Lessons from Google’s High Performance Culture

What makes Google the #2 Most Admired Company in Fortune’s 2015 rankings?  Does their unique organization culture play a role?

Gaining answers to these and other questions was the force behind a Culture Benchmarking Trip to Silicon Valley in which I participated. The purpose of the trip was to unearth some culture nuggets that could be applied to business challenges back home.

What culture take-aways can organizations obtain from the nether world of Google where perks, compensation and Disney World like campuses are over the top?  Well, as it turned out, we can learn quite a lot.

 Transparency and Trust

When we asked our host to describe the culture at Google, the most common terms we heard were transparency and trust.

Google culture is based on the inherent belief that employees are, as are host described, “good, smart people who want to produce good work”.  Google’s researchers constantly gather and analyze data about employees and the workplace. They share the data and involve employees in deciding what’s right.

Talent

Google’s selection process is rigorous and is built upon competencies that are directly linked to Google’s strategy, mission and vision. Cognitive ability, leadership ability, and the ability to contribute to the culture (a competency referred to as “Googliness”) are at the top of the list with role-related knowledge given less emphasis.  Our host commented that hiring is the responsibility of

Innovation

Google was founded on innovation and continues to grow based on a relentless culture of innovation.

The physical environment is designed specifically to enhance innovation. Google’s office layout is meant to increase collaboration by encouraging “casual collisions”. They knock down walls where not needed, creating an environment where employees sit close together. Google allow’s working virtually but prefer that employees be on-site to promote collaboration.

Productivity

The work pace at Google was not laissez faire. Googlers work against tight deadlines and high quality standards. Our host was very upfront in saying that all the perks and services were provided to allow employees to stay focused on their work.

Leadership

The role of leaders in shaping and maintaining culture was obvious. They described a flat organization structures with few layers. Most career movement is horizontal rather than vertical. Leaders were variously described as needing to be accessible, real, transparent and accountable.

Google is truly unique in its size and its capabilities. Most companies may not be able to (or need to) match Google’s work environment, compensation and perks. However, we can learn from their emphasis on identifying and creating a robust culture based on transparency, trust, talent, productivity, innovation and leadership.  You don’t need to be Google to do that.

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