Why Google gets away with crazy workplaces – Colin Browne

Sooner or later, any conversation about how to ‘do’ organisational culture, will turn to Google and the craziness it has created in its office spaces. That conversation is usually wrong, however …

Silicon Valley has always been an oddball place. When the men of New York-based IBM wore dark suits and ‘sincere’ ties, it was more common for their competitors in California to wear t-shirts and pad around their corporate offices barefoot. Things just work differently in that tiny corner of the world.

Google is a product of much that came before it, with the additional boost of being a dot.com; a category of upstart that entirely reset the notion of employee benefits during their late-1990s heyday.

Today it is often upheld as a poster child for the adult-playground-disguised-as-work school of thinking, to such an extent that when managers elsewhere contemplate a cultural makeover, they’ll often find themselves thinking in terms of colour schemes and play areas.

The snag is, that totally misses the point.

Google isn’t Google because of the way it looks. The very notion of what Google is, is entirely based on what it does.

For years it has set the cutting edge in one of the most valuable areas of tech: search. As a result, it attracts the best minds in the world, who apply in their thousands, every day.

Those thousands are fairly amazing people; the few that are selected from among their ranks, it’s fair to call exceptional. And exceptional people tend to be already very self-motivated. They like to work because they’re driven by achievement.

The mission they buy into is that of working with the best technology to build something awesome. Since Google is largely unchallenged in several of its market-leading tech areas, it has been considered by many the only place to go, for years.

It doesn’t have a resourcing problem. Doesn’t have a motivation problem. Yet it spends lavishly on artefacts.

With good reason.

Google has sleep pods, free food and beach volley ball courts, because it needs to give its Alpha Alpha employees the opportunity to kick back for a bit now and then, not incentivise them to work.

Those perks may be very attractive; most people would love to work in an office as cool as the ones Google creates around the world. But Google’s culture of innovation, delivery and achievement is fuelled by employees’ time on the job, not off it.

If you want your people to play more, give them ping pong tables. If you want them to work more and to a higher standard, do what Google does: hire people who are driven by achievement and give them something important to aim for. Then give them ping pong tables.

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