The Googleplex, Google’s original and largest corporate campus
In interviews, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin come across as extremely intelligent, creative, open-minded, and unpretentious people. It is clear that both of them are passionate about using technology to make a positive difference in the world.
Is it a coincidence that Page’s and Brin’s characteristics are also the characteristics of Google’s corporate culture?
Of course not.
The single most significant determinant of a company’s culture is its leadership team. That’s why, if you are engaged in leadership development, you’re also engaged in the transforming your organization’s culture. A leader’s values and behaviors will trickle down and saturate throughout the entire organization.
But only up to a point.
As an organization grows larger, a leader loses her ability to shape its culture. So focusing on leadership development alone will not guarantee that a corporate culture reflects the spirit, values, and behaviors its leaders. Google, for example, has over 40,000 employees. How has it been able to maintain its “startup culture” through rapid large-scale growth?
People: Hire the Right People
“We hire people who are smart and determined, and we favor ability over experience. Although Googlers share common goals and visions for the company, we hail from all walks of life and speak dozens of languages.”
Google knows that every employee it hires will either reinforce the culture of the organization or undermine it. So, instead of trying to hire people and then make them conform to Google’s culture, Google attracts and selects individuals who already “get it”. Google employees share Larry and Sergey’s vision and core values. But these same employees are diverse in every other way imaginable. Google’s diversity in turn breeds the fresh perspectives and new ideas that the company’s thrives on.
Google focuses on ability over experience. This helps it maintain an unpretentious and un-political environment. People advance solely based on the merits of their accomplishments and not based on where they’re from or how good they are at manipulating others.
Policies: An Infrastructure of Openness and Ideas
“In our weekly all-hands meetings – not to mention over email or in the café – Googlers ask questions directly to Larry, Sergey, and other execs about any number of company issues.”
Google strives to maintain the open culture often associated with startups by creating policies that ensure that everyone is a hands-on contributor. Employees feel comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. Policies like these demonstrate that Google’s culture is one where the best ideas, whether from an intern or an executive, can get the attention they deserve.
Place: Where and How Work Gets Done
“Our offices and cafes are designed to encourage interactions between Googlers within and across teams, and to spark conversation about work as well as play.”
Google locates its offices in technology hubs around the world in order to be close to the very best talent. Additionally, the architecture and layout of their facilities ensure that Googlers have plenty of opportunities to talk to each other. Not only does this make for happier employees, but it also fosters collaboration and sparks new ideas.
Developing your leadership team is the first and most import step in transforming your organization’s culture. If you’re developing leadership, you’re changing culture. But don’t forget the three P’s are critical as well. People, policies, and place must all be in alignment and consistent with leadership’s values, mission, and vision. This is the secret to Google’s success.
Image credit: “Googleplexsouthsidesecondangle” by Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia – Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons