Part 1 of a 2 part series

By Michael Gunther

Our local Chamber of Commerce recently organized a trip to visit Google Head
quarters in Mountain View, California to learn about their culture and management philosophies as well as how a business could benefit from all that Google has to offer. You could imagine all the anticipation to experience the Google mystic as about forty of us boarded a bus at 5:45 AM for our four hour trek north.

We were fortunate to have one of my past partners, Eric Hubbs, as our organizer for the day. Eric, who has been at Google for almost three years, organized our trip to include not only informative sessions and practical tools, but also a tour of portions of their campus.  Over the last few years, I know I’ve lived vicariously through Eric’s experience at Google and looked forward to seeing what this ”Google thing” was really all about.

Our experience started as we made the turn off the freeway to approach the Google campus. Eric greeted our bus riding a Google colored bicycle; he then lead the way through the curvy, tree lined streets to our final destination. The “cool” experience had already started. (As a side note: they have these bicycles in front of every building so that you can just grab one and go where you need to on campus)

Our first session was exploring the key aspects of the Google culture and hiring process. Some of the processes and programs weren’t new, but the combination of the tried and true elements along with some new and unique twists has allowed Google to grow from 20,000 to over 45,000 employees and maintain a solid, college campus-type of culture. Some of the key take-aways were:

Recruiting

  • They hire only the best. Their interview process is rigorous and there has to be consensus from a peer, a manager, a hiring manager, and a fourth person who the potential hire may be interacting with. If no consensus, no hire. They’re also very clear on who they want to fit the role and how to find the right person. They’re not just looking for experience but more importantly, key characteristics that will be important in that role.
  • Does the individual have big goals he or she wants to achieve? Not just work goals but life goals. They look for an individual who dreams, not one who just has a plan.

Management

  • The principle of yes – they believe there’s always a solution and they celebrate taking risks. Part of this process involves talking about failures openly and what was learned. Humility at its best.
  • Transparency – the founders have a company meeting every Thursday where they share successes, failures, and direction. They break down their goals into a simple plan that everyone can understand.
  • The ability to challenge – the management team wants individuals to challenge the status quo and open debate and discussion is encouraged. In addition, at their weekly company meetings, anyone can ask the founders or top management any questions and even challenge some of the management team’s decisions. This process, along with the transparency, has created a strong element of trust. There are no secrets. If you don’t share information, they believe it’s hard for people to come up with ideas for improvement.

Self-Accountability

  • They have a concept called 20% Projects – these are big ideas or dreams that you want to develop and implement. You can get permission to spend up to 20% of your work time on developing these concepts.
  • OKR – Objectives and key results – every role has clear OKR’s that need to be achieved each quarter. You decide how you work best in order to achieve these OKR’s – you choose your schedule, place to work, etc.

The interesting thing is that beyond all the bells & whistles – three free meals a day at gourmet restaurants, free coffee and gym facilities, fully stocked kitchens, free transportation to work, outdoor activities like volleyball courts, common interest clubs, and community volunteer time to name a few – I believe that it’s a combination of the areas outlined above and these perks that make Google a great place to work hard and play hard.

Bottom Line

The Google culture obviously works well. Not only have they grown significantly over the last 5 years, but their earnings reported last week were up 17%. What Google ideas could you bring to your company? How can you create an environment of hard work, experimentation, and balance? It seems to me that employers will need to begin making changes to compete effectively for the next generation of employees. Google is setting the expectations of how it can be.

This is another article in a series on Michael’s entrepreneurial story and how being raised in a large family has influenced his career. Michael Gunther is Founder and President of Collaboration LLC, a team of highly skilled business professionals who are dedicated to assisting proactive business owners to build profitable, sustainable businesses through results-oriented education and consulting services. 

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