17 Oct What I Learned about Purpose at Google HQ
Last week I spent an amazing day at Google Headquarters in the Silicon Valley. Given their success and the fact that Fortune Magazine has named them the Best Company to work for in America eight of the last eleven years made my visit feel that much more important. In this blog I will share why I think Google is the best company to work for, why what seems New is Old School and some great gems I got from Google on Thriving in an Age of Disruption.
The reason I was there is Coca Cola sponsored a Summit of Chief Marketing Officers from across the United States and I was one of a select few thought leaders invited to keynote at the event, which focused on Thriving in the Next Industrial Revolution. The second day Google hosted us to share their vision for the future and to crack the door into Google culture.
I want to tell you what I learned at Google but there is some bad news. I had to sign a big time non-disclosure to spend the day there, so I can’t tell you much of what they told me but I can share my impressions.
My first impression was about the reaction of the Chief Marketing Officers and thought leaders who joined me that day. They (including yours truly) were falling all over each other to take pics as if we were all on a long anticipated holiday and wanted to show it off. I asked the rhetorical question, “If a group came to your HQ today would they be doing this?” Everyone said, “Absolutely not.”
Our first interactions with Google team members and leaders confirmed what I suspected- when you work for a company with this kind of global reputation, there is an incredible pride that pulsates. Not one person seemed less than energetic to be there.
Purpose is at the Heart of the Google Magic
Most of you know that Google offers free amazing food at all their sites which is true and we got to taste some of it. Apparently, some Googlers eat all three meals at work! They have great perks, are well paid, have generous sick leave benefits and get help paying for education and all that stuff. But it didn’t take long to realize that the BIGGEST benefit at Google is you get to be part of changing the world.
Whether it is self-driving cars, reducing traffic (they say eliminating traffic), reinventing how you pay for items in a store, or reducing carbon, this company is way more than an internet search firm. Surrounded by scores of excited millennials reminded me of something I often tell people- What matters most to the millennials is “the millennials want to matter.” They want to work on cool stuff and feel they contribute to changing things. This is the biggest perk of all and Google not only lets you be part of that but frees up team members to devote part of their time to projects of passion (in much the same way that 3M has done for many years). Not only is this great for the company because it leads to new products but it gives people a chance to matter.
Google’s original mission statement was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Its unofficial motto was “Don’t be evil,” a phrase which appears on its Code of Conduct page for employees and investors.
But Part of Google’s Magic is Old School
Reading this might make you think that to be a great place to work these days you need to be “cutting edge”, have great stock options, and be in the headlines every day. But here is the thing, part of the magic at Google is very old school. Twenty years ago I made a visit to a relatively unknown bank named Synovus that had just been named the Best Company to work for in America. Less flashy and sexy than Google, they made the list because of their down home good values, the fact that it felt like family to work there, their commitment to make a difference for customers and because you got to bring your brain to work (and have your ideas valued).
While Google has lots of sizzle, team members talk about it feeling like a family, really feel they are part of the culture through town halls and open communication, and talk about lots of collaboration. Given our age of disruption it might surprise you that number two on the great place to work list is Wegmans Food Markets of Rochester, New York, which is one of 12 companies that have appeared on the list for all 20 years, and has also been designated one of the Great Place to Work Legends. The grocery chain has locations in six states, including Maryland. Its employees say “there’s a lot of love and caring” at this 100-year-old family-owned grocery chain, where workers have flexible schedules, ample promotion opportunities and “feel like family.”
Purpose can working on cool stuff at Google or it can be treating customers and each other with respect, or as Jimmy Blanchard, former CEO at Synovus told me twenty years ago “You have to have the power of love.” So, by the end of the day I realized that Google isn’t number one because they are new school, they are number one for the same reason that leading companies have always been great places to work. Purpose plus the feeling of being part of the family equals magic! Google is kind of like NASA with free food.
Thriving in an Age of Disruption-A Few Google Gems
Of course, the Google team reminded us that no company can rest on its success these days and that disruption is always waiting right around the corner.
So here is some advice I got that helped me in my business and it just might help you too:
- The most important question is- If you were starting your biz again from scratch what would you do differently? If you aren’t thinking that way your future competitors are, watch out.
- Fail Fast, Fail Often, and Fail Cheap. Test everything you do and stop if it isn’t working. Stop Fast.
- Make sure you are building the right It before building It right. Most companies and individuals get wed to having the right It before we know if It will work. We invest money, energy, and time into doing “right” what may not be the right thing to do at all.
- Make it some people’s job within your company to disrupt your existing business. Tinder was born because Match.com picked some people and said Disrupt our main business! – Make it your mission to put us out of business.
- Almost all innovation is not new but the combination of existing things. The wheel (and horse cart) plus the engine was a car. A hotel plus a private home was AIR BNB. A private car plus a taxi was Uber. You get the idea. Maybe it’s not that hard put your mind to it.
- And some good news- Don’t worry about computers replacing human intelligence anytime soon. They told us that right now the smartest machine learning is about like a three year old-phew. Only now can a computer tell the difference between a dog and a cat.
So, thanks Google for a great day to remind us all that what is old is new and what is new is old. Have a purpose, create a company that feels like a family, treat people with respect and for goodness sake know that anyone can disrupt you at any moment, so never get arrogant.