Inside Google's company culture

Organic meals three times a day, nap pods, dog friendly offices, a strong focus on giving back, and permission to spend 20% of your time on initiatives you believe will further the company: these are just a few of the cultural benefits Google was early to adopt.

Few companies manage to stay cutting edge over the years, but Google—which was founded in 1998—has prevailed in doing so for nearly two decades. Its leadership team has created a company that's proudly committed to a healthy, thriving workplace where the happiness of its 40,000+ Googlers is crucial to the company's success. 

Inside Google's Dublin Office

Inside Google's Dublin Office

"We hire people who are smart and determined, and we favor ability over experience," Google explains on their Culture page. 

"We strive to maintain the open culture often associated with startups, in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and feels comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. In our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings—not to mention over email or in the cafe—Googlers ask questions directly to Larry, Sergey and other execs about any number of company issues."

Google's Philosophy

Some companies call them values, some call them culture guidelines. Google prefers to call them "Ten things we know to be true":

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well. 
  3. Fast is better than slow. 
  4. Democracy on the web works. 
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil. 
  7.  There’s always more information out there. 
  8.  The need for information crosses all borders.
  9.  You can be serious without a suit.
  10.  Great just isn’t good enough.
"Our founders built Google around the idea that work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun... 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

Google's mission, on the other hand, is more straightforward: "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." 

More than the driving force behind Google's business decisions, this mission is derived from the company's larger sense of purpose and moral belief system. It's also not a mission with an end goal, since new information will never cease to exist or require organizing. 

A conference room at Google's London office

A conference room at Google's London office

Their culture ranges from practical, to generous, to quirky

Steegle put together a list of 101 Google Facts. Among them was the fact that Googlers have access to bicycles to get around Google's campuses, they once used real goats to trim the grass at their California HQ instead of lawnmowers, they offer $6,000 to employees for successful referrals, and they have on-sight doctors and nurses (in addition to comprehensive healthcare). 

Other Google perks include free haircuts, drycleaning, access to gyms and swimming pools, and subsidized massages to offset all that screen time. 

They're supportive of new mothers

One of the biggest retention struggles Google used to face was women (especially new mothers) leaving—women were leaving the company at twice the rate of men. But once the company increased their maternity leave policy from 12 weeks to 5 months of fully-paid time off, Google found a 50% increase in in attrition among new mothers. 

They're big on honest, frequent feedback

A significant part of Google's culture involves talking about failure regularly. They openly discuss things that went wrong and why—at the team and individual level—so they can learn from the experiences and better set themselves up for future success. 

They also do regular peer reviews, rather than relying solely on managers for performance reviews. "Googlers and their managers select a group of peer reviewers, including employees who are junior to them; then each reviewer is asked to list one thing the person should do more of and one thing they could do differently," Business Insider explains.

This open feedback system goes all the way to the top of the company. Google does a semiannual "Upward Feedback Survey" that lets employees give anonymous feedback on their managers. The survey comprises nine categories that include micromanagement (a big taboo at Google), communicating goals clearly, actionable feedback, and sharing relevant information from senior leadership. 

A quirky meeting space at Google Amsterdam

A quirky meeting space at Google Amsterdam

They encourage big goals through OKRs -- and don't expect people to hit them completely 

Google uses a system called OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) that involves employees choosing an ambitious objective and three key results each quarter. At the end of the quarter, they're given a grade between 0-1. Ideally, this number should land somewhere between 0.6-0.7. Too close to a 1, and the employee likely made their goal too simple. To high, and it was too audacious. But a 0.7 shows they were pushing for something—a "moonshot goal", as they call it. 

A look behind the scenes

Last year, Google's SVP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, published a book called Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, a bestseller that offers an in-depth look into one of the world's most influential companies. If you really want to dive into how Google works, we highly recommend this read.

“Work is far less meaningful and pleasant than it needs to be because well-intentioned leaders don’t believe, on a primal level, that people are good. Organizations build immense bureaucracies to control their people. These control structures are an admission that people can’t be trusted. Or at best, they suggest that one’s baser nature can be controlled and channeled by some enlightened figure with the wisdom to know what is best.” ― Laszlo Bock, Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead

They pay "unfairly" 

In Work Rules!, Bock explains that (while this isn't their norm) "there have been situations where one person received a stock award of $10,000, and another working in the same area received $1,000,000," due to better performance. Bock believes it's more fair to reward someone who performs better, even if they hold the same title as another person. While that's not how people traditionally think of fair compensation, we think the logic checks out. 

They proactively care for the world

Google is serious about philanthropy, and donates (at least) 1% of their annual profits to charitable causes. To support this commitment, they created Google.org, a $100 million per year philanthropic initiative that serves as a resource to develop new technologies to address global issues and support partners through investments, grants, and $1 billion in Google products

"Google could not give as much as it does without enthusiastic, benevolent employees," Triple Pundit explains. "Last year, more than 6,500 Google employees volunteered nearly 80,000 hours of service. In total, Google has matched $21 million in employee donations to over 9,000 organizations worldwide."

Inside Google's Tel Aviv office

Inside Google's Tel Aviv office

Who's your culture crush?

It's not hard to see why Google is such a coveted place to work. Beyond a reputable name and great salaries, the company has soul, deeply cares about the development of its people, offers a cool workplace culture, and is set on leaving a positive mark on the world. 

Now we want to know what companies inspire you. Which cultures do you think deserve a shoutout? Let us know in the comments below, or email us at editor @hrisdead.com.