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Beyond the Conference Room Solution

July 17, 2013

My Visit to Google

I recently came back from Mountain View, California where I was invited to give a speech as part of the famed Authors@Google program http://youtu.be/tBiILyK8eyU

As I toured the magnificent Googleplex campus, it felt like a cross between Disneyland, the MIT Media Lab, Summer camp, and a company where work actually got done.  Much has been written about the facility and the culture that Google has cultivated, but seeing the organization first hand was a fantastic experience.  As I drove into the complex, I saw dozens of people riding yellow, green and red bicycles across the trails on campus, to picnic spots, and to their various meetings.  When I asked one of the riders where I should park my car, he replied “relax…anywhere is fine.”  And this is why Google has been named the best company to work for by Fortune Magazine for the fourth consecutive year.

Much of the culture that I observed is generally attributed to Laszlo Bock, the head of Google’s People Operations (POPS – or what most companies call Human Resources) which links employee happiness to bottom-line profits.  In fact, POPS uses perhaps the world’s most sophisticated employee-data tracking system to empirically link every aspect of its workers lives to enable to track the level of pay, benefits and perks it provides with the benefits that return to Google.  After all, the Google leadership team is comprised of outstanding corporate citizens… not saints.

A few years ago, Bock observed a troubling phenomenon that was causing the happiness level to decline.  Too many Google women were leaving the company.  When Bock drilled down into the numbers a bit deeper, he realized that it was actually post-maternity women who were leaving on maternity and not returning.  At the time, Google’s maternity policy provided an industry-standard 12 weeks paid leave.  Bock changed the plan to provide new mothers with five months off with full pay and allowed her the flexibility to use the time both pre and post due date.  The results – a 50 percent reduction in female attrition rate, increased happiness across the organization, and…when you factor in the savings from recruiting costs, the policy didn’t cost Google any more money.

I observed several of the other legendary Google benefits in action.  Employees not only get free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but there have espresso and juice bars scattered throughout campuses – of course filled with the healthy and not so healthy snacks.  When I was there for lunch, they had a visiting chef from one of San Francisco’s best-known restaurants as the chef-in-residence for the week.  He also offered free cooking classes for the employees who wanted to take a break and learn a new skill.
As I took my tour, I was shown the massage rooms where Googler’s receive “massage credits” as rewards for successful projects;  $12,000 Energy Pods for quick refreshing naps, outdoor fitness centers (including a large beach volleyball pit in the center of campus), bowling alleys, and of course, free android devices for all.

Making employees happy isn’t all that difficult.  Google’s breakthrough is it's ability to empirically link happiness with performance and to create a dynamic passionate environment that not only attracts supreme talent but gets that talent to perform to its potential.

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Let’s start with an explanation of the title, Beyond The Conference Room Solution. In all of my workshops and in many of my lectures, I refer to the phrase, The Conference Room Solution as a far too common approach used by organizations use to solve many of their most challenging issues.

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