Unique research on inner life of Google

Google is one of the world’s most innovative companies. Why? Ask Swedish researcher Annika Steiber at Chalmers University of Technology. She has been seeking answers inside the company’s headquarters Googleplex for nearly a year. No other researcher has ever had such access.

On site in California Annika Steiber has spent nearly a year studying how Google is managed and organized so as to be able to maintain its high innovative capacity. The study is based on in-depth interviews with 28 employees. Among other things, they were asked to rank various possible explanations for Google’s success in constantly developing new services that people want to use.

“Many factors play a huge role, above all the corporate culture that the founders brought with them from the outset and that has then been deliberately developed to steer the whole company in the direction of constant innovation,” says Annika Steiber, who is now presenting her doctoral dissertation.

“It’s also striking to see the focus Google has when it comes to bringing in the right individuals to the company and developing them.”

These two factors interact. The status of the individual is very strong at Google. The company devotes great resources to comprehensive recruitment processes in which many associates have their say in order to bring in the right people for the organization. Thereby the company ensures that people with differing experience and backgrounds come to Google, at the same time as they cultivate a shared set of values regarding behavior among colleagues, but also toward the outside world, according to Annika Steiber.

Being Googley
The organization is also structured to reinforce the culture and to help its individuals to perform and create innovations in line with the company philosophy. Being “Googley” means that an employee behaves in accordance with company values. This concept is internally documented today at Google and consists of eleven “characteristics.” Three of them are having a passion to change the world through the Internet, being smart, and being non-political. Doing good is a fourth – “Don’t be evil.” Many interviewees testified that they were attracted to the company because of these stated values.

One of Google’s primary focuses is to retain its unique and strong culture, which functions as a daily guiding rule for all employees and generates desired behaviors. To this end, the company has created the role of Chief Culture Officer, CCO. It has local culture teams all over the world. The company also monitors, in a transparent manner, that employees observe the company’s stated values.

The attitudes and composition of top management—and also its board—are the foundation of Google’s drive for innovation, according to Annika Steiber in her dissertation. The founders are also the creators of the company culture. Many of today’s values are based on convictions that the founders had when they started the company. These values are now well integrated in the management style, organizational structure, processes, and incentives, Annika Steiber maintains.

“Google’s organization and its capacity to boost innovation in the company has developed and changed with time, which is necessary in a changing world.”

The study of Google is the first empirical research study of its kind in the world. It can serve as a foundation for a better understanding of how companies can manage and organize themselves to attain a higher degree of innovation, according to Annika Steiber, who hopes to continue with similar studies of other organizations.

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