How Google Works

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In How Google Works, Eric Schmidt, and Jonathan Rosenberg share some of the new perspectives on management they gained during their tenure at Google. Google’s work culture has achieved iconic status and has become the subject of both admiration and parody. Putting aside the mythology, Schmidt and Rosenberg credit Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, for creating an environment that attracts upper-echelon talent and allows this talent to flourish.

These employees are culled from a rigorous hiring process that seeks out exceptional candidates who are brilliant and well-rounded (think Leonardo da Vinci, or perhaps just a step below). Hiring the right people is the main ingredient to Google’s success. All employees, from executive to entry level, work together in shared office spaces. Such close quarters encourage collaboration across roles and disciplines. Of course, there are also the famous Google perks, which include pool tables and well-stocked kitchens. The point of these amenities is to create an environment where people can interact in a variety of ways that spawn collaboration and creative thought.

Google’s management is constructed to help the free-flowing expansion of ideas. The company is more like a web than a pyramid. There is no emphasis on hierarchy and there are minimal bureaucratic procedures. Employees, from the newest to the most senior, are encouraged to take action and share ideas that go directly to the head of the company. Constructive criticism is an important company requirement. An idea can come from a top executive, but it can always be challenged by anyone who has a cogent argument.

Every employee must publicly list personal “objectives and key results” to clarify goals and priorities. Failure is not punished, because much can be learned from failure; it is more important to be proactive and fail than to play it safe. This philosophy encourages employees to think big and try hard.

Google’s management style allows for spontaneous and successful results. Page once came across some irrelevant ads attached to a Google search. He did not call a meeting or even discuss the end user. He simply printed out a screenshot of the offending ads, wrote “THESE ADS SUCK” across the page, and posted it on a bulletin board near a company pool table. It was a Friday afternoon. By Monday, a group of engineers, who had been playing pool and see the notice, had come up with a solution. Even though their job descriptions had nothing to do with the tailoring of ad relevance, they rose to the challenge and worked over the weekend.

Smart people may enjoy creative chaos, but they also want the company to have a strategy and overall vision. The vision of Google is large-scale and forward-thinking. It starts by imagining what the world will look like in five years and then designs products intended to improve the lives of users. The goal is to change the world for the better, and an employee plugged into Google culture supports these altruistic aspirations. Of course, profits are important as well, but Google focuses on creating an exceptional product and then letting the money follow. It is also advantageous to make open-source products, like Android, so the products can evolve from the input of multiple creative minds.

The general theme of Google business management practices is to keep processes nimble. Because ideas and market conditions are constantly evolving, iron-clad business plans are seen as deadweight. Google has frequent face-to-face meetings but limits them to under 10 people and focuses on data rather than long-winded presentations. Legal oversight is necessary, but there is no need for lawyers to get stuck wrangling over details unless absolutely necessary. Failing products, no matter how large, should be allowed to fail and not drag down company talent and resources. Progress can also be slowed by paying too much attention to competitors. A company should be aware of what the competition is doing but travel swiftly along its own path.

The Key Insight of “How Google Works” book is:

  1. Reducing procedures that block the natural development of good ideas leads to a more productive work environment.
  2. Product development should be driven by future-oriented thinking.
  3. When developing products, businesses should focus on user experience before projected profits.
  4. Employees are a company’s greatest asset, and the hiring process is key to a successful enterprise.
  5. Every employee should have a self-generated list of objectives and key results, which they make public.
  6. A successful company is one where objections are mandatory.
  7. Important lessons can be learned from failure.
  8. A product does not have to be perfect at first release. Necessary changes can be made once the product is working in the real world.
  9. A successful company can invest in developing new products, but the bulk of company resources should be spent supporting and perfecting the core business.
  10. It is important for businesses not to focus on the competition, but instead to act with their own agency.
  11. An effective executive ensures that all communications are efficient and transparent.

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