INTRODUCTION

As one of the largest software companies in the world, Google has a relentless focus on attracting and retaining relevant experts who are typically in high demand, and over the years Google has become an attractive employer famous for its informal corporate culture, focus on long-term innovation and various employee benefits. Less known are Google’s attempts to tweak traditional managerial techniques to make work suck less and of course improve performance in the digital workplace.

WHY IS IT AN INTERESTING CASE STUDY?

Google, unlike most companies, undertakes research in modern management techniques with its People & Innovation Lab (PiLab), which collaborates with Google’s People operations (commonly known as HR). PiLab takes an evidence-based approach to studying the company’s people analytics. Another interesting aspect is that Google is willing to test new ideas and disregard them if they prove to have unsatisfactory or have unfortunate consequences.

One story that exemplifies three of Google’s managerial techniques is when a Googler posted on the message board (Networked communication architecturethat he would like to build a prediction market and asked for input (Crowdsourcing insights). Soon after, he got both feedback and volunteers who would like to use their extra capacity (Innovation time off) to build a prototype, which later became Google Trends.

KEY LESSONS

  • Take an experimental approach to your company’s management techniques.
  • Integrate technology and new communication forms in the daily practices.
  • Enable people to work together based on common interests in a business-relevant subject.

MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES

  • Innovation time off.  Google became famous for their use of ‘time off’, although they allegedly stopped using the technique around 2013. When it was in place, all Google engineers were encouraged to spend 20% of their time (1 day per week) on an innovation project that was of their interest, but not a part of their responsibilities or mandated tasks.
  • Networked communication architecture. Even before launching Google for Work, the company had pioneered strategic internal communication by combining new communication tools. Google’s technology mix includes: Misc List, where topics range from the company’s controversial strategy in China to the menu in the company’s dining rooms, MOMA (Message Oriented Middleware Application), “Snippets” a site where every Google engineer posts a weekly summary of personal actions and accomplishments.
  • Crowdsourcing insights. With the networked communication architecture in place, Google employees can easily ask for feedback and input from colleagues from other locations or the whole organisation.
  • Upward feedback survey. Google use upward feedback survey to make managers accountable for their ability to engage subordinates. When they introduced the survey ratings had no consequences, but today feedback is used actively in leadership development and allocation.
  • Public experimentation. Google used to have a project called Google Labs for testing projects such as GmailGoogle Calendar and Google Wave. On Google Labs’ public access Web site users could test-drive some Google services that were not ready for a full roll-out. Other projects on Google Labs were invitation-only but large numbers of trusted testers were invited.
  • Objectives and Key ResultsGoogle’s approach to steer the company towards a strategic objective and align all employees’ efforts to that goal.
  • Advice process. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt is quoted for saying that he does not seem himself as a decision-maker-in-chief, but rather he is “(…)usually okay with the outcome, but I want to get us to a decision”. A core principle in Google is therefore that all impacted by an executive decision have the right to be involved in the decision process and representatives of stakeholder groups should be consulted when key decisions are debated.

 

SOURCES

Google Effectively Kills ’20 Percent Time,’ The Perk That Gave Us Gmail by Christopher Mims

Employee-led innovation by Birkinshaw & Duke

Google’s simple recipe for management accountability by Paul Wallbank

Are KPI’s a business evil? by Paul Wallbank

Google’s Project Oxygen: Do Managers Matter? by David A. Garvin, Alison Berkley Wagonfeld & Liz Kind

Evidence-based People Management: Google Pushes On by Yosh Beier

Future of Management by Gary Hamel

Prediction Markets at Google by Peter Coles, Karim Lakhani, & Andrew McAfee

Google FAQ via Wayback machine

Startup Lab workshop: How Google sets goals: OKRs by Google Ventures