And just like that, another year sped by. It’s now been thirteen years since I joined Google.
Of the people who started at Google that day just a hair over 50% are still at Google. Glancing through the list1 I see a couple of folks who have left for greener pastures or pursuing something on their own. Others who are still here have made their way up the organizational ladders.
But for everyone on that list the Google of today is not the Google we joined all those years ago. Someone who had been at Google much longer than I have recently published their thoughts after they left Google. They had good things to say about Google, but they also had some pretty harsh things to say. I can’t comment about some of the specifics they mentioned but the general sentiment checks out.
Avery Pennarun2 wrote a post that I think touches on something relevant and important. The post is called What do executives do anyway?. To save you a read (though you really should add it to your reading list), the salient points are:
- An executive’s only job is to “enforce culture and values for their whole organization.”3
- The executives set and enforce the values. The rest of the company comes up with strategies accordingly.
- “In a large organization, executives don’t set strategy.” … “It’s an illusion to believe you can enforce a strategy.”
- Useful organizational values involve real tradeoffs.
People have a common misconception that all employees of big companies are constantly thinking of the bottom line. This is not the case. Precious few teams can draw a clear line from their day-to-day work to any measurable change in the company’s performance4. So at an individual level, decisions are influenced by concerns much closer to themselves: things like base pay, career, admiration of their peers, and their own sense of accomplishment.
There are many things that an individual can work on to satisfy their immediate concerns. The culture and values of a company help narrow these options down to those that benefit everyone.
The reason I brought up the topic of culture and values is because Google has a vacuum where an inspiring vision once was. Layoffs wreaked havoc with the trust that people had for each other and themselves. We are still trying to focus on the user; sharply, in fact. But it is evident that company and its people are increasingly acting out of self preservation,