Most companies that explode with growth get strangled by their own success. They create a self-worshiping culture and lets loose a storm of antibodies when the successful status quo is challenged by new ideas. The ideas are choked by company clones who surround the invasive creativity and destroy it. The weapon of idea-destruction is bureaucracy. And recently Google decided to risk its future by blowing up its own bureaucracy. So the businessman, Eric Schmidt, is out as CEO and one of the founding entrepreneurs, Larry Page, is in.

To be fair, Google is no one-trick pony. Not only does their search engine continue to gain market share, the most popular smart-phone operating system in the world is Google’s Android. It turns out Google has lots of cool stuff up its inventive sleeve, mostly because they’ve systematically turned their workforce loose to think. Now they will try to turn them loose to execute. That matters.

The term used to describe fully committed employees is engagement. In our Apple to Zappos research we have found that employee engagement is a driving factor when it comes to success in 21st century business. Turned-on people think more creatively and work more productively. And Google understands that a company’s success is centered on its employees and that the first responsibility in social responsibility should be to one’s employees. They are famous for it. Here is their philosophy about how to treat talent.

Their Top 10 Reasons to Work at Google used in recruiting sums up their approach to their employees: 1) Lend a helping hand, 2) Life is beautiful, 3) Appreciation is the best motivation, 4) Work and play are not mutually exclusive, 5) We love our employees, and we want them to know it, 6) Innovation is our bloodline. 7) Good company everywhere you look, 8) Uniting the world, one user at a time, 9) Boldly go where no one has gone before, and 10) There is such a thing as a free lunch after all.

And speaking of lunch, here are just some of their perks in Google heaven:

  • They run 11 free gourmet cafeterias at its headquarters and offer all its employees free gourmet meals.
  • They offer $5,000 toward an environmentally friendly car and offer free, Wi-Fi coaches from five Bay Area locations.
  • As part of maternity, Google reimburses employees for up to $500 in takeout food to ease the first four weeks at home.
  • Other conveniences offered to employees include a workout room with weights and rowing machine, locker rooms, a massage room, childcare, and five onsite doctors available for employee checkups, free of charge.

While Google’s perks are definitely a factor in their employee engagement, it’s not the only factor. Google works hard to create a philosophy and culture that engages and inspires all its “googlers.” An article in Business Week attributes Google’s strong employee engagement to two strategies:

Strategy 1: Create a two-way dialogue on the most important issues on people’s minds, and

Strategy 2: Engage employees in solving problems, not just raising them.

Examples of these strategies in action are every Friday, Google holds a forum called “Thank Goodness It’s Friday” (TGIF) to have an active conversation and answer questions ranging from product decisions and external news to internal people-related policies and decisions. In addition Google encourages employees to attend problem-solving sessions designed to resolve business challenges. Appropriately called “Fixits,” these sessions can invite a specific group of employees or be open to anyone. One recent Fixit addressed particular concerns regarding career development in a growing business unit.

Despite Google’s best efforts, they have recently been losing talent to newer startups like Facebook and Twitter. Google is striving to solve the problem, however, and have even developed an algorithm thy say can identify which of its 20,000 employees are most likely to quit so they can fix the problem.

While Google’s main focus is on employee engagement, it’s important to note that they also contribute to social causes. For example:

  • “Caring for China – Google China Social Innovation Cup for College Students” is a nationwide competition that aims to empower China’s youth to become agents of social change. By soliciting project ideas from college students and funding viable proposals, we hope to instill in China’s future leaders the values of social responsibility, the importance of community welfare, and the spirit of self-empowerment. Social issues addressed have included education, poverty alleviation, disability aid, healthcare, women and children, arts and culture, and community development. Through project evaluation, mentorship and funding, we hope play a role in driving true social innovation in China. In 2010, it’s third year, they received 18,200 proposals from 1060 schools. 28 student teams were selected to be funded to run their projects in summer 2010.
  • In early September 2008, Google funded construction of 15 Google Quake Relief Hope Schools in the city of Mianyang in Sichuan province China, helping 18,184 elementary and high school students to return to the classroom.
  • Google Grants is an in-kind donation program awarding free AdWords advertising to select charitable organizations. Since its inception, they have supported hundreds of organizations in advocating and promoting their causes, from animal rights and literacy to abandoned children and HIV education. One example of Google Grants success is CoachArt, supporting children with life-threatening illnesses through art and athletics programs, has seen a 60 to 70 percent increase in volunteers.
    While many people dismiss Google’s policies toward employees as indulgent and only possible because their profitability is stratospheric, others wonder if their employee-centric attitude is what drives out-of-this-world profits as we move from the era of workforce to “talentforce.”

We can learn a lot from Google’s story. All jobs are tough. That’s why you have to pay people to work. But when a good friend’s daughter landed a job at Google, it seemed like she had won the lottery. And in a sense she did. The job lottery at least.

About Apples to Zappos:

“Apple to Zappos: Leadership Lessons From Today’s Successful Leaders Who Are Doing Things No One Else Is” is today’s up-to-the minute story of how innovative companies are thriving by turning business-as-usual upside down. Through data research, executive interviews and in-the-trenches client projects with many of today’s thriving companies, leadership expert, Will Marré, is discovering what big companies like Apple, Nike, and Cisco, and smaller ones like Clifbar and Elite Service Systems are doing in today’s challenging environment that average companies are not. The research is based on 7 competitive indicators: 1) growth, 2) profitability, 3) innovation, 4) sustainability initiatives, 5) employee engagement, 6) social responsibility, and 7) brand insistence. Not all nominated companies are perfect, but they are trying to change business for the 21st century. For more information please visit http://www.willmarre.com/wm/21-companies-leadership-research/.

This is a guest post by Will Marre from http://willmarre.com/blog/

 

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