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20 Takeaways From Google Innovation Culture That’ll Blow Your Minds!

Mathew Maniyamkott

Mathew Maniyamkott

10 min read

Google’s various offices around the world are known to be extremely pleasing to the eyes, but they are also a hotbed of innovation and imagination. Google and its culture are built around four cornerstones- mission, transparency, voice, and space.

Other companies in the world benchmark Google when it comes to innovation and rightly so. You could name any technology and Google would have worked on it, so much so that it had to create a company called Alphabet (which included Google) which is basically all of their companies put together. This article will talk about 20 innovations in its culture and the takeaways from each of them and why it will always remain one of the best places on Earth to work for. Here are 20 takeaways of Google’s innovation culture:

1. 20 Percent time policy

Google allow its employees to spend at least 20% of their working hours on their pet projects. And the results are incredible!

An innovation policy of Google that almost everyone knows is its popular 20 percent time policy where it allows its employees to spend at least 20% of their working hours on their pet projects. Some of the projects that have come out of this are Google Maps, AdSense, Gmail, Google News, to name a few. Whenever Googlers feel like working on something extra that is beyond their job, they are given extra resources and freed so that it can be completed. By allowing their employees this freedom, not only were they able to gain so much, but it also helps attract talented folks to join their workforce.

2. Google events

As if allowing their employees the freedom to innovate is not enough, Google and its countless volunteers around the world make it a habit to invite speakers from different parts of the world. The collaboration that happens because of this initiative opens their mind and reduces the monotony of work life.   

3. Google’s TGIF

Google also has a weekly meeting where anyone can ask questions to its top leaders about any issues. In its TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday) meetings, the upper management also shares private information where they tell about what happened in the company over the week. Google expects its employees to use this information wisely thus creating a sense of ownership and encourages transparency among its employees too. If you are also looking to express that you value your employees, then you have to share important information on a regular basis and allow them the liberty to ask questions.

4. Dedicated focus on the welfare of employees

While perks is of no use unless the employees don’t find value in their work, Google manages both.

A company that exclusively focusses on the welfare of its employees will always see an improvement in productivity and it manages to keep the employees happy as well. There are plenty of such perks that make Google an extremely employee-friendly workspace which includes chef-prepared meals, nap pods, video games, free health and dental care, subsidies for buying hybrid cars, employee trips, gyms, financial bonuses and more. While these perks might be nothing if the employees don’t find value in their work, Google goes above and beyond in creating a perfect and challenging workspace as well.

5. Collaboration always wins

In most companies, there is no free flow of information between different departments and it becomes impossible to make decisions as soon as it is desired when working on a big project. This leads to a lot of friction and can be quite stressful to the people who are working on a particular project. If you are working on a project at Google, the culture is such that all the stakeholders communicate with each other on a regular basis and ideas are shared with everyone. Feedback and ideas are freely flown between the team members. Researchers, scientists, engineers, product managers, analysts- all of them work together to achieve success in a project.

6. Have a mission that keeps everyone going

Google’s mission? Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Ta-da!

Most of us wake up to do a job and we may or may not be too enthused by it, but if your company has a mission statement that transcends the mundaneness of a 9-5 job, it is no more just a job for you. Working in a company that has a strong mission statement and works hard to achieve the same is a blessing. Google’s mission is to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ Google uses this simple mission statement in making all its decisions. A post on Think With Google says-“When we start work in a new area, it’s often because we see an important issue that hasn’t been solved and we’re confident that technology can make a difference.’ Google’s mission statement has the potential to touch many lives and even the employees feel connected to it and are emboldened to help achieve it.

7. Dogged reliance on data

If you had to make a decision and it depended either on opinions or specific data, would you rather choose data to make the decision or random opinions? It is a no-brainer. Data usually beats opinions. Google has millions of data points and they make it a habit to test and measure everything that they do. ‘People Operations’ is what Google calls its HR department which sends out an anonymous survey called Googlegeist to its employees around the world. This survey asks for its employee’s views on their well-being, compensation, company culture, diversity, career balance and more. This data is sorted in many ways- by manager, by department, by tenure, by region, and more. Managers at all levels get the survey results and are requested to consider this data carefully and take necessary steps.

8. Making work better with ‘re:Work’

There was a time when Google used to ask questions like the one below:

“You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and your mass is proportionately reduced so as to maintain your original density. You are then thrown into an empty glass blender. The blades will start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?”

These unstructured questions were asked with the belief that people would give highly original and well-thought-out answers. Google lately discovered that it works best to ask structured questions related to their work. Since then, Google is using its internal data and is trying to pay it forward by helping other organizations through it’s re:Work program where they share best management practices. The information shared also provides insights into how Google maintains a high level of innovation and creativity. Google, thanks to its willingness to share its best practices has not only build a hub of ideas for ways to “make work better”, but it is also an innovation in itself.

9. Eight-Point plan for managers

While creating point-by-point ‘rules’ for its managers might not seem like the most-employee friendly thing to do, reading these rules might give you a different opinion. Statisticians inside the Google HQ came up with a plan code-named Project Oxygen and analyzed performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top manager awards to create ‘Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers’.

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage
  3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Don’t be a sissy. Be productive and results-oriented
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  6. Help your employees with career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

These habits are created from Google’s own data and thus their employees will be able to relate much better to it.

10. The spirit of “10x thinking”

Google put “10x thinking” at the heart of their innovation and it is a guiding inspiration for all its engineers.

Google says that “10x thinking” is at the heart of their innovation and it is a guiding inspiration for all its engineers. To put it clearly, they say that true innovation happens when you try to make something better by 10 times rather than just 10%. This method of thinking is what makes Google tick which helps them in producing technological innovations that are unparalleled in most other companies. When you focus on such a goal, your imagination is stretched to the hilt and your mind can push beyond the usual limits to create something incredible.

11. Be customer-focused

The end goal of any product should be to satisfy the needs of its customers as much as possible. If your business is clear about focusing on the end user, then the rest of the things that you desire will follow. Even today you can become number one in any area in the field if you can offer something better than the incumbent. Users only care about what they are getting and if you give them what they want, you can easily find success. Keep improving your product and soon you will find yourself creating a culture of winning.  

12. Launch and continuously improve

Google’s culture of launching a ‘half-baked’ product and continually improving has helped them get real-time feedback from its user-base.

More often than not, businesses want to give out only the best version of their products instead of putting out their product to the world and get continuous feedback. Many service-oriented businesses usually have a soft launch where they invite potential clients to visit the place (or use the product), get feedback from customers and see what they love and what they don’t. They take the feedback and improve upon the product in iterations and grow the business (or product) into a successful one. Google usually releases beta version (a version of the product that is available to a set of users outside the company before public release) of products, makes iterations based on user feedback. Even today they do this where each feedback is carefully noted and necessary action is taken. This culture of launching a ‘half-baked’ product and continually improving has helped Google get real-time feedback from its user-base.

13. Sharing is everything

Google’s employees are always told of the happenings in the company, no matter how big or small it is. During every quarter, Google shares its board letter with its 88,000+ odd employees and the same slides that are presented to the Board of Directors are shown in a company-wide meeting. By giving such unrestricted access for all of its employees, Google is encouraging discussion and exchange of ideas which will result in a lot of uninterrupted ideas and innovation. Such an open-office culture creates a lot of collaboration and fuels exchange of thoughts.

14. Culture of encouraging failures

At Google, ideas are flown freely, respected and considered.

While it might be impossible for us to think that Google has a list of products that failed, its culture of embracing failure is exactly the reason for its success. Some of Google’s biggest failures are Google+, Google Buzz, Google Notebook, Google Helpouts, Google Site Search, Google Glass, Currents, Google Buzz, Google Wave, Google Lively, Google Answers and so on. According to Google, it is better to fail as long as you are making mistakes and are correcting them fast. The technology industry moves so fast that failure can be worn as a badge of honor if you make it a point to learn from your mistakes and keep striving for more. The knowledge that you get from failures is used in the development of future products.

15. Right hiring policies

With over 88,000 people around the world on its payroll and still being considered as one of the best places to work on earth is an achievement, very few companies can ever boast off. So they should be doing something right when it comes to their hiring practices, right? Google has always wanted to attract people who want to solve big problems. Google’s referral policy has worked wonders for them and they have found that the best hires are usually ones that come through referrals. Google has a standard interview process, they look for people who are good at a lot of things, love challenges and are open to change. They are selected through a series of detailed interviews and are tested on their role-related knowledge, leadership, general cognitive ability, and personality. In the end, before hiring for expertise, they hire for capability and learning ability.

16. Idea-focused environment

When you have a culture where ideas are openly encouraged, you will automatically start looking for inspiration in the remotest of places. An article on Google’s blog says that they created a platform for users to add data on Google Maps when an engineer from the Indian office opined that a lack of online map data would limit the usefulness of Google Maps. This is how Google Map Maker, a tool that lets anyone make changes to Google Maps came into existence. All of this because ideas are flown freely, respected and considered.

17. Googler to Googler network

Google has developed a culture where team members are expected to do high-quality work. While Google hires exceptional professionals with a high level of skillset, it doesn’t shy away from providing training for its teams and individuals. It also has a G2G network who volunteer their time to help other Googlers. These G2G members do one-on-one mentoring, teach them professional courses, coach them on psychological safety and help build a culture where everyone feels safe. Providing peers to support each other can result in the employees feeling safe and knowing that there will always be someone from the organization who can help them out.

18. Provide clarity and direction

While providing clarity and direction might seem like mundane things that are best written on a paper, the lack of such a structure can be demoralizing to employees. Google’s employees are clearly led to understand their goals, roles and the kind of execution that will go into their job. Teams are formed based on individual strength which is important when it comes to measuring the team’s as well as the individual’s success. Clarity is achieved when the business is transparent in its dealings. Both clarity and direction can be a killer combination for a business to achieve success.

Clarity and direction can be a killer combination for a business to achieve success.

19. Keep the environment fun

A study by Bright HR says that having fun at work reduces absence, boosts productivity and lowers stress levels; Google makes sure that its employees have a lot of fun at work too. In fact, employees prefer having fun at work more than attending motivational lectures and other seminars, as helpful as they might be. Google conducts a lot of events and games where Googlers can let off some steam.  

20. Being humble and curious

You might wonder how being humble and curious makes Google one of the most innovative companies in the world? When you admit that you don’t know it all, you don’t mind working on borrowed ideas, are open to suggestions and utilize existing models instead of trying to create everything from scratch. Google also creates systems to store information from different research and development projects so that this information can be systematically utilized for projects in the future. When you keep track of ideas and old projects, you might eventually stumble upon something that would be feasible to work with new technology.

Conclusion

There is a multitude of articles that discuss the advantages of fostering an environment that creates a positive culture. Usually, it is about creating systems, reducing overheads and other inane things that do not discuss the work-life experience of the most important entity in a workplace- the employee. Google is one of those rare companies that has been able to create a difference by creating a culture of innovation.

Probably the biggest takeaway from Google’s culture of innovation is that if you don’t care for your people, you might as well forget about creating sustained success. There are limitations to the kind of impact perks like money and bonuses can inspire. Creating a positive workspace that inspires people to do more is not something that can be done over a single day, it takes a lot of work.

Mathew Maniyamkott
Mathew Maniyamkott

Guest Blogger at SurveySparrow

Regular contributor to various magazines. Passionate about entrepreneurship, startups, marketing, and productivity.

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