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How to Google-ize your job

October 1, 2012

Google Campus in Mountain View, CA (image by Yang and Yung on Flickr)

Following the advice of one of my colleague I just finished reading Steven Levy’s “In the Plex,” a comprehensive look into one of the most unconventional companies of our lifetime – Google. While the book was not as entertaining as Steve Job’s biography I read a few months ago, it left me wondering how would it be to embrace a culture where change is the norm, where data rules and where failure is described as “not attempting the audacious.”

Here are a few tips that I picked up that can help you Google-ize your job.

Questioning the status-quo.

Did you know that Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both attended the Montessori School, an early childhood education program that focuses on child empowerment by letting children pursue their own interests & filling their day with activities they choose rather than following a rigid program set up by others. According to Levy, a Montessori upbringing is directly responsible for the way Larry and Sergey went about building their business. You probably heard about their unconventional behavior including rollerblading to meetings or getting rid of their administrative assistants so that they would retain full control of their work schedule. While you might not have the freedom to choose what meetings you attend/don’t attend there is always room (however big or small) to introduce change in your workplace. In my career it was possible to implement change from below through a grass-root campaign to introduce my employer’s first internal social media network. Today this vibrant social channel is responsible for ongoing internal collaboration and minimizing both geographical and business unit silos among distributed teams. Who says change cannot come from you?

Data-driven… goals everything

All of us are involved in the process of performance evaluations at work. Most of us dread the moment of writing our own self-evaluation. Talking about successes feels like bragging and describing shortcomings or failures can greatly affect your career and in some instances can even get you fired if you are working for a company that is extremely risk averse. What’s the answer to your performance analysis? Google says: DATA. Google adopted their performance measuring system originally created by Intel’s Andy Grove and called it OKRs which stands for Objectives and Key Results. During OKR’s goal setting activity Googlers break a major goal into a series of measurable steps and proceed to report on them on a quarterly basis instead of waiting for an annual review. The sweet spot for any Googler is to hit 0.7 or 0.8 out of 1.0 OKR (1.0 = 100%). The worst is exceeding your OKR by a large measure which indicates that you are gaming the OKR system and trust me you don’t want to have that on display next to your biographical info on Google’s intranet. Yes, your employee page on Google’s intranet includes your OKRs and performance data for all to see! The OKR process at Google is a highly anticipated activity. Why? Because data does not lie. Googlers’ goals are highly data-driven and there is no other way to interpret success other than looking at data.

Setting up measurable goals can minimize the pain of going through your own annual performance review. What if you don’t have access to data? Well, find access. Invite your Google Analytica guru for coffee. Educate yourself on the basics of measuring the tasks you are responsible for delivering. As an online marketing pro I look for measurement advice coming from Avinash Kaushik and Katie Paine.

If you work with projects where you rely on people’s opinions to evaluate your tasks. Don’t despair. Instead, learn how to use Survey Monkey or other survey programs to help you evaluate your project’s performance. In the past two years I created and deployed over 30 surveys to help me evaluate performance for a Social Media training program I administer at work. Data-driven goals is what makes it clear to my management that what I do works. You should do the same.

The right-culture

From the very beginning of Google’s existence Page and Brin (both computer science majors) favored other engineers and their opinions above everyone else’s at Google. Engineering minds formed what we refer to today as “the Google culture.” I never worked with engineers directly and I was interested to read about the struggle between Google engineering and product managers as both wanted to be in charge of making major product development decisions. The result of that struggle was the birth of the Associate Product Managers (APM) program. Marissa Mayer who was in charge of the program said the following about the program:

“We take people who we think have the right raw skills and insights and we put them into roles with lots of responsibility.”

Mayer was looking for CS majors with ambitions to become their own CEOs. The very first graduate of the APM program was Brian Rakowski who was assigned to managing …. the Gmail project! Yes, Google believed in shaping their own employees so that they would fit within the Google culture of… well, attempting the audacious.

Regardless of what company you work for or what corporate culture you are a part of, remember that mindless complacency will not help you realize your dreams neither professionally nor in your personal life. If you don’t like the culture look for like-minded individuals who share your values. Is there a chance you can build a start-up like culture from the grounds-up right where you work? Are you looking for more transparency? Is data-driven decision making at the core of your management philosophy? Who says you can’t be the change agent others will align behind?

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