Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Few business owners take this advice of learning from their unhappy customers and LinkedIn is no exception. With the upmost appreciation for the platform (when it works) and the access it provides me to my markets and client’s markets, LinkedIn has a way to go.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit LinkedIn’s corporate offices. LinkedIn had just hit 150 million users and they had also gone public months earlier. As a top power user, I thought I would get a few introductions or a simple gesture of appreciation; instead I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding what I could discuss and write about regarding my visit. Although what I can actually share is tremendously filtered because of that document, I can fully share my insights.
I learned several things from this visit that are applicable to business owners and professionals. To fully appreciate my experience at LinkedIn, understand how I view and think about businesses in general. First I ask myself how authentic and trustworthy is the company? Can they build from a foundation that is sustainable and built to last? With that filter, let me recount my experience.
It started with confusion of how to enter the main office. The main entrance wasn’t labeled. I actually followed some people and entered via a back entrance on accident believing it was the main entrance (sorry LinkedIn, total security breach). I quickly realized what happened and left the offices to find the main entrance.
Make the process for finding you, whether virtually or a physical location easy and smooth.
After asking people where to find the main entrance, I walked in and had to wait to get past the tourists taking pictures by the LinkedIn Logo made of Legos.
In the front office, I snapped a picture with the Lego LinkedIn Logo just like the main entrance blocking tourists! Check-in required my picture to be taken and non-disclosure agreement being signed. Essentially, I signed away my rights to share anything that was not already publicly available. Although the staff was polite and friendly, I felt awkward and uncomfortable. At this point, I was experiencing a gap in experiences and I felt disconnected.
Looking around as I waited for my appointment I saw postings about employee yoga classes, and suggestions for eating well. LinkedIn provides healthy drinks to anyone in the lobby, alkaline water, protein bars, etc. The overall vibe was cool, light, fun, and very much what you experience when visiting Zappos (a renowned cutting edge company regarding Culture and Client Experience). It was what you would expect from a Silicon Valley Tech company; cool, cutting edge, youthful and with a laid back atmosphere but, something was off. The atmosphere didn’t seem as authentic as when I visited Zappos and other start up tech companies in the valley.
Positive culture and employee experiences provide better work experience for employees and enhanced performance when done well and authentically. (Check out www.WorldBlu.com for more information about creating amazing business cultures)
I meet with a LinkedIn executive and although I cannot share specifics details, I did gain valuable insights about the culture, technological infrastructure, growth, and internal dynamics at the company. With total appreciation, I left this meeting realizing that LinkedIn was growing fast, literally doubling the size every year for the past several years. Currently they have over 2500 employees (mostly sales agents) maintaining culture, systems, best practices, infrastructure etc. LinkedIn is a successful company going through growing pains. In my opinion they have real opportunity to improve such as creating a positive customer experience.
Growing too fast can be extremely challenging. If your business experience rapid growth, make sure to implement systems around creating amazing customer experiences and maintain high quality best practices.
Jim Collins said, “A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.” As the number one job platform in the world, LinkedIn surely doesn’t have a problem hiring or even finding the right people, although their ability to find people talented in the LinkedIn platform is questionable. Their difficulty may be maintaining a high-quality culture that understands and promotes LinkedIn’s mission.
Plan for accelerated growth and don’t be afraid to slow down to maintain core values, mission and culture.
As I concluded my meeting and left, I couldn’t help but think something was off. What was it? Why was I feeling such a disconnect with what they were showing and my online experience?
It suddenly hit me. LinkedIn is more than 10 years old. Its original executive culture started before the younger, hip cultures of Facebook and other Silicon Startups. It also was highly influenced by Reid Hoffman’s earlier traditional corporate jobs, nothing like the Zappos-style culture that today’s startups are implementing. LinkedIn is an old-dog company trying to be a cutting edge Silicon Valley tech company. The disconnect was in the core approach to business.
LinkedIn is no different than any other big corporation trying to make a buck. Facebook wasn’t originally about money (so it seems), they were more focused on building community first, expecting that the money would come. I’m not saying either model is better than the other, but it highlights the major disconnect I was feeling. I wanted LinkedIn to be something which at its core, it is not. Connecting the world’s professionals is not its core value, although it may be the mission they share with us all. The main driver for LinkedIn is to make money for its investors by connecting the world’s professionals, and selling their information to corporations. This is ok with me actually; I just didn’t know this was their intrinsic motivator. Knowing this, how I approach, feel, and think about them is different than before.
Previously, I wrote about the authenticity and trustworthiness of LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a large corporation, successfully surpassing the small business risk phase. They have more than 2500 employees, earning hundreds of millions in revenue yearly, and are growing at light speed. My feeling is they intend to be more responsive, but in a fast growing culture, employees are focused on projects and keeping their job relevant for job security. Customer service has massively improved since they went public, noticeably so, but it doesn’t get away from the fact that there is a cultural disconnect between the leadership and the employees of LinkedIn.
For authenticity and trustworthiness to happen in an organization, leadership must lead by example. I don’t claim to know the leadership of LinkedIn, but I do not have to to realize the disconnect in authenticity. I love the LinkedIn platform. It is the cornerstone of my business. But when the company’s mission is one thing and the actions another, we have to question the leadership, and do it in a way that initiates change. We love the LinkedIn platform; they just have to show us they care, because we all want them to last! LinkedIn can only survive by building authenticity and trustworthiness with its market as a cornerstone of their core values. I hope LinkedIn takes this to heart and makes these changes, because I for one am pulling for them!