Google has 175,000+ capable and well-compensated employees who get very little done quarter over quarter, year over year. Like mice, they are trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, legal reviews, performance reviews, exec reviews, documents, meetings, bug reports, triage, OKRs, H1 plans followed by H2 plans, all-hands summits, and inevitable reorgs. It’s time for the CEO to be given the boot.
Google, the giant of search and advertising, is a sinking ship. Here’s some insight into what Google’s problems are like lately, direct from an ex-employee.
Praveen Seshadri, a founder whose company was acquired by Google, recently quit and dropped a scathing Medium post on his way out the door, detailing the problems.
Seshadri says Google is “trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, legal reviews, performance reviews, exec reviews,” and other bureaucratic processes. While the employees are capable, they “get very little done quarter over quarter, year over year.” he saw this in his time at the company.
Seshadri outlines his big problems with the company:
The way I see it, Google has four core cultural problems. They are all the natural consequences of having a money-printing machine called “Ads” that has kept growing relentlessly every year, hiding all other sins.
(1) no mission
(2) no urgency
(3) delusions of exceptionalism
Former Waze CEO Noam Bardin quit Google in 2021 and, in a blog post, said that employees need to be incentivized to build Google products. “The product is a tool to advance the employees’ career,” Bardin wrote, “not a passion, mission or economic game changer. Being promoted impacts individuals’ economic success more than product growth. The decision of which product to work on stems from the odds of getting promoted, and thus we began onboarding people with the wrong state of mind—seeing Waze as a stepping stone and not as a calling.”
Does anyone at Google come into work actually thinking about “organizing the world’s information”? They have lost track of who they serve and why.
One of Google’s core values is “respect each other.” There are two ways to interpret this: I’d hoped it would be to respect each person’s unique strengths and figure out how to get each person to maximize their potential and impact. Unfortunately, this runs into the general organizational lack of desire to change anything. “Respect each other” is translated into “find a way to include and agree with every person’s opinion.” In an inclusive culture (good —it doesn’t withhold information and opportunity) with very distributed ownership (bad), you rapidly need approval from many people before making any decision. If this were an algorithm, we’d call it “most cautious wins,” There is almost always someone cautious, tending to should-do-nothing. Add in that often, the people involved have wildly different knowledge and capability and skin-in-the-game, and there’s always going to be someone uncomfortable enough to want to do nothing. Therefore any decision out of the existing pre-approved plan or diverging from conventional wisdom is near impossible to achieve, just as the existing pre-approved plan is nearly impossible to change.
Several other leadership challenges are also reflected in poor strategic and tactical decisions. Mainly because people make decisions with roles or titles rather than people with expertise (wouldn’t it be nice if those were aligned!), almost all important decisions are made at the VP level or above, usually by people with position power and like to voice their opinion.
To make matters worse, VPs rotate to different products or come from other companies but start making critical decisions, often barely knowing their product or its customers. Strategy is rarely articulated clearly (that would be a career risk). In any case, it is usually changed upon review with the next VP up the chain, or if it doesn’t immediately translate to success. Many internal projects are started by one VP and killed by the next. Meanwhile, all the mid-level managers abandon what they’d just been working on, embrace the new direction du jour, and wait for the next reorg.
I interviewed at Google a long time ago. I was asked how I would determine the number of basketballs that fit into a bus and why maintenance hole covers are round instead of square. I was asked about healthcare and search/advertising when I was called back. I told them that research had shown that the vast majority of searches start with a search engine, and that search engine was Google. In the interviews, I detected arrogance I had never seen in any company. It was like, “we’re Google; we know everything.” I was asked why I blog and what I was doing to promote my blog. They showed me Google stats that indicate the daily readers were low. I responded with the number of people who subscribe to my BLOG and how many share my callouts within the industry, catching them off guard. At lunch, I couldn’t eat because of the questions, and at my 1 PM interview, a VP asked me directly, “why do I want you on my team?”. At that point, I just said, “I’ve explained this to almost everyone in two days of interviews and frankly I don’t think this is a good fit for me” and left.
The recent layoffs at Google indicate that the company is on the same path as the Titanic. Put, they have allowed their size to get in the way of the customer, and with the current CEO, I’m not sure it can be corrected.