Every Wednesday as part of our new blog series, Phanta Media will be highlighting a company that we think epitomizes being driven by a single value. Whether it’s research and development, marketing or company culture, we wanted to show what you can learn from companies whose singular focus propelled them to the top of their game.
Company culture superstar: Google
Google is ubiquitous. True luddites aside, it plays a part in everyone’s everyday life (yes, even iPhone users). And as company culture plays a more prominent role in how we look at large companies, Google has come forward as a company almost defined by its culture. Sure, they’re an innovative company (but they almost always seem one step behind their main competitor of Apple) but they’ve never had the emphasis on research and development or marketing of their products in order to put them over the edge. Instead, Google is all about how they see the world, how they treat people.
Yes, it laid it on a little thick in The Internship, but Google really does believe that the key to its success is happy and healthy employees and a strong message put out by the company. And it’s done them some pretty big favours so far.
What company culture is to Google
Google focuses on company culture in two capacities: the company culture within the context of day-to-day operations and how they treat their employees, and the message it sends to the world through its public mission statements.
In Silicone Valley, companies aren’t just viciously competitive in who makes the best product; there’s crazy competition for who is the best company to work for — which is why so many employees seemingly float between the big companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. Retention rate at these kinds of companies is naturally on the lower side because of the way young and brilliant minds tend to get snatched up by others, so Google takes company culture seriously so that their own turnover can remain relatively low. They are, as a result of their practices, consistently ranked among one of the top companies to work for.
In the broader context of company culture, Google uses its “don’t be evil” culture as a public persona to help set itself apart from other tech companies without literally pretending to not be driven by profits.
How Google became anti-corporate (inside)
The “Googleplex,” as Google HQ is referred to, really looks more like a grown-up playground than an office in a lot of senses. Massages. Ping-pong tables. Arcade games. Nap pods. Sounds pretty cool, and it’s no wonder that tech start-ups and even larger companies strive to emulate the vibe.
But it’s beyond the superficial, the beanbag chairs and the table tennis. Just look at the term they use for what most of us call “Human Resources” — “People Operations.” They treat their employees like people. Of course, anyone can use that buzz-phrase. But here’s how Google does that: they recognize needs.
That means that health and wellness go beyond benefits. Free breakfast, lunch and dinner, chef-prepared and organic. Beyond health care, the haircuts, gyms and dry cleaning are free. While this seems like a really neat perk, it’s also going to result in productivity on Google’s part.
Because happy workers are good workers, right? More than that. When employees are not leaving to go to lunch, you have them for that much longer. When they don’t have to book time off to get a haircut, you have them that much longer. When they are not late (or leaving early) to get to the gym, you have them for that much longer. And when employees are actually going to the gym because they feel like they have the time and don’t have to worry about memberships or payments, you have them that much closer.
Their approach to such policies is simply based on practicality and evidence. When they found that women were leaving their company far more frequently than men, they increased paid maternity leave time. The result? More retention of women.
Google also, however, knows when to tone down its quirkier practices. After years of being semi-infamous for throwing crazy brain teasers at their interviewees such as “How many golf balls can fit on an airplane?” and crossing their fingers that prospective employees will give them back any answer other an “I don’t know,” Bock announced in early 2013 that these were a waist of time and only served to make the interviewer feel smarter. Their interviews are now far more conventional, which goes to prove that being different doesn’t work if it’s just for the sake of being different.
And how it became anti-corporate (outside)
Google’s formal corporate motto of “Don’t be evil” first appeared in early 2000 when they existed solely as a search engine company. It’s pretty straightforward and can mean infinite things, but in this original context it meant to avoid conflicts of interest and separate searches from ads.
The irony of this is that it is currently a legal requirement to differentiate search results from ads, so some critics have said Google should do away with the phrase since it’s really just adhering to a legal requirement at this point.
But Google has continued to embody “don’t be evil” in other senses. Another mission statement published early on was Google’s “10 things we know to be true,” which toted, among other things, “You can make money without doing evil.” They’re straightforward — they don’t pretend that Google isn’t making money. They identify Google’s users as both their advertisers and those merely using Google’s services.
This helps the company because, like their internal culture, it shows that they’re people-focused without reeking of PR-created phony baloney.
Lastly, a vital part of Google’s image and culture is that what is important to their users is more important than what’s important to them. Their culture is our culture, and they celebrate that through acts such as their year-end round-up videos.
Why we can’t get enough
Even though Google fancies itself a do-gooder and a cool place to work, we like that Google doesn’t pretend to not be a corporation. They don’t fluff up their “don’t be evil” angle and act like they’re making the world a kinder, happier place. But they do own what they’re good at. They’ve developed a nature for anticipating needs of both their users and their employees, remedying them before it’s a problem.
We also love that their company culture is insistent both in and outside of Google’s HQ. They don’t claim to be one thing and then completely abandon that when it comes to how they treat their employees. They’ve understood the basic idea that happy employees are good employees, keeping turnover low is good for business and HR should be people-focused.
Five lessons young companies can learn from Google
- Don’t be different just for the sake of it.
- Create policies based on experience and proof, not because they “seem cool.”
- Be honest about the fact that you’re making money.
- If you see something becoming a problem in the future, don’t sit on it.
- Happy employees are good employees.