New Manager

What’s the message for HR managers from Facebook’s WhatsApp buy

Mohit Gundecha | Updated on March 12, 2014


The entire earth (and perhaps some other celestial bodies) is buzzing about Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp. Everyone has his/her own take on the possible reasons behind the deal. I think one of the clearest motives is insecurity.

Facebook is no longer ‘in’ with the youth. Hence, it fears turning irrelevant in the face of a company that is adding 1 million people every day. Fear of becoming boring, not cracking the mobile market, and an exodus to another networking platform are the primary factors that led to the acquisition.

Facebook was quick to accept its weakness and act. Awareness drove the action. As always, Facebook has given another lesson to the traditional corporate world. Take the cue, and look within to see if you ahead on the innovation curve.

Specifically, is the HR function adding enough value to the business? Does HR understand the importance of building a ‘worthy’ team rather than just a ‘big’ team to ‘expand’ business?

Let’s take a look at what HR managers can learn from Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp.

Cover your insecurities

Facebook covered its insecurity by converting a threat into an opportunity. Before losing relevance to a competitor, it made a strategic move of buying up the opposition. Today, the biggest insecurity companies face is ‘people risk’. But are we paying enough heed? If your team is finding it hard to catch up with the competition, do not just defend and extend what you have. Bring to the team what it lacks — it could be leadership potential, functional expertise or behavioural training. It’s time for a more proactive approach.

Don’t become a Dinosaur!

If you don't innovate, you become irrelevant. We all know what happened with BlackBerry, MySpace, Orkut, and Nokia. It is time HR reinvented itself to stay ahead of the innovation curve. Latest in technology, people science and analytics allow HR managers to be more strategic about people impacting the business.

Companies need to stop treating HR as the function that approves leaves, organises parties and deals with salary complaints. It is only when HR becomes more strategic and gets a voice in decision making, you can build a team that sniffs the dangers of irrelevance and works towards changes.

Less is ‘more’ today

Just throwing more bodies at a problem doesn't guarantee a solution. Thirty-two engineers at WhatsApp could create a $19-billion company in three years. Instead of dedicating time and resources to hiring and on-boarding, the team focused on building a great product. Companies couldn’t have managed to this 10 years back. What has made the difference? New age methodologies allow HR to address people issues in an affordable and scalable manner. Today, you can operate lean if you think out of the box.

Culture-fit’ matters

Speculation is that WhatsApp was getting a better deal with Google, but it chose Facebook because of the shared philosophy of making internet more open and connected. Between more money and cultural alignment, WhatsApp chose the latter. Companies need to think beyond perks — better salary, meal passes, team outings, and plush offices — to attract talent. Perks don’t help beyond a point.

If there is a cultural fit, people will go out of their way to make the company a success. ‘Culture-fit’ brings in 'inclusiveness' and keeps away 'indifference'.

Wait before you reject

Even Facebook could not avoid a wrong hiring decisions. WhatsApp Co-Founder Brian Acton was turned down a job offer at Facebook in 2009 — a mistake that cost Facebook a whopping $19 billion!

Companies often look at hiring as an elimination problem. They focus more on rejecting, and less on recruiting. This mindset requires a change. Focus on getting the right people in, than keeping seemingly wrong people out.

Transactional or strategic?

Sure, the Facebook-WhatsApp deal received a lot of flak for the sheer magnitude of its transaction amount. But many see this as a strategic move by Facebook to develop great new mobile services that give people even more options for connecting each other.

Do we take steps to change our teams’ outlook from transactional to strategic? Technology, people science and analytics enable HR get more strategic, making them true business partners.

The bottomline is ‘innovation’ doesn’t mean coming up with new ideas. More important is to analyse what you already have and create something new out of it.

(The writer, CEO of Jombay, a People Science & Analytics Company, studied at Stanford University and was head of India operations of mig33, a social network with 60 million users in South Asia.)

Published on March 11, 2014

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