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Google has grown from a small outfit operated by two people to a multinational organization in a few short years. As a company Google shapes how people think, share information, and find information through the Internet.
This paper describes the corporate culture of Google and highlights some of the common characteristics of the organization as they pertain to business communication.
The essay places special emphasis on rules and norms within Google, the company’s hierarchy, Google’s organizational orientation and leadership approaches as evidenced by the current management team including founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
Google was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford University graduates; it began as a two man operation, and over the past 13 years has grown exponentially in wealth, size, influence and global reach. Google now employs over 20,000 people all over the globe.
Corporate headquarters operate out of a 500,000 square foot complex in Mountain View, California, known by the employees as the Google Plex (Flynn 2004; Google 2011). The following paper describes the culture and common characteristics of the Google organization, specifically as they pertain to communication within the organization.
Google prides itself on the innovation its employees embody, and to a large extent the corporate culture and communication styles favored by the senior management team support an open system, both from a technological standpoint – open source – as well as access, management style, leadership style and corporate hierarchy.
Google favors a team atmosphere, and “unlike many technology companies that have become less freewheeling since the dot-com bust, Google has maintained a casual corporate culture with on-site massage therapists, free health-conscious meals and games of roller hockey in the parking lot” (Flynn 2004).
The rules and norms of Google tend to be unwritten and informal; the driver of the company is constant innovation fueled by open access, and the company favors a communication style that allows full access to its leaders at all times.
As such Google’s hierarchy tends to be flat and the chain of command flexible and accessible, and the communication networks remain informal. Google’s organizational orientation supports achievement and is action based rather than role based.
Thus the leadership approaches are social and ideas freely exchange across hierarchical communication structures – formal meetings co-exist alongside volleyball games, and management communication and decision-making is highly collaborative.
Google’s communication style supports its corporate agenda, namely “an emphasis on team achievements and pride in individual accomplishments that contribute to our overall success. We put great stock in our employees – energetic, passionate people from diverse backgrounds with creative approaches to work, play and life.
Our atmosphere may be casual, but as new ideas emerge in a café line, at a team meeting or at the gym, they are traded, tested and put into practice with dizzying speed – and they may be the launch pad for a new project destined for worldwide use” (Google 2011).
The common characteristics derived from those listed above which are most influenced by communication within Google’s organization include rules and norms within Google, the company’s hierarchy, Google’s organizational orientation and Google’s leadership approaches.
Rules and Norms
Rules and norms within Google are overseen by the “Ten Things” list, which communicates the company’s corporate philosophy. The “Ten Things” are as follows: “Focus on the user and all else will follow…It’s best to do one thing really, really well…Fast is better than slow… Democracy on the web works…You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer…
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You can make money without doing evil…There’s always more information out there…The need for information crosses all borders…You can be serious without a suit…Great just isn’t good enough” (Google 2011).
Google’s approach to advertising is also user focused: “Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting” (Google 2011).
Business communication between Google and its clients follow the same tenet as its homepage, in that it remains “clear and simple, and pages load instantly” (Google 2011).
Through the focus on the search engine, Google has transformed communication both in the virtual space and in the live space, as evidenced by the terms “google it,” and “let me it look up.”
Rather than communicate based on what people already know, Google encourages people to continually search and expand their knowledge horizons. Google’s “hope is to bring the power of search to previously unexplored areas, and to help people access and use even more of the ever-expanding information in their lives” (Google 2011).
Google’s preoccupation with speed and efficiency has also sped up the communication of the business world in general. “By shaving excess bits and bytes from our pages and increasing the efficiency of our serving environment, we’ve broken our own speed records many times over, so that the average response time on a search result is a fraction of a second” (Google 2011).
Current business communication moves at a clip largely in part to the influence of Google, a company that set the precedent for speed and efficiency in the online space as well as the business world.
Google’s company hierarchy is ostensibly flat, much like the web that the company helped to popularize. All employees have equal access, and all employees are expected to contribute to the best of their ability (Richmond, McCroskey & McCroskey 2009).
“At lunchtime, almost everyone eats in the office café, sitting at whatever table has an opening and enjoying conversations with Googlers from different teams. Our commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions.
Every employee is a hands-on contributor, and everyone wears several hats. Because we believe that each Googler is an equally important part of our success, no one hesitates to pose questions directly to Larry or Sergey in our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings – or spike a volleyball across the net at a corporate officer. We are aggressively inclusive in our hiring, and we favor ability over experience” (Google 2011).
Google’s organizational orientation is focused on achievement. Google is “active in open source software development, where innovation takes place through the collective effort of many programmers” (Google 2011).
The company’s hierarchy – or lack thereof – has placed it in confrontation with more rigid hierarchical structures in the past, particularly the People’s Republic of China.
As Vericat (2010) writes, when “Google, which is an open sharer of information, operates in or is accessible from a country where open access to all information isn’t automatically considered a good thing by the government, there is tension” (Vericat 2010)
Google’s organizational orientation furthers achievement, and also includes a strong social agenda which is global in scope. According to Google’s chief technology advocate Michael T. Jones, the company’s “mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
The reason that is the mission, and the reason Google does well, is because information is powerful. It enables people to do new things, it educates them for a better life, it raises their expectations.
It is an enabler of a better society. Just information – without funding, without medicine, without clean water – just knowing, one might aspire to those things” (Vericat 2010).
How this organizational orientation affects communication is that it encourages an international approach not only during the hiring practice, but encourages the flat communication hierarchy within the company to extend beyond the confines of the business and into the larger world.
Since Google’s power is so extensive, the company’s influence is felt globally, and the organizational orientation and method of open, unrestricted communication influences other companies and cultures to follow suit, if for no other reason than in the hopes of duplicating the company’s success.
In Google’s words, “our company was founded in California, but our mission is to facilitate access to information for the entire world, and in every language. To that end, we have offices in more than 60 countries, maintain more than 180 Internet domains, and serve more than half of our results to people living outside the United States” (Google 2011).
Google’s leadership approach favors extroverts ((Richmond, McCroskey & McCroskey 2009; Weber 2008). Page and Brin consciously created an “open door policy which allows everyone to get in direct contact with the founders” (Weber 2008).
Google employees tend to work in small teams and the leaders of these teams change often; the founders and the Google hiring team places emphasis on new employees who align to a team oriented work leadership structure rather a top down hierarchical one.
How this affects communication is that the organizational structure favors a flat leadership approach which facilitates maximum access, maximum innovation and maximum creativity (Richmond, McCroskey & McCroskey 2009).
Google employees spend 20 per cent of their time at work tending to their own projects – a company mandated flex time practice which the organization believes fosters creativity and innovation.
The company has achieved global success based on an open approach to communication and a leadership style that remains open to new ideas and new approaches to old problems, regardless of where in the hierarchy these ideas originate from.
Flynn, L.J. (2004, April 30). The Google I.P.O.: The founders: 2 wild and crazy guys (soon to be billionaires) and hoping to keep it that way. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/
Google. (2011). Our philosophy. Google. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/
Richmond, V., McCroskey, J., & McCroskey, L. (2009). Organizational communication for survival: Making work, work. (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Vericat, J. (2010). Is the Google world a better place? An interview with Michael T. Jones. Journal of International Affairs, 64, (1), 181-195.
Weber, S. (2008). Organizational behaviour: Google corporate culture in perspective. Munich, GRIN Verlag.