How Google Works by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Roseberg

Lucia Worthington

It is refreshing to get an inside look into a successful global icon like Google. “How Google Works” is a telling read. While the company has generated amazing growth and profit, their touch goes beyond algorithms and techy innovations; their success lies in the methods they use to get the work done.

In the book, authors Eric Schmidt, Google executive chairman, and Jonathan Rosenberg, former SVP of Products, describe and explain the company’s philosophy. The book was first published in September 2014. It should be noted that since that time, Google has expanded its name/trademark to become Alphabet, the newly named conglomerate which contains a number of subsidiaries with the Google prefix and name.

Three of the most interesting things in the book are found in the chapter titled: “Hiring is the most important thing you do.” The authors’ stress that candidate selecting may be done by HR professionals within the company, but the final hiring should be done by committee. This is to avoid myopic thinking, favoritism or inexperienced lone decision-making. Three of my favorite Google practices are:

  1. Hire only smart creatives
  2. Hire only “A” quality people
  3. Avoid facilities envy and capitalize on limited space

Smart creatives are Google’s target employees. To get hired they must pass a number of character tests when called in for an interview. The first hurdle is that they make a good impression with the administrative assistant at the front desk. The administrative assistant’s opinion and feedback is highly regarded. If the candidate was rude or arrogant and does not pass the front desk test, they do not get called back. Second, the candidate must pass the LAX airport test which is described as, “would you want to spend six hours stuck with this person on an airplane”? This is a “Goggleyness” test which requires that the person has good interpersonal skills, along with the general cognitive abilities to make this person worth sitting next to for long periods of time. Therefore, if a candidate being interview appears scripted and a bore, the interview is technically over. Lastly, the smart creative person does not need to be immediately likeable. However, their intelligence must be obvious in that they can carry a convincing, even provocative, conversation to stimulate a creative conversation.

Google will only hire “A” quality people. They call this the herd effect – the reason that “A” caliber people tend to hire “A” people. And, they believe, someone less than an “A” caliber person will feel threatened by an “A” person. They explain that, for example, intelligence envy tends to make “B” people reluctant to hire “A” people. Google anticipates that “Bs” will hire some “Bs,” but prefer to hire “Cs” and some “Ds” to make themselves look better. Therefore, Google reasons the hiring process would dilute if lesser than “A” people were hired in the first place. They refer to this as a threat of becoming a herd of mediocre people.

Facilities envy is minimized with Google’s practice for have smaller spaces. Eric Schmidt, when he first arrived as CEO at Google, was given a space that is described as a closet. The space was tiny and needed decluttering. Yet, within a few weeks of his arrival, Eric was asked (and agreed) to share his tiny space with another colleague. Space sharing was adopted from Steve Jobs, who believed that creativity blossoms when people learn to work together and share ideas at a casual and friendly level. This concept is further applied in creating spaces to socialize – such as eating and recreation areas.

“How Google works” is full of nontraditional management practices. I recommend it to anyone needing to revitalize and energize their people and their spaces.

Lucia Worthington teaches business and management at Clark College and is the faculty advisor for the dynamic B.E.A.M. (Business, Entrepreneurship, Accounting and Management) Club.

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