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Now (May 2010) Google is a global enterprise with more than 10,000 employees worldwide and offices in multiple countries. Google has grown phenomenally since its founding in a California garage in 1998 by Stanford University students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin (www.googlelabs.com). Whilst remaining centrally involved, in 2001 the two founders brought in an experienced CEO, Eric Schmidt, previously with Novell and Microsystems, who has steered Google’s growth from Silicon Valley start-up to international brand, processing over one billion search requests daily round the world. Under his leadership, Google has escalated its operations and expanded its product portfolio. Whilst doing this a core objective has been to sustain the original start-up culture of strong innovation. (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/12/18/google-unveils-top-political-searches-of- 2009/ 08/05/10. Company timeline: http://www.google.com/corporate/history.html.)
In early May 2010 Google Labs – the online ‘playground’ where the ‘more adventurous users can play around with prototypes of some of our wild and crazy ideas and offer feedback directly to the engineers who developed them’ – listed 40 alpha (early) stage ideas currently being experimented with by Google engineers and researchers. Ultimately these embryonic products may or may not make it to become fully developed applications, to join the growing portfolio of cloud computing and internet search technologies such as Google Maps, Google Apps, Google Search and so on.
Often developed speculatively by individual engineers in their ‘spare time’ (usually called ‘innovation time off’), outside their core role, such creativity is encouraged as the source of a stream of new products. As a motivation technique, all Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20 per cent of their work time on projects that interest them. It is claimed that 50 per cent of Google’s new products evolved from this 20 per cent time, including familiar products such as Gmail and AdSense (ETL Seminar Series/Stanford University May 17, 2006).
The company mission is ‘to facilitate access to information for the entire world and in every language’. To this end Google has offices in many countries around the world and operates Google search in over 100 languages. The financial model is that revenue is generated by selling search technology to companies and from the sale of advertising displayed on both the Google site as well as other websites.
Google has evolved around the idea that work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun. Stretch targets and achievement are expected; high commitment is valued and there is a core belief that the unconventional, the interactive and creative will be a source of future business ideas.
‘We believe that great, creative things are more likely to happen with the right company culture … there is an emphasis on team achievements and pride in individual accomplishments that contribute to our overall success. We put great stock in our employees – energetic, passionate people from diverse backgrounds with creative approaches to work, play and life. Our atmosphere may be casual, but as new ideas emerge in a café line, at a team meeting or at the gym, they are traded, tested and put into practice with dizzying speed – and they may be the launch pad for a new project destined for worldwide use.’
The work environment has a reputation for being creative and positive, catering for the food, transport and social needs of employees in multiple ways that free them to commit more time and energy to the company. Regular food docks throughout the workplace make energy snacks permanently available; meals are provided from breakfast through to dinner; a laundry service means employees do not have to be distracted by washing their clothes at home; games rooms, barbecues, social evenings, sports facilities encourage fun and socialising among employees. Most staff work in open plan offices where desks are personalised and ‘corporate’ is considered a swear word. Bicycles, skateboards and scooters can be found parked by desks ready for efficient travel between meetings. Small meeting rooms are furnished with soft chairs and white boards to promote creative conversations. Local expressions of each location, from a mural in Buenos Aires to ski gondolas in Zurich, showcase each office’s region and personality.
‘Google is not a conventional company and we don’t intend to become one. True, we share attributes with the world’s most successful organizations – a focus on innovation and smart business practices comes to mind – but even as we continue to grow, we’re committed to retaining a small-company feel. At Google, we know that every employee has something important to say, and that every employee is integral to our success. We provide individually-tailored compensation packages that can be comprised of competitive salary, bonus, and equity components, along with the opportunity to earn further financial bonuses and rewards.’
A challenge for any company growing from entrepreneurial origins is to sustain the strengths of an innovative culture whilst developing the systems and processes required to co-ordinate an expanding infrastructure of new offices in multiple countries. With the aim of sustaining the company’s culture and keeping true to the core values on which the company was founded, Google assigned a Chief Culture Officer in 2006, a role combined with the Director of Human Resources.
Learning and talent development is led by the GoogleEDU team who design and implement learning programmes to support and develop the company’s talent across all functions and geographic regions. There are three integrated components of learning:
Their mission is summed up as combining individual and business objectives: ‘We reach to support Googlers’ personal and professional development in a way that contributes to their and our success.’
Further illustration of the roles played by learning and talent development specialists is provided by the table of ‘People Wanted’ below.
Google places great emphasis on recruiting people with technical talent, but also with passion and energy, ability to think non-traditionally and to fit the culture: a ‘Google-y is defined as somebody who is fairly flexible, adaptable and not focusing on titles and hierarchy, and just gets stuff done.’
The reward package that helps attract recruits and sustain commitment includes the work environment as described above and including the ability for people to bring their dogs to work, but also such perks as stock options, a US $5,000 incentive if people buy a hybrid or electric car, in California there is a commuter shuttle service to and from San Francisco, and surrounding areas, and offerings such as an annual Google-wide ski trip.
Recruitment is active, including ‘sourcer’ jobs: people who are responsible for sourcing candidates from online databases as well as through networking, cold calling, internet searches, and research. Sourcers partner with other recruiting team members to align qualified candidates with appropriate positions and work with them through Google’s hiring process.
Since employee commitment is so central to the company culture, an annual happiness survey is used to try to find out how happy people are, how committed they are to the company, what’s causing that commitment level to be high or low and what will keep them working at the company. Findings on what makes a particular difference to employees and their managers have emphasised career development and growth over giving more stock options or increasing salaries (‘Meet Google’s culture czar’, ZDNet April 30, 2007, accessed 08/05/2010).
Google’s strategic intent is expressed in its mission. There is a broad road map for the medium and longer term, and more specific targets for the short-term – for example, to launch particular products currently in development. Detailed goals set for each quarter for teams and individually.
Regular reviews are undertaken through individual and team-self-grading and peer grading. Peer review is also used as part of employees’ bi-annual appraisal.
Pay is highly performance related, with employees being rewarded for innovation, being strategic and working collaboratively (http://www.google.ie/intl/en/corporate/culture.html, accessed 08/05/2010).
Pride is expressed that Google has been externally recognised as one of Fortune Magazine’s prestigious ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’:
‘For the third consecutive year, Google has achieved a top-five ranking. Innovative benefits, flexibility, and the opportunity to pursue ideas that challenge the status quo are just a few of the attributes that have continued to earn us this exciting recognition. As we continue to grow, we strive to preserve the best aspects of our startup culture. From welcoming our Nooglers (new Googlers) with their very own Google buddies to celebrating team accomplishments at our Friday TGIF company meetings – we work to cultivate employee satisfaction every step of the way.’
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