Facebook, Diversity, and Leadership in the C21 Corporation

In her latest Reuters column, Lucy Marcus (@lucymarcus) smart, suave authority on board governance, welcomes Sheryl Sandberg’s appointment to the Facebook board – as the first woman, and a second executive voice from inside the corporation. She also notes, though, that since Zuckerberg controls more than half the stock, when push comes to shove he will get his way.

The Facebook story will no doubt be used for case studies of several kinds as we move ahead, whether or not it justifies its vast valuation and survives into the next decade as the mainspring of social networking (both propositions, as I have argued before, to my mind highly doubtful).

4 key issues are raised here that go much wider.

1. It’s unfortunate that the term “diversity” has come to be associated with the need for women to be better represented in traditionally male preserves, and other ethnicities in traditionally white. There are indeed issues of equity to be addressed. But the core need for “diversity” on boards and in leadership more generally has less to do with gender and pigmentation and everything to do with perspective. Monochrome and monogendered bodies are far less suited to governance. And while that has always been true, at a time of rapid, exponential, change, it is risible that anyone could suggest anything other. Radical diversity of perspective is crucial to managing increasingly rapid change.

2. As Lucy Marcus notes, Facebook has shown itself out of step with the slow “spring” in corporate governance – both in board diversity and also, strikingly, in the old-style control that is built into Zuckerberg’s position. That is (in my words) we have a company presented as the key to the new social economy being governed like a Victorian family business. I am not without deep admiration for Zuckerberg’s creativity and vision; but it is his plain failure to understand this point that makes me most uneasy about the company’s capacity to weather the coming years. Such a concern is constantly reinforced by the plain bad decision-making that keeps flowing from the top. Latest: the ridiculous email switch this week – pitching 900 million people into unwanted email accounts.

3. What 21st century corporations need above all, and especially those driven by digital technologies and congruent social attitudes in constant flux, is an agile capacity for decision-making and responsiveness that will come only from deep and open-textured conversation at their heart – and candid social engagement across the organizational boundary. That is, contrarians need to be appointed to boards, and social engagement to reach far higher than the joke of a privacy referendum recently triggered in the aforementioned Facebook. Both contrarians inside and an open boundary with customers, prospects, and the wider culture, will prove worth more than their weight in gold; and prove key drivers of competitive advantage. Facebook has displayed interest in neither.

4. The core question is a model of leadership, personal and shared, for Century 21. The old-tyme Fordist models worked well back in the day – the Great Leader, the supportive and largely consensus-minded board of buddies, the trusting stakeholders/market. In all respects this situation is now history. Except that so many of our long-established companies are still trying to make it work. And leading allegedly new-economy companies such as Facebook, while they are driven by constantly exploding digital technologies, are striving to replicate a model that cannot thrive in the new context of constant, innovative disruption – while social is eroding the organizational boundary and shaping the possibilities faced by the corporation.

I see Microsoft as the last of the behemoth Fordist survivals. The titans of a century ago, Ford and Carnegie, would have recognized it, admired its founder, and generally resonated with his post-leadership generosity. Apple has straddled the models, driven by genius, and blessed so far by much good luck. Whether our focus is governance, leadership, social media, or social responsibility (to which Apple has slowly awakened through its sign-on to Fair Labor), the C21 company will look nothing like the grand successes of C20. Among the slew of first-generation digital behemoths (we can throw Google into the mix here), Henry Ford would just have been too much at home to give me confidence they can evolve rapidly enough to flourish rather than simply (if they do) survive.

And it’s notable that Rupert Murdoch, a C20 titan if ever there was one, discovered Twitter at the turn of the year and is engaging frequently and personally (you can tell; he can’t type well and keeps saying things that make his PR people cringe). Strikes me he may have it in him to adapt faster than Zuck. Sorry.


Is Facebook Doomed? https://futureofbiz.org/2012/06/04/is-facebook-doomed/

Facebook’s board needs more than Sheryl Sandberg | Lucy P. Marcus.

1 thought on “Facebook, Diversity, and Leadership in the C21 Corporation

  1. Pingback: The Two Most Stunning Facts about American Business | FutureofBiz.org

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