefully. In the media world, there are hundreds of examples of hatchet men and women who arrive, then leave, only for the business to be worse off than when they started. That’s why Zuckerberg’s wider point – about bringing in people who respect the values of the individual business – is critical.

Facebook, at root, is collaborative, innovative, and able to take risks. But like so many other companies in a mature state, there will come a time when it needs an influx of new thinking: and these agents of change will need to be culturally sensitive and driven by long term goals in order to succeed.

Most companies, when recruiting senior people, tend to look at the competencies required. Of course, these are critical, but understanding the values of both the existing business and the person you are looking to hire is arguably even more important.