Google’s Googley-ness behind their business operations success

(Originally, I published this blog on August 9, 2015)

Recently I worked across a business case study, where I had to give my view point on "Why Google's work culture is different and successful in ever changing business environment?". Here is what my view point I would like to share with you.

Google has been successful in a new business segment altogether which was not earlier seen as lucrative and attractive as Google has made it. Google has built it’s empire with a philosophy of “You”, i.e. user comes first. There are many underlying principles defined and altered by Google time-to-time as per the changing digital environment across the world. Google as a company was started purely as fun project in college dorm named “Back Rub” initially and won user’s confidence who at that time was dealing with unwanted and unstructured content.

With the tremendous business growth Google seen post .com era, Google management started facing the typical Enterprise challenges. It was especially in dealing with growth in financial, digital assets, fixed assets, human resource, global operations, information, knowledge sharing and market expectations. Google was majorly focusing upon improving their internal working environment, culture and operations while dealing with this rapid growth. To create a balance between negative byproducts of the growth and the founding principle of the organisation's working environment, Google adopted three major focus areas as (as reflected in the case study I was provided).

These are:

Management working as mentors – There is debate on benefits of keeping the organization structure “flat” or having “middle management”. However Google managed to create an organisation structure with “Middle Management”, however the ecosystem and environment is kept to encourage the giving a feeling of a “flat” operating environment. Management in focus achieved this by building a mentor/mentee relationship among managers and subordinates, where managers working as mentors providing only initial support to employees and get out of their way while they execute it independently.

Consensus oriented decision making - Consensus based decision making was adopted in early days at Google. It was nice and tidy till number employees involved were small in number, but then group size started ballooning and consensus meetings were carrying large number of employees, like 20 or so. It was also difficult to keep everyone in same discussion when teams involved were global. To keep the goodness of consensus based decision making while dealing with growth and globalization, as OSO (online sales and operations) team worked out, decision making was categorized. Smaller decisions needed only 80% consensus, while tougher ones were escalated to higher manager in-time to take their opinion.

Innovation - The set clear purpose in front of employees set by Larry Page in “Founder’s Letter” (2005), he asked employees to create new opportunities to “serve users” and “build new markets”. Message was clear and sound, that user is the king, so serving user will keep the stickiness of Google products, while building new markets will help in opening newer avenues. Employees were encouraged to utilize 20% of their time in whatever way they want. Google hired “best of the bests” and restless youngsters, and they knew even if you set them free by providing right environment, tools and goal, then they have potential to change the world. To change the world, they have to create something that would be useful, and monetizing something useful is much easier then pushing something that is unwanted. Other important initiatives Google and management in focus took worth mentioning are, “Google Founder’s Award”, “Core Job Palooza”. Such initiatives not only encouraged employees to innovate more, but it also helped them in reducing the repetitive jobs. Another technique Google adopted for innovation investment was to encourage employee “ask for forgiveness instead of permission”. With this, employees were free to move quickly while taking risks during their innovation process, but it also helped them move swiftly if they make any mistake.

Eliminating byproducts of rapid growth - Each organization during their growth process, generates some negative by-products. Managing those by-products are as important as the business growth itself. If not addressed in time, such negativity may create hostile environment which can pull any organization down. Some of those by-products that were identified and addressed by Google are:

  • Avoiding bureaucracy – Management in focus realized that creating a middle management may have crept in bureaucracy as well. To avoid such by-product, leader introduced an innovative way of managing it by introducing a quarterly session named “Avoiding Dilberville”. Almost everyone in corporate culture is aware of pain of Dilbert while dealing with office bureaucracy. Discussing some of the similar situation was and then finding way out to avoid them was much easier. They picked up some instances and rated them on scale of “Dilberty” or “Googley”.

  • Maintaining rapid decision making – Some of the challenges in decision making were when people are non-collaborative. At times, managers as an experienced person took decision in their heads (assumptions) instead of going all along in global environment. As reaching on consensus was at times difficult, especially when dealing with someone highly opinionated.

  • Ensuring visibility – Challenge was to let everyone know who the other person is in the organization, what they are capable of, what they are working on. So as to avoid re-inventing the wheel, as well as to reach out for consensus building.

Guaranteeing international consistency – While Google’s product portfolio was growing, there was a need to build global teams. There were some issues creeping up, like cultural differences, timezone difference. Google worked out to create a balance between cultural diversity and cultural homogeneity.