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How does a huge, mature company retain the innovative culture and drive of a startup? Daniel Kaulfus, global head of logistics and operations, describes "The Google Way."
Q: What are we talking about when we refer to "the Google Way"?
Kaulfus: It starts with the culture of Google. It’s the foundation from Day One. When people join the company, they go through intensive training. It helps to establish a safe, progressive and multicultural environment.
Q: How do you standardize that approach, and make sure that that corporate culture is spread throughout all offices and individuals worldwide?
Kaulfus: It's a difficult challenge, but I think Google has risen to it. Be it in Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Dublin, or Singapore, we're able to standardize that teaching approach through peer-to-peer engagements. The culture really propagates, once you've got that seed and it starts to germinate. It has a very positive effect globally.
Q: How do you encourage innovation? How do you get ideas to bubble up from the employee workforce all the way up to the top of the company?
Kaulfus: It starts with empowerment. Knowing that employees feel they’re in a safe environment, and won't necessarily be judged on success or failure. The real intent of Google is that employees bring ideas forward, try them, and if they fail, fail fast. We go through a structured review process where we'll review ideas, and those that aren't germinating, that aren't flowering, we'll set to the side, and try to learn from them. For those that are working, we'll concentrate our resources. With that approach we can learn from mistakes and regenerate to grow programs beyond what the original idea would have been. We encourage the concept of thinking big — thinking “moon shot.”
Q: How long do you commit resources to an idea before it becomes apparent that it’s a no-go?
Kaulfus: There’s no solid science to it. New projects go through a review process very similar to traditional companies. The difference within Google is that we're open to all different ideas.
Q: How does a company with the size and maturity of Google maintain the mentality and the culture of a startup?
Kaulfus: We try to start with teams, and keep them small. That helps us to retain a startup mentality. The other key ingredient is that is we keep it fun. You see that with the Google bikes around campus, with the different colors. Those are just surface indicators, but there's a method behind that. We want to keep ideas flowing. With the small-team approach they come naturally.
Q: Often what keeps an employee in an organization is the opportunity to do different things. Is it important to you that people not stay in the same position year after year?
Kaulfus: It's a key ingredient within Google. Our managers pride themselves on exporting talent — developing people so that they can grow beyond just the physical constraints of the team. It’s a key indicator in terms of how managers progress through the company.
We go through a twice-yearly review process of all managers, and we make those results public. What that does is turn the pyramid upside down, with managers truly becoming servant leaders. And it drives a competitive spirit between management teams looking to develop their employees and export that talent. You want to be a good, strong servant leader, because that’s the way careers grow within Google.
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