Sydney – LinkedIn is the “prestige” social media site. It’s also a highly profitable global business, on its way to racking up a $1 billion per year result. The big significance of LinkedIn is that it’s also a very likely business model for the future.
LinkedIn was one of the earlier social media sites, and some say it was the original. It predates Facebook, and was temporarily submerged by FB’s overwhelming big splash in the media. It has not only survived, but prospered, and it seems to be doing very well. LinkedIn is based in Mountain View, CA, and has suddenly returned to focus as a Silicon Valley preferred employer. It’s now one of the landmarks on the grad career path, and that’s not easy to do. These people are fussy and getting fussier on a generational, class year by class year, basis. The class of 2020 will be a lot pickier than the class of 2012. The review of LinkedIn- A study in itself It was the career and jobs aspect that got me interested, which led me to a site called has a range of employee reviews of LinkedIn which make very interesting reading. The overall rating is very high, with some very positive and clearly keen reviews. There are also clearly some very unhappy employees and ex-employees at LinkedIn. Readers please note- is a login site. You can log in with your Facebook account, but you may find yourself locked out after reading a few reviews otherwise. My general impression of at this stage is that it’s a dig-worthy site for specific company information and insights. The positive/negative split in employee and ex-employee reviews of LinkedIn is about 83%-17%. That’s reasonably good by any standards, and many other companies would struggle to match it. (Oddly, the CEO, Jeff Weiner, got a better rating in the survey than the company itself. That’s quite unusual, because negative and mid-range reviewers tend to target senior managers.) The positive reviews are straightforward. Some people appear very happy at the higher levels, some are obviously true believers at the lower levels. The negatives do look like positional, personally subjective views, but they’re over a spread of ranks, and a fairly broad range and many of the criticisms have a lot in common. Pros and cons frequently directly contradict each other, indicating that who’s reviewing has a lot to do with the feedback. Personal views tend to reflect situations. The broad fact is that some people are just not good fits for some jobs. They’re in the wrong places. They dislike the workplace on that basis, naturally enough. Some jobs are truly lousy fits for some people, too. I’ve been saying for years that it’s better to fit a job to a person than try to fit a person to a job. Redesigning people is a rather thankless task, but redesigning a job can be done in minutes with good results for both business and employees. LinkedIn is a very unusual company in several ways. It’s one of the new wave companies of the past, and its model is based on a lot of experience combined with clear business necessities. It’s an evolved company in an expanding and competitive market. It has both the new company model and apparently some very familiar problems from old style companies. LinkedIn appears from the reviews to have multiple sector cultures. There is a clear major effort by the company to promote a company culture, including their famous Hack Days (brainstorming sessions) but the negative reviews paint a different picture. These guys are professionals, and the negatives all have one thing in common- They feel out of the loop in various ways. They’re clearly not plugged in properly to the dynamic LinkedIn’s visible culture is trying to promote. The complaints are a litany of disconnection issues- Politics- You’re either in an office political group, or you’re not. These groups often exclude others on principle, retaining a clique of power and influence. Management disconnects- Varying from “talking down” to simply not being involved, poor communications, etc. Fairness- Sales people seem to have strong views on this subject. Negative view of management as a whole-One of the more pointed reviews from a current employee was scathing:

Micro Management. Not treated as an adult. No home work life balance. No vacation policy which has translated into Managers not giving or ‘allowing’ time to be taken. No upward mobility. Compensation is not comparable for location. Management is il (sic) trained with little experience and little professionalism. Management has poor time management which results in the employees scrambling.

(The “scramble factor” is mentioned by both positive reviewers and negatives. The new workloads mean more work is being put on teams, and it looks like they’re having to do additional overtime-like hours to cover it. That’s a potentially big issue, if it’s not nailed down. Doing things well means having the time and space to do them. It should also be noted that management can’t manage time it doesn’t have, and hasn’t made for itself.) In fairness to LinkedIn, this result is obviously at odds with both the company’s drivers and its many positive reviews which say the exact opposite, but all people in the employment industry will recognize that these criticisms are the global standard pointers of a probable local issue. One unhappy camper usually means there are more. Interestingly, the positives and negatives went in different directions in many ways, too: The positives focused broadly on personal and career benefits to varying degrees. The positive workplace was seen as a personal positive. Business dynamics issues were frequently mentioned, but as second-tier considerations. The negatives did the exact opposite. They focused primarily on work-related issues, and viewing the negative work issues as personal negatives. This is quite normal in negative views of any workplace, but the LinkedIn employees were clearly reacting to workplace issues. Some of them, like the negative quote above, relate to significant issues in terms of business performance. What’s so important about LinkedIn LinkedIn is a true melting pot of business imperatives and ideas. The natural evolution of new business is to create ad hoc solutions. That seems to be happening hand over fist at LinkedIn. The company is encountering these new demands as it evolves, and is adapting in ways which seem to be both good and bad. The problem, however, is that the survey results also reflect a range of possible issues in the business model which crop up in the survey differently expressed, but on the same tracks. If the “political” criticisms are correct, this is a very complex process. Politics is a fracture generator in business. Everybody defaults to different pages, and they tend to stay on those pages unless forced to get on the same page. Political interests work against each other, often at the expense of the business. If you’re seeing a description of the challenges facing new businesses in the employee reviews, your business instincts are wide awake. These are moving targets. New issues are springing up in the new business models, and fixes are of debatable values. Even Google, the current global model employer, is experiencing loss of “agility”. Agility, in business terms, means the ability to respond fast to changing situations. It also means bureaucratization and hierarchies turning into oligarchies. Internal empire-building, in fact, at the expense of business performance. Looks great on resumes, but terrible on balance sheets. Lack of agility was one of the reasons the New Economy businesses were so easily able to take huge chunks of market share away from the old business models. They are thousands of times more cost-efficient and they are extremely agile, able to generate new business daily. The most obvious, almost droning factors in the negative criticisms in the LinkedIn survey were some worries about things like sales and territorialism in the sales area. These could also be seen as systemic issues in the wider business context. The sales issues described in the negative reviews reflect a very well-known farce from the past, the sitcom version of sales management from the 1950s. It has no place in modern business, at all. In truly efficient sales models for new businesses, sales focuses on sales, and doesn’t get the chance to create logjams at any level. The best New Economy businesses are business units. They delegate only functions, not controls over operations. An obstructive sales model is also the factor most likely to sabotage LinkedIn’s business dynamics. If those criticisms are right, there really is a disconnect between top management and the coal face. The future and LinkedIn LinkedIn is the most likely default business model for the emerging social media market. It’s profitable, it’s well-proven in the market, and it’s expanding. It’s more “biz” than Facebook or other social media. Social media is still in its infancy as a business operational tool, and is developing at a fantastic rate. Yammer alone is redesigning the structural options for social media, and there are a lot of related operations coming onstream. The big issue here is that the evolution of social media moves faster than organizations usually adapt. Facebook, the flagship of social media, isn’t the most advanced platform, by any means. It’s likely to be vulnerable to the new wave of applications and market segmentations which are typical of online business. LinkedIn is differently positioned, and apparently very flexible in its visible operations in the market, but that also means it has its own unique challenges. The review of LinkedIn is a snapshot of a major league social media company at an important point in history. This is a company which has survived being unfashionable and almost ignored and transformed itself into a giant. The next big surge of social media is just now becoming visible. The question now is whether LinkedIn can manage its issues and prosper as the tide comes in with the new social media platforms. The answer is going to be in the business model.