OK, not to brag or anything, but Google flew me out for an interview recently. Really flattering – got a phone call completely out of the blue that ended with them bringing me out to their Mountain View office… airfare, car, hotel – all paid. Thank you Google. And thank you Hertz for hooking me up with a brand new Camaro (on the right).
All in all, it was a pretty great experience. Caught up with some friends, made some new ones, enjoyed once again some world-famous Google cuisine. But here is what struck me most – throughout the entire interview process, there was something strange. Being there felt like I was part of a machine…
The food was great, people were young and smiling, the sun was shining… and yet there was an undercurrent of “big corporation”. When I asked my interviewers “So how do you like it here?” I got generally a very positive response. Naturally. But what struck me was what they didn’t say and what was felt. There was a strange sense (and one interviewer said as much) of “this is really good… for what it is…”.
After the interview, I asked some friends working there about what’s going on. Their take was that Google has become huge and, in the process, has become a two-class society. You have the brilliant “Googlers” and you have the staff that keeps the business running. Both are essential, but brilliance on that scale is harder to come by… or is it?
Brilliant people… I have to wonder. For example, I was part of the team that built JoVE – I was a co-founder and a CTO. Were the people around me brilliant? Sorry, no. In fact, in retrospect, we were mediocre at best (myself included).
So what got JoVE off the ground? Hard work, lots of luck, and the good culture that we had at the time. And most certainly not brilliance.
So back to Google. Are Sergei and Larry brilliant? I don’t know. Do brilliant people exist? Perhaps. Thoughtful people exist. Educated, experienced, wise people exist. Most importantly, driven people exist. But not so sure about brilliant. And reading In Search of Excellence, it seems like culture and drive may be the defining elements of a successful company and are what produces a brilliant result.
And this is where FairSetup comes in. Google’s problem isn’t that it’s big, but that it hasn’t figured out how to get people to feel like partners.
There is this funny thing that I had no idea about when we started JoVE – performance evaluations. How do performance evaluations work? The short answer: they don’t… Here is the thing about performance evaluations today – if you use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), you effectively silo people out giving them focus, but eliminating the creative collaborative drive. Great for button-pushers, but requires really good management to ensure that people are happy and productive. And there are not a lot of good managers out there (despite every manager thinking otherwise about themself.) So, in most cases, KPI-based management is not terribly healthy. So let’s do performance evaluations where the manager gives employee feedback. That’s not a very bright idea either as managers have limited understanding/visibility. OK then, let’s do 360-degree evaluations. That’s better, but how often? Most do yearly or 6-month evaluations, except that these don’t work very well either – if an employee is doing a good job, a pat on the back hardly helps; if an employee is performing poorly, scolding someone after an extended period of time just creates bad blood.
Google is one of the more progressive companies. So what do they do? Apparently, they do quarterly evaluations and, from what I hear, this process takes a whole day, everyone hates it, and it’s seen as a corporate bureaucracy.
So this is why I am excited about FairSetup – it’s really the first team management or performance evaluation system to do ongoing collaborative performance management. And if even Google isn’t doing ongoing evaluations and we figured out how to do them, then perhaps we just may be one step ahead of the market…