Tag Archives: Google

Hiring Great People – the Googley Way


Most businesses I know have some very talented people who know about the technology, products, operations and services of their businesses.  They are pretty good executing the daily tasks, and know a lot about their industry.

Attracting and keeping top talent is pretty important (and I have shared many posts on this topic in the past).   In fact, it is THE MOST important determinant of corporate success and the only thing that gives you a chance at developing a sustainable competitive advantage which – by the way – is the main goal of any corporate strategy.

If you think about it, every company has access to the same technologies, capital equipment, software products, and business services as does every other company on the planet.   If so, then these cannot be a source of differentiation.   The key is what you do with all these things that make the difference.   How do you apply them, organize them, use them to make better decisions, etc.  It comes down to the creativity, initiative and determination of your workforce that define if you will win or lose in your chosen competitive space.

So, Hiring Great People is not only important (which all of us accepts as true), but is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU DO (and few organizations consistently ACT as if this were true).  One of them, in my view at least is the search engine giant, Google.  Laszlo Bock (chief people officer), in the recorded piece he did for the Wall Street Journal offers a simple and effective summary of how he thinks his company makes hiring a successful strategic activity.

What strikes me is that none of the ideas he describes are revolutionary in themselves (elements have been done by other companies since I was in business school – more than a few years ago.)  What’s different here is the way they put these elements together and the consistency with which they are followed.

What does Google look for in a new hire?

According to Bock, four things:

1)      General Cognitive Ability.  Can you solve problems, and are you reasonably smart?   The company developed its own screening test, the infamous GLAT (for Google Labs Aptitude Test and you can take the test yourself by clicking on the link).   Some people would hate this experience, but there is a certain category of people who actually view these kinds of questions as FUN.  I’m not one of them.  Here is an example:

“Solve this cryptic equation realizing, of course, that the values for M and E could be interchanged.  No string of leading zeros is permitted.

WWWDOT – GOOGLE = DOTCOM”

The Answer: (from the book, The Google Story) It’s simply a matter of finding the correct digits to substitute for the letters.  This can be done by trial and error, but a more Googley way would be to write a simple computer program.   (‘Sounds easy enough, right?)  Sooner or later you might end up with the correct answer:

           777589                                      WWWDOT

–          188103                                        GOOGLE

=         589486                                      DOTCOM

And if you made the M=3, and the E=6, the answer would be 58948.   Whew! How long did that take you?

2)      Emergent Leadership.  This doesn’t relate to the traditional definition – how many people can you manage?   It has to do with your willingness to step up and proactively face problems and challenges.  They want people who can engage others and help focus energy to solve any problem.  And then, when the problem is solved, you are willing to slip back into the background.  To Bock, leadership and followership are flip sides of the same coin.

3)      Culture Fit.   You need to be happy at Google, and it is surely not for everyone (in case the GLAT question didn’t already make that point).   At Google, they are looking for people who are comfortable with a large amount of ambiguity (since the company work environment is somewhat unstructured and moves at a pretty fast pace – as does the technology around which their business operates.)  You need also to be self-driven, passionate about your life and Google’s values, and excited about collaborative achievement.

4)      Role Related Expertise.   Bock says this is “the last and least important” of their criteria.   This relates to whether or not you actually know something about the specific job you are being hired to do.

It is interesting that the company places lowest emphasis on the last point.  My observation is that in many companies, the opposite is true.   In most interviews I am familiar with the conversation tends to focus more on your academic background, demonstrated job skills, where you worked and what you did.   It seems we are too often willing to sacrifice leadership, values, and culture fit for job experience.   Hmmmm . . .

If you have 5 minutes I would urge you to view the entire clip below to hear Mr. Bock describe many other aspects of Google’s HR and people philosophy.

Watch Laszlo Bock describe How Google Decides on Hires

Other Resources:

Targeting soft skills yields hard returns for employers, how Zappo’s culture and hiring practices make a difference, by Lisa V. Gillespie, Employee Benefit News

Move Over Zappos and Google – The New Role Model for an Org That Really Gets Culture Is…, by Jessica Lee, Fistful of Talent

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The Millennials Speak Up


My last article “The Millennials are Coming (What do we do now?)” prompted some email responses from some readers who wanted to add further perspectives or to respond to points I made.  In general, I think they agreed with my observations, but added some rich commentary about why these points are so.     It reminds me that it is very difficult to generalize about something as complex as an entire generation, and there are as many perspectives as there are people.

One person wrote:

“So, I will start with the caveat that I am extremely defensive about this topic also I have read a lot of articles but disagree with most of the approaches or data findings. My issue is that I read article upon article that states these generational preferences and I think that the statements lose meaning without further exploration.”

Extreme Flexibility

“For me,, she continued, “there is a lot of value in understanding ‘why’ the generation is different because I think the rationale as to ‘why’ exposes one of the most positive generational differences which for me is ‘extreme flexibility.’”

This generation has seen dramatic changes in technology use and has adapted to it as experts (where I would say baby boomers are just adapting as learners). The generation has been exposed to extreme changes in the work force and corporate responsibility and will likely have the most exposure to globalization. The flexibility the generation exhibits is the most impressive to me and is further explained using the next points:

  •  Gen Y-ers want flexible work hours – of course! We lived through a time when our parents missed our concerts and games and missed the connectivity to family events that our grandparents demanded with such norms as stores being closed on Sundays.
  • Furthermore, we grew up in a time when moms stayed at home and families could afford that setup and therefore a working adult didn’t need the flexibility of coming home to meet the cable man, etc.  Today, more economics has made dual career families a necessity.  So we have to learn to balance many more issues than did our parents.

The issue of More “Me Time”

  •  “I’m not sure Gen Y-ers need more “me time” at work.  My colleagues started working at a time when going home truly meant that your focus moved from work to home.  Now, we are constantly connected and interrupted by work during all hours of the day at night with little transition between focuses.  So my perception is not that we need more “me time” at work but rather that we need to make a choice (at some point) to take care of ourselves because we never get to turn our work-life off.”

On this point, another reader added:

  • “It also seems like “me time”/flex time might be more a consequence of technology than of generation–since more people are able to work from home or check email outside work hours, people expect that in exchange for that, they should be able to take time off during the day to go to the gym or to deal with personal stuff. I know people who work at Lockheed where everything’s so classified you can’t have a cell phone or bring work email home who have a much cleaner work-life boundary.”

Constant Flow of Feedback

  • “Gen Y-ers expect a constant flow of feedback – I think this is true, but again I think it is interesting to think about where this comes from. Since I have been working (not yet 5 years) there have been at least 3 down-sizing’s that could have impacted my job. My perception is that this was not as common for our Baby-boomer colleagues. So I need to know how I am doing because it may impact my job! And frankly my Baby-boomer colleagues are the ones who taught me to constantly get the feedback because they are sitting in the same position as me. We all need to validate our work to ensure our job. This is just a change in the workforce and I think it impacts EVERYONE, not just the Gen Y-ers.”

The Need for Mentors

  • “They are looking for mentors – who isn’t? I actually think this is more common for the mature generations then the green ones….But if I humor the concept for a moment, then I would say that we have to find mentors because we are so worried about fitting in.  We need feedback and we need connectivity because people constantly tell us how our generation is bad/wrong/not grateful etc.  So, we exhibit proactive behaviors to prove these perceptions as wrong.”

I find it interesting to read how some of these people feel defensive about criticisms they hear, I presume, from older people.   I don’t think that is anything new.   I can surely remember my parents commenting that my generation was getting it all wrong.  They didn’t understand how we dressed what we saw in Rock and Roll, or how we could be so disrespectful to our country to protest.   I also saw that my aunts and uncles at the time agreed with them.

Sure Millennials are different.   And so they should be.   We all learn from our parents and want to make our own way.   Looking around the planet, it’s hard to argue that the Boomers got it all right.  There are surely many serious problems we are leaving for the next generation to solve.

I believe that those of us in positions of power (older people) build our organizations – including all our policies and procedures – to fit US.  We build our companies around what WE believe, think, and value.

The fallacy of this is that in just the blink of an eye, our children are our employees, and our customers.   So we need to think more about how to build our organizations around THEM.     This should prove vital as they seek to attract and retain the best talent.  This is especially so in industries where technology can be a differentiator.  Millennials are extremely tech savvy, and are better networked than any preceding generation.  There should be a way to harness this skill set and turn it into a competitive advantage . . .

I find it interesting that when I show examples in my classes about companies like Zappos, Netflix, Google, etc., the common reaction is, “Wow that would never work in our organization.”   People seem to think it is some weird California thing.   I suspect these tech companies are more generational focused on younger employees and it is setting a new bar in how graduating college kids are thinking their future employers should look.    My hypothesis is that the less “Google-like” your business looks, the more of a disadvantage you are at in attracting this increasingly important age group.

Other Related Articles

The Millennial Generation

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How Can You Institutionalize Innovation?


Most people I speak with see the need for innovation.    If you are still on the fence regarding this issue, let me suggest the following.

Today’s competitive environment is unlike that of perhaps any other time.  The information age changed almost all of it.  Many traditional factors that enabled companies to be competitively successful no longer exist — like consumer ignorance, possession of proprietary technology, and monopolistic control over markets.  In the information age, knowledge itself is becoming a commodity thus placing a premium on innovation.

Consider how (as reported in FORTUNE) Apple entered the smartphone market in a total of only 18 months from the time of their initial idea. This was an astonishingly short development time for a technology product, made possible because all of the component elements of cell phones were already developed by others and accessible to Apple.  Avoiding “reinventing the wheel” can save time and money.  Yet, the iPhone is a distinctive product, made so by the invention of a unique operator interface.  Today innovation is more about connecting dots and leveraging what exists (whether inside our outside of your enterprise) in new and creative ways.

Often times, innovation is not about a massive dramatic brainstorm, but more about connecting dots.   It has always been this way.  Consider the formation of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc.   He was a traveling salesman selling multi-spindle milkshake mixers.  As it turned out he was curious about why one client (the McDonald’s brothers) were purchasing so many of his products.   He went to see what was arguably the first fast food restaurant concept that the brothers had created.   Kroc’s innovation, was not, in fact, the McDonald’s world-famous hamburger, but rather it was his ability to recognize that fast food just may be on the vanguard of not only a new way of eating, but a new way of operating business that could be popular and scalable.

So moral of these two stories: We need to move fast, and in a more entrepreneurial way.  The problem is, that most of our organizations are not designed to enable these things.

If you walk through an auto assembly plant (which I have done many times) you will be struck by the complexity of the machinery and how it must demand an incredible amount of logistics, planning control, rules, structure and systems to be in place to enable things to run smoothly.  We love (and need) structure, process and controls.   However these work against us in the context of innovation.

Think about it. When we do capital budgeting, we think in terms of investing in projects that have a 90% chance of success – and meeting predicted outcomes.   Innovation doesn’t work that way.  It’s more like working in the venture capital space – where you invest in 10 projects, nine of which produce ZERO return, and one is wildly successful.   How many traditional organizations would feel remotely comfortable with those odds?  But let’s face it. Whenever you try something new and different, it may not work. That is the nature of invention.  So, in your organization, how many of your department heads are inclined to try new things if they know they are going to be penalized if they fail?   Who among your department heads would commit resources for new things given the culture you have in your company?

In your business, if an employee had an idea to make something better, that would take 2 people one week to test and $5,000 in supplies, what is the amount of bureaucracy he or she would have to wade through to get the approval to try?   While we need some control, if the effort required to bring new ideas to the forefront is too hard, people quickly stop trying.   The result is that we end up anchored in the status quo.

So we need to re-think:

Who and how we hire.  We all know that some people are born mavericks, while others are very comfortable in a structured environment following rules.  Most organizational design and culture drive toward conformity today.   We need to think about hiring more entrepreneurs, more right-brain people, and more outsiders in our organizations.   It is natural for HR officials to think about their statistics of employees by race or gender, why not by background or their comfort with risk?   (The next problem of course is if you hire a more emotionally and intellectually diverse workforce, you will lose them if the culture prevents them from working up to their own potential. For example, if you hire a creative maverick, but shackle him with constraints, bureaucracy, and rules, he will become so frustrated that he will leave.    If we hire divergent thinkers, we need to put them into a cultural environment that allows them to perform well.)

The incentive systems that reinforce behaviors.  Incentives in this case, are more than just pay and bonus, but include how we recognize performance, how we decide on promotions, and how we react to reasonable failures.   The one size fits all mentality that drives some HR officials is a mindset that was right in the 20th century but is losing relevance in this one.   We are all different, and are motivated by different things.   In my business, we gave away trips to Hawaii or Hilton Head, sabbatical time for people to work on pet projects, extra time off, condominium rights and even Hummer H2’s.  The driving factor should be what would make the most impact on each individual.   Money works for some people – to a point – but it is overall a poor long-term motivator.   Also have a good conversation internally about how you respond to people who bring ideas with only a 25% chance of success, or those who tried something and failed.

The right balance between structure and freedom.   We all acknowledge that we can’t have complete chaos in our organizations, we do need some structure.  But if you aren’t seeing nearly enough innovations bubbling up in your organization, you need to consider how you can encourage it.  Google is perhaps one extreme example of trusting employees with their 20% time which allows their employees to take one day each week to do ANYTHING they believe would best benefit the company.     If you think about it, there is some structure, in that the company decided it would spend 20% of its technical payroll budget on R&D through this “20% time” creation.   Sure, many of the ideas that emanate from this time don’t go anywhere.   But some do . . .  how about some of these Google Products?   Here are some more. When you hire talented, motivated, and passionate people to begin with, why not trust them to invent?   Google is not alone, by the way – software company Intuit offers its employees 10% of their time for innovative idea creation (see the Intuit Linked-in page section called Innovate for Impact.)

Ways to bias our people to generate innovative ideas.   We as leaders need to project that we are interested in, and encouraging of experimentation and new ways of thinking.   INC Magazine reports on one innovative company, marketing strategy and consulting firm – Brighthouse Inc., where CEO Joey Reiman hosts an annual event called March Fo(u)rth.  On that date every year, each employee is encouraged to do something they have never done before – say skydive or deliver a speech before a large audience.  If you want a culture where it is desirable that your people dream, reach out, and experiment YOU need to make it known, (and you need to do it yourself).

Related Sources

8 Ways to Foster Innovation in Your Company, from Inc. Magazine

What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation, by Gary Hamel.

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Be a Better Leader Today: Some Easy Things to do That Don’t Cost a Thing


In our Dimensions of Leadership program, we like to expose people to video examples from other companies like Google, Zappos, IDEO, Mayo Clinic, Dominos, and Quicken – to mention a few.  Google, of course is an amazing example from Fortune Magazine’s list of Best Places to Work.  It’s no wonder they have achieved this status with their campus environment, empowering management style and lavish perks like free gourmet food and company massages.

A common reaction to this by participants is to say that their company could never be like that because (and you can fill in the blank____________).  Usually, it centers on the notion that it must cost a lot of money to treat employees the way Google or these other companies do.   They go on to comment about their being budget-constrained, having been through cut backs, or on a hiring freeze.

I think some people feel that such company behaviors are simply so far outside of their current corporate culture, we can’t imagine being more Google- or Zappos-like.   (I imagine most mid-level managers would be afraid to bring up this conversation for fear of being chastised or laughed at.)

I remember listening to a talk by Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson.  He presented their approach to this topic, and during the Q&A session one of the CEOs in the room said to him — “you can afford to do all these things for your employees because you are an internet company and have healthy profit margins. . . most of us here are in markets where our margins are being squeezed every day.  We just can’t afford to be like you.”

Emerson thought for a moment, and then replied “Sir. . . I certainly don’t pretend to understand your business or market . . . but from where I sit, I just don’t see how you can afford NOT to do things more like we do.”    In Emerson’s view it is a matter of FAITH, and going to great lengths to show employees that you value and appreciate them is the key to unleashing unparalleled loyalty, which will lead to better engagement, more productivity, and more innovation – thus improving business performance.

(Note, I certainly know some smart executives who do not think the companies I mentioned have a solution that would work for them, and I do respect that.)

However, it seems to me that a lot of what drives success has little to do with lavish perks.  In fact, here are a number of tips that cost nothing.   All they require is a mind-set on your part that they are important.   (See also a related article by Amy Levin-Epstein, “Become a Better Manager: 14 Simple Tips to Try Today”.)

Say Thank You.  When someone goes the extra mile, or simply does something you think embodies what you feel your culture and values should reflect, you should say something.   Our people pay attention to what we seem to reward and celebrate.

Lavish Praise Often.  US World Cup winning soccer coach Tony DiCicco put it this way: “[Our] job [as leaders] is to try to catch them (our employees) in the act of doing something right, and then make a big deal out of it.”  DiCicco learned along the way that some lavish praise works far better than “constructive criticism,” which is often not received as constructive at all.  If you can, do this publicly.

Get Over Yourself.  Sure, you got where you are by being good at analyzing problems and making decisions.  You probably take pride in it, and see this as the key way you offer value to your enterprise.  So you have a tendency to want to be involved in all decisions.  You feel you will do it faster and better than all others.  While this might actually true, your team will never develop unless you let go of the reins and you give then the chance to exercise their decision-making skills.  Think of yourself more as the person who creates environments within which your people can make better decisions by themselves.   Schedule brainstorming sessions, set up off-sites, assign problems to teams.  It IS NOT ABOUT YOU.  Your role is more that of cheerleader, coach, and facilitator.

Invest in Knowing Your People.  Allocate some time to speak to your team members about anything BUT work.   Ask them about their weekend, their kids, their hobbies etc.   As long as your interest in them is genuine, most people will appreciate that you see them as multidimensional and more than what their job title says.

Serve them.   Mabel Crawford, one of the best leaders I think I have ever observed, was a simple elementary school principal in urban Detroit.   Her school lacked resources, and her kids came from neighborhoods where the deck was stacked against them.   Yet her school performed as well as did schools in the wealthy suburbs.   She led with passion, caring and unfathomable energy.  One of her habits was to visit EVERY teacher in her building each day, and ask them what she could do that day that would help them.  One of the teachers remarked to me privately “We hardly ever ask her for things – since we know how hard her job is.  But we really appreciate that she is sincere when she asks us, and would go to the ends of the earth for us if we asked.   That knowledge is more than enough for me.”

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GOOGLE’S Innovation Secrets (It’s not about the perks)


One of the companies we like to talk about in our leadership programs at Xavier when we speak about the importance of culture is Google.   Many of you know of the legendary perks and employee benefits that this Silicon Valley search engine giant lavishes upon their workforce (called Googlers).

Here is 3 minute video on how Oprah showcased Google when they were selected by Fortune Magazine as the Best Place to Work in America.

Since my son works there, I have had the chance to speak with him and tour the Googleplex for myself.  I can tell you that the video does not do the place justice.

When people across the planet think about creating an innovation culture, Google almost always comes to the top of mind.  But what makes the culture work?  Is it the gourmet food, the massages, on-site free health care, the workout facilities that make the difference?

Or, could it be the lengths they go through to hire only the best people?  Google receives over one million resumes per year for about 5000 –ish positions.  I guess they can afford to be choosy.  But there is more to it – the GAT (the Google Aptitude Test), for example, was developed by the company and it makes SAT’s and GMAT’s seem like child’s play.    The test helps them measure one’s creative thinking and problem solving skills – attributes that they feel identify the kind of “geeks” that are just perfect for the kinds of work done at the company.

Or, perhaps it has to do with the overall rigor of the hiring process.  People have been known to go through as many as 14 separate sets of interviews before being hired.   (You might be able fool an interviewer once, but it gets much harder when they get 14 tries to peel back the onion).

Or, perhaps it is the fact that they trust their people.  So much, in fact, that they allow Googlers to spend one full day per week working on ANY project of their choosing they feel would best benefit the company.  Google refers to this as their 20% time, and many of their product innovations have come from these creative explorations by their employees.

In a recent article in Google’s Think Quarterly e-magazine Google senior VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock shares his view of where the “Magic” comes from in his piece Passion, not Perks.

In Bock’s view, the perks, while awesome, have little to do with their success.   He says it really comes down to three main points.

Mission

“We spend more time working than we do on almost any other activity in our lives.  People want that time to mean something” says Bock.   According to the company website, Google describes its mission as “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.  This seems to many of their employees as being less about making money and more about making the world better place.  My son told me about one of the more interesting applications for the new Google + product – creating “hangouts” where home-bound physically impaired people could engage with others through web conferences.  As I heard him talk about it, I could distinctly sense a high level of personal pride and satisfaction about how he gets to work on something so much more than yet another social networking site.  This one is being used for something important.  I would suggest to you that new Google Chrome TV commercials are focusing on the same idea proclaiming “the Web is what you make of it.”

Transparency

In IT, the idea of Open Architecture is one that I’m sure many of you have heard.  Google seems to work very hard to be open with its employees.   They host a weekly information session where Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin share information with all employees, and invite questions.   According to Bock, virtually no topic is off-limits.   Eric Schmidt has been known to share board packets with employees.  They seem to genuinely want their employees to have access, and to know as much as possible about what’s going on and where they are heading.    They trust that their employees will keep the information confidential.  I have found this to be so in conversations with my son about his company where he has more than once told me “I don’t think I can really talk with you about that”. When you give trust TO someone, and you have chosen well, they will live up to your expectation.

Voice

This one should be obvious, but many leadership program participants we encounter would not say their voices are really heard within their organizations.  Google has been innovative in trying to figure out how to listen to its employees (which gets increasingly hard as the company gets larger and more geographically dispersed).   Here are some of the means they use to listen, recognizing that good ideas can come from many different places in different ways:

  • TGIF (the weekly information session with Sergey and Larry
  • various sites and listservs
  • Google+ conversations (of course)
  • the Google Universal Ticketing Systems (‘GUTS’ – which is a way to file issues about anything, and is then reviewed for patterns or problems, similar to New York City’s 311 line)
  •  ‘FixIts’ (24-hour sprints where they drop everything and focus 100 percent of our energy on solving a specific problem), and
  • a wide range of surveys

Giving information openly and inviting many voices does not necessarily mean that Google is a democracy.  They do have a hierarchy and specific people have to make final decisions.  If you think about it, we don’t always expect to get things our way, but it feels a lot better when we feel our opinions were seriously considered.

All of these things could be done by any company.  And, for the most part all three of these are (more or less) free.    Sure the perks would be nice to have.   But they don’t really make the difference.

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