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Published on Friday, 03 Jan 2014
Laszlo Bock
Photo: Thomas Yau

Laszlo Bock explains how Google drives innovation through transparency and giving staff a voice

Working at Google is often epitomised by its free, healthy meals, rides on the “GBike” and getting to sit on all manner of fancy designer furniture. However, according to Laszlo Bock, senior vice-president of people operations at Google, these are not the reasons why Google is seen as such as innovative company. Below, Bock explains exactly how the company nurtures and cultivates an environment that makes employees perform at the top of their game.

We are driven by innovation, more than anything else. If you look at what our founders put in our mission statement, they talked about organising the world’s information instead of talking about making money, shareholders, customers or users. This broad mission draws people to the company and also gives us something to aspire to.

We believe in transparency. We share a tremendous amount of information inside the company. When you’re a “Googler”, if, for example, you are an engineer, you’d have access to all of our engineering code.

We have this weekly get-together session called TGIF where our founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, give a 30-minute update on the company in front of the whole company. It is followed by a 30-minute Q&A session for Googlers to ask questions. Anyone can ask anything – about the company strategy, the products and other things like the chairs or the lunch menus.

The session has now shifted to every Thursday at 3.30pm in California so that staff in Asia can join the video session on Friday in their time zone.

Another thing that helps shape the company is that we give every member of staff a voice in how the company is shaped. To do this, we have an employee survey called Googlegeist. In the survey, we ask our staff all kinds of questions, which have been designed by a team of PhD psychologists.

Every manager gets a customised version of the reports so they know what is going on in their teams. Then the employees organise themselves to make working at Google better. One of the things our employees have recently developed is a series of meditation courses, as people are saying that they are tired. Googlers also have a voice on business decisions as well.

In addition to these elements of our culture, we also think it is important to have fun. As our founders put it, you can be serious without a suit.

We started doing something a few years ago called “Take your parents to work day”, because our staff want their parents to know what they do. This was started in New York in 2011 and has now been done in over 15 countries. In the last one, we had 5,000 parents visiting our headquarters in Mountain View, California. This is another way to help us innovate, because parents asked about our products and became a valuable source of information.

Our culture modifies the way we think about treating people and working with people. We try to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas and debating and taking risks. It comes back to our mission and it is meaningful to people when they feel personally committed to it. It’s all about being transparent and giving people a voice.

The two outcome variables we care most about are retention and innovation. The way all these things work together helps us to continue innovating.

As told to Hilda Poon

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