For the last several weeks there has been a lot written on Yahoo’s mandated work “in the office” policy, which has been compared with Google’s “who would want to leave environment” thinking. In a previous blog, Yahoo’s approach was discussed and analyzed, and now it is time to turn from the wannabes to the real thing. It is important to note that Google has a market cap of roughly 10x Yahoo’s and it is important to remember this when comparing companies.
Take a look at this New York Times piece to get a real look at the Google work environment. Note that for the most part they are just talking about the physical aspects of the work and not talking about their encouragement to work on special projects or their intense push towards innovation. Note that the workplace tends to draw people in and make work even more fun than the rest of their workers’ lives. It definitely is interesting and shows a huge concern for the human talent in the organization. Perhaps the free food is the most powerful aspect, as when you feed someone you show true concern for their well being. Think about the image that presents.
It is very interesting how much thought Google actually puts into the physical locations where their people work. They understand that form drives function. They have a keen understanding of their people and what they are looking for in their jobs. They also understand what is needed for their enterprise to succeed and they do everything possible to make sure the environment drives rather than hinders these goals. They seem to have a high degree of flexibility as demonstrated by paying for NY employees to use exercise clubs outside the facility while building in-house exercise facilities on campus in California. The food offered is both healthy and less than healthy. They allow people to design and build their own desks and workplaces while all the time understanding the need to build strong community.
Very few companies in our industry can match the degree of intensity Google places on their people and the environment in which they work. That is not to say our work environments are not pleasant, it is just that they are pretty standard. In fact, if you look around the industry there is not a lot of difference between office spaces. In some ways, this is a reflection on our industry. Even though our success really hinges on how innovative and productive our people are, nothing special seems to be tried to boost these traits through experimentation. In fact it seems that across the industry there is so much emphasis on image, procedures and compliance that those who step out of the box are often looked down upon.
When talking with senior leaders this image of stodginess is far from what they expect or what they dream their teams could be. They constantly are looking for leaders to step up from the ranks and improve things. They talk about all the freedom their people have and can’t figure out why there is not more innovation. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what leadership wants and what people think they want. If leadership really wants to differentiate itself from competition and really change the way their people think, they need to make outrageous changes to really drive things through organizations that are stuck in the past. The problem is most senior leaders are not outrageous in their thinking. Those companies that innovate have people all throughout the organization making suggestions and experimenting with different ways of doing things. The difference in these organizations is that the senior leaders listen, are open-minded and reward diverse thinking. This type of thinking/attitude nourishes the organization and fuels its growth, kind of like the free food at Google!