Balakarthik Venkataramanan
By
October 07, 2016

ARTICLE: What makes Google, GOOGLE?

My last day at Google!

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Tomorrow, I head out to explore the next adventure of my career and wanted to get this post out before I return my Google badge.

My love & curiosity for Google started at Dubai airport! In the winter of 2009, I was heading back from Houston, Texas to Bangalore, India. I met this proud father of a Google employee who spent 2 of the 3 hour transit at Dubai airport talking to me about how proud he was of his daughter, who was hired by Google, after she graduated from Stanford. He couldn’t stop telling me stories about all the “fancy” benefits his daughter got and how happy he was for her to be employed by, what he referred to as the greatest company he had ever known. That seeded my curiosity to learn more about this company’s culture and eventually end up in this corporate paradise, called Google.

There are thousands of articles and posts on the internet about Google’s free food, nap pods, fully loaded refrigerators, Friday beer parties, fancy goodies & gadgets, bringing your pet to work, onsite massage & laundry, business class travels, onsite haircuts, Las Vegas parties etc. BUT…..What if I told you, that’s not what makes Google, GOOGLE!!!

Even if all of the above were removed, Google will still remain the same Google that it is today. YES, IT WILL BE!

Over the last 3 years, my quest was to find out what makes this place so special and learn the Google trick of building world class teams! I wanted to share a holistic view of my personal observations as a member of the Google family. Some of it might be repetitions of what Google’s people operations SVP, Laszlo called out in Work Rules. But, I wanted to share an employee’s perspective from ground zero. I found six inter-connected cultural levers that work in perfect harmony to create the Google magic.

1. Transparency: One of the key inputs to innovation is context, and context comes with information. Google is THE BEST when it comes to sharing information with employees. Every strategic initiative, product release, financial investments including the board meeting minutes are shared with the employees, way before the market even gets a clue of it. This creates more ownership and “It’s MY company” feeling and trust in leadership among the employees.

2. User first focus: Once you cultivate “It’s MY company” feeling and trust through transparency, focus on the user automatically follows. With very minimal exceptions, every team that I have come across puts users first. Every team focuses on doing whats right for the users to gain their trust & love. Meetings and conversations are all about what’s best for the user and how to make their lives better. This user first focus also helps employees relate to how their work impacts the end user and thereby see the purpose and meaning of their role.

3. Connection with the larger mission: Every company has a mission statement! But, how many succeed in having their workforce relate to the mission statement on the work the employees do on a daily basis. Just a handful, and Google is definitely one of them. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Firstly, its super simple, unlike some 10-15 liner mission statements out there. More importantly, leaders of all levels integrate the mission in their day-to-day communications and how their respective teams contribute to this larger mission. This again, helps team connect their day-to-day work to the larger mission that impacts billions of users!

4. Ground-up innovation: No doubt, Google has amazing leaders. But, leaders at Google are great at stepping back and letting their smart workforce ‘make it happen’. Every employee is SUPER empowered to transform processes / products to an extent that it could be overwhelming for new Google employees coming from other companies. Some of the biggest transformations at Google are ground-up and not top down. With that level of empowerment, every employee is constantly focusing on building the next-gen product / process, rather than just delivering on the expectations.

5. Relationships, as much as results: At the rate Google has been innovating products and growing its revenue, you would assume that its purely an output driven organization with primary focus on the results alone. But, Google has preserved and protected the people touch while balancing with results. A rare balance!! I don’t want to call it a complete consensus culturebut everyone is extremely mindful of involving the relevant stakeholders and members involved to gather 360 degree inputs rather than just pushing for the output.

6. Fierce Pride: Boy-o-boy, every Googler is so proud to wear that Google badge! It’s the result of all of the 5 points above. Googlers are super passionate about being Googlers, what they stand for and the mission of the organziation. Take a champagne bottle, shake it for an hour and open the cork, you don’t want to get in the way of that.That’s Googler passion for you!

No, I am not saying that Google is 100% perfect, no organization will ever be. Especially, at this scale. There may be some sub-teams that might be politically infected or be living a non-Googley culture due to ineffective leadership. Or there may exist some people / business challenges that every organziation encounters.

But…as a whole, Google is a class of its own and the lessons that it teaches to it’s 60,000+ family members are invaluable.

An experience of a lifetime!!

This article was originally posted on Bala's personal blog, balakarthik.com.


View Bala's contributor profile


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