We’re watching something really fascinating happening at Google: a very public effort to prevent the company from falling prey to the kind of bureaucratic molasses that has enveloped so many companies before it. Many have complained that Google is already there. Perhaps. But it’s nothing like at Nokia, for example, which continues to struggle with its highly bureaucratic culture and lethargic decision-making as it slowly loses share to Apple and Google in the handset market.
The primary meme that has emerged in the single week since Google revealed its now widely dissected CEO switch is: Page’s ascension is about streamlining decision-making at Google and helping the company be more “nimble.” And in the tag cloud of articles that have appeared in the intervening six days that word would be among the most prominent. In Brad Stone’s Bloomberg piece yesterday, “Larry Page’s Google 3.0,” the term appears yet again:
Now comes the third phase, led by Page and dedicated to rooting out bureaucracy and rediscovering the nimble moves of youth.
Stone describes some of the organizational moves and decision-making philosophy that Page espouses to accomplish this ambitious goal, even as the company says it will add 6,000 more people this year. They involve clarifying lines of authority and empowering the group or product leads to move faster — though they must also coordinate their efforts. This balancing act is embodied in a weekly leadership meeting called “Execute”:
The unstated goal is to save the search giant from the ossification that can paralyze large corporations . . . Among the most important barons at the meeting: Andy Rubin, who oversees the Android operating system for mobile phones; Salar Kamangar, who runs the video-sharing site YouTube; and Vic Gundotra, who heads up Google’s secret project to combat the social network Facebook.
“We needed to get these different product leaders together to find time to talk through all the integration points,” says Page during a telephone interview with Bloomberg Businessweek minutes before a late-January Execute session. “Every time we increase the size of the company, we need to keep things going to make sure we keep our speed, pace, and passion.”
The article goes on to profile some of the leaders — “barons” as Stone calls them, evoking Medieval Europe — of the various groups at Google:
- Vic Gundotra
- Andy Rubin
- Salar Kamangar
- Susan Wojcicki
- Udi Manber
Google has realized more quickly than most companies that it needed to make changes and adjustments to ensure that its culture did not become an obstacle to success. When people ask why company X or Y can’t innovate or move quickly enough the answer is rarely people or product it’s almost always culture and organization. However because it’s elusive and intangible “culture” is infrequently discussed as the the determinant of success or failure.
Beyond the obvious antitrust and regulatory investigations, the next year will be a significant one for Google. The company will continue to “print money” via paid search so revenues will not be a measure of Page’s success in reforming Google.
Other less dramatic things will let us know how he’s doing. For example is the flow of employees from Google to Facebook (and elsewhere) arrested? Does the press focus turn partially back to product innovation and away from anti-trust, privacy and regulatory issues? Does Google regain some of its “geek chic” again?
Page obviously doesn’t have control over all these things. But a leader can have a profound impact on an organization and its culture. You can already feel a slight shift in Google’s image, literally embodied in the shift from the generally polished and sometimes aloof Schmidt to the more quirky and Gatesian Page.