Google employees and recent defectors are optimistic about the changes that new CEO Larry Page is making, but they also realise that Google has some big-company problems that will be hard for anybody to fix.
Sources say that Page began fighting the good fight since the moment the change in guard was announced. For instance:
- Emails. He’s been sending almost weekly emails with concrete suggestions on things like how to run meetings and decrease bureaucracy — not just talking about big strategic issues.
- Bullpen sessions. He is conducting regular meetings where managers have to explain and justify what they’re working on.
- Engineer. He’s viewed as “one of us” by the engineers, and they expect — and hope — he will reorganize the company to put more technical people in charge all the way down to the product group level.
- Visionary. He wants Google to do challenging technical things at massive scale.
But sources also agreed that Google is too big to recapture the startup feel of its early days, and some employees are naturally going to get bored and leave.
Among the “big company” problems they cited:
- Time. The fabled “20% time,” where employees were allowed to use up to 20% of their work day for a personal project, was blown way out of proportion by the press. A few projects like Gmail came out of it in the early days, but most employees didn’t have enough spare time to use it, and it hasn’t been an effective retention tool for several years now.
- Career stagnation. Although Google will make spectacular counteroffers to valued folks who are considering leaving, a lot of the rank and file are frustrated with the promotions process and don’t have any clear idea how they’ll be able to move up — or increase their salary.
- Bureaucracy. It’s much harder to get new projects approved — more people have to sign off, and some proposals are shot down because a similar thing is already being done elsewhere in the company.
Despite these problems, most current and former employees still have a positive — even nostalgic — view of Google and its former CEO Eric Schmidt. (This is backed up by Schmidt’s #1 ranking in a recent survey of tech employees asked to rate their CEO.)
They credited Schmidt and the other two cofounders with keeping most of Google’s unique culture, like its respect for engineering chops and sense of humour, even while the company exploded in size.
In other words, Google is still in far better shape than Microsoft. The challenge for Page is to make sure it stays that way.
Now don’t miss: Winners And Losers In Google’s Massive Re-Org.