Google Inc. has experienced unprecedented growth since its inception in 1995. It has been hailed as one of the most successful Internet start-up companies. In 2003, it was the most preferred search engine the world over due to its precision and speed in delivering search results. Apart from the technological edge, it had over its competitors, Google’s success was also attributed to its ability to attract the best talent and retain these employees. And this was made possible by Google’s organizational culture. During the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, Google was the only company that did not experience any employee turnover, while all other major tech companies experienced employee turnover rates of around 20-25%.
Being in an industry that managed knowledge, human resources assumed an important position in the company. Further, to enhance knowledge sharing in the organization, the founders of Google Larry Page (Larry) and Sergy Brin (Brin), and the revolutionary search engine, wanted to create a flat and hierarchy-less organization. The founders of Google, Larry and Brin graduated in computer science from Stanford University in 1995.
In January 1996, Larry and Sergey began work to extend their summer project work on a search engine. They wanted to develop a technology that would retrieve appropriate information from the vast amount of data available on the internet They named their search engine ‘BackRub’ because of its ability to identify and analyze ‘back links’ that pointed to a given website. This essay tries to trace the human resource policies and practices at Google and the problems it faces in the current situation of talent crunch.
Initial years at Google were mayhem. The founders wanted a flat bureaucracy free structure, and so they ensured that there was knowledge sharing in the organization. The company was structured in a disorganized manner, but it was growing too fast to keep it structured and managing its people and still keep the culture of free flow of information intact. At one point there used to be an all-employee meeting with the founder’s Larry and Brin where all the managerial decision were taken and all information (event the financial information) were provided. This was shocking for an outsider like Eric Schmidt who felt that information could be misused this way. But actually this Larry and Brin successfully motivated and enabled information flow in the company. The problem arose when the company started to grow.
The structure and the company culture were too loose to sustain a growing need for professionalism. Even though the engineers and marketers at Google were intellectually (probably) better than their counterparts in other companies, there was a marked lack of professionalism and discipline among the employees. This was increasing discontent among clients. Further, a structure that is too flat increases the problem of representation. Initially, Google did not have a specified team assigned for one particular project. So there was a different set of people who were assigned on a project which made it extremely difficult for other companies to maintain project momentum. These problems with managing the human resources at Google were creating problems for the management of Google Inc.
These problems of very loose HR policy led to a system that was very picky about the people who was taken in. Google’s HR policies are embedded in its environment and culture of constant innovation. All the human resource management and organizational constructs are developed based on the culture of innovation that it fosters. The evidence of it all can be found in the company’s recruitment policy. The company values people who have a very high quantitative aptitude for engineers. The recruitment policy entails recruiters marking candidates on a scale 1 to 4 wherein the 4 implied that “I want to hire the person and am willing to argue for it”. Currently, the recruitment process has been streamlined into a seven stage process. The assessment test to measure the candidate’s acumen is said to be one of the toughest.
Google’s hiring practices are worrisome. This is because the company has a target of hiring a large number of people within a very short timeframe. There have made their hiring process very streamline because of which they failed to hire the desired number of people from India. Their policy of hiring candidates from Ivy League colleges with the extremely good academic record has become a problem for them to attract the right employee. Further, another dilemma arose when an internal survey showed that people who had been marked average in their assessment were better performers than those who had been marked extremely well. Hence there has been a debate if Google should change its hiring policies for the subcontinent.
The culture the organization fosters is an atmosphere of success. Google’s work culture became legendary in Silicon Valley. Google was an icon of success among Internet companies. For many, the company represented the most successful blend of culture and technology in Silicon Valley. They felt that Google was successful because it had removed unnecessary managerial hierarchies and gave its engineers a free hand to work. However, not everyone was impressed with Google’s culture. Some felt that Google would not be able to sustain its growth with its present culture.
Knowledge management at Google is extremely important as this element of the culture help in constantly innovating new products. The culture that fosters innovation has to be constantly be ignited with elements to reflect upon. Google management also focused on encouraging innovation and creativity at the workplace. It realized that to maintain its growth, the company had to come out with new products/features. However, the company faced problems on how to tap ideas that could be turned into successful products. Said Silverstein, “We always had great ideas, but we didn’t have a good way of expressing them or capturing them.”
They felt that Google had outgrown its informal culture, and that informality would, from now on, only lead to confusion among both employees and customers. Further, Google was also criticized for its recruitment system and its lack of unity of command at the top level. Google had an informal work culture at Googolplex (its headquarters). Both Larry and Sergey wanted to make Google a fun place to work.
Reflecting their beliefs, the Googolplex was decorated with Lava Lamps and painted in the bright colours of the Google Logo. But the company values performance. Even though it fosters flexi-hours and informal dress code, it takes the surveys and compares them against some 25 different measures of employee performance. By doing so, they hope to expose the traits that make for successful employees so they can more readily find the gems amongst the thousands of applications they get each day.
Many analysts feel that Google’s zero per cent employee turnover rate during the dot-com boom was a testament to its salubrious organizational culture. But not everyone was convinced that Google had got it right in terms of its work culture. They felt that company’s culture was not set to manage its growth. A 12-hour working day had become the norm at the company. Google’s recruitment process was also criticized by analysts.
It was pointed out that Google had become too narrow in its recruitment by focusing only on the academic records and graduate ranks of the applicants rather than on experience. Commenting on the recruitment process, one Googler said, “If you’ve been at Cisco for 20 years, they don’t want you.” But the management defended the recruitment process saying that they valued intelligence and brainpower more than experience.
Hence the stringent recruitment process, the too flat hierarchical structure and the company culture have been difficult to foster in countries like India where there is an extensive talent pool but a pool that is not yet ready for Google policies and culture. This is the major dilemma that HR of Google faces today.