MSNBC posted Google: Ten golden rules by Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, on how Google manages their knowledge worker staff.
I know many people that work at both Google and Microsoft, and I’m sure this will be upsetting to all of them: the spirit of nearly all these rules are shared by both companies.
Having spent time at Google, I know it’s a special place. There are many things about their environment that are very different from Microsoft.
However Schmidt’s MSNBC piece has little to do with what those things are. Here’s a critique on how similiar this list of Google’s CEO’s rules are to my recollections of Microsoft’s approach.
- Hire by committee. The article suggests (and I’ve been told) Google requires unanimous approval. Everyone you talk to must say yes. Microsoft’s bar is set by the team maanger. They expect a majority, but rarely require 100% consensus. But the basic format, you have intense real-problem focused interviews with 5-7 of your potential peers, each of whom gets to vote hire/no-hire, is the same.
- Cater to their every need. In the early 1990s Microsoft formalized many of the fringe benefits some software companies gave their employees. Private offices with windows. Free soda. Good and cheap food. Showers in the parking lots. Massages during crunch time. Health club membership. Discounts at museums. Mega-flex time (just get your stuff done, we don’t care when you’re here, or for how long). Today there’s no comparison: Google is still small enough to do things MSFT never did, and currently can’t afford. But the attitude is the same: it’s the level of execution that’s different. It will be harder for Google to maintain those costs as the company grows and the rate of growth slows (It may take awhile, but it will happen): a challenge Microsoft is still dealing with.
- Pack them in. Gates always believed that co-location was critical to getting work done with others, which matches Schmidt’s beliefs. Unlike Intel, a company that distributes it’s offices across the world, most of Microsoft’s core development teams are within walking distance of each other. Microsoft stops at the office level: Gates always believed that programmers need private spaces to be productive, whereas Google believes in shared spaces. But the core philosophy of easy access is shared. Microsoft does have some shared space teams, but it’s not the standard.
- Eat your own dogfood . I doubt Microsoft invented the term, but they certainly popularized it in the 90s. This has always been a core value at Microsoft, and it’s been documented in various books about MSFT development practices. Everyone, from VPs to programmers are asked, begged, bribed, and cajoled into using early and experimental builds of new software. The problem eventually becomes this: how many things can you dogfood successfully at the same time?
- Encourage creativity. Is there a CEO that would say they discourage creativity? Google wins here easily, as the 20% side project rule is a formalized and their campus is built for creative stimulation (unlike Microsoft’s relentless architectural repitition and squareness). But in my time at Microsoft (94-2003) side projects always happened – the difference was that it was up to my manager and I to negotiate what they’d be: I couldn’t argue for them on the basis of a promise the CEO made about encouraging creativity.
- Strive to reach consensus. Microsoft is the poster child of consensus. For anyone that’s been a manager there, it’s well known that rough consensus is a necessary condition for many senior level decisions. This has become a bottleneck for many groups, as their size makes consensus management a painful and often self-defeating process (A fact that makes many of mini-Microsoft ‘s comments valid. I’m waiting for the mini-google to arrive). But the point is: both Microsoft and Google have management philosophies based on the value of consensus.
- Don’t be evil. Definitely differences here. First, I never got a “Be evil” memo at Microsoft. The message I did get was this: WIN. There is a difference. While trying to WIN won’t get you sainthood, it’s philosophically indifferent: it’s about a result. Many things Microsoft was criticized for came from someone trying to WIN in the short term, without recognizing the long term consequences of how they won. Call it stupid, selfish or immature, but evil often (but not always) seemed a stretch. Google’s choice to make a public philosophical stance is noble, and puts the rest of the business world in cowardly relief (Although, where is the company that says “We actually do GOOD?”) But the stance is rife with problems. Any time you in are in a zero-sum competition, and WIN, even if you do so graciously, there will often be someone who feels they lost who will point a finger at you and say “You did evil to me”. Watching a major corporation manage a philosophical, moral position is fascinating, and definitely something Microsoft has never done.
- Data driven decisions. Is there anywhere in the tech-sector that isn’t data driven at the management level? I happen to think we’ve gone too far, and abuse data left and right. But it’s well documented that compaines including Microsoft, Amazon.com and Google are all intensely data driven.
- Communicate effectively. All hands meetings and beer Fridays are industry and bay area staples, as is the occurance of executives saying “we should communicate effectively with each other”. Is there anyone out there that advocates bad communication? Holds miscommunication rallies? I think the problem with this entry, and the list, is it’s a platitude. The notion of good communication is universal: but the sucessful practice of it is rare. Closing that gap is where the magic is at.
In Summary: there’s little motivation for the CEO of a leading company to reveal what he thinks the true secrets or powerful rules are. There’s more to lose than to gain. But this piece, as fluffy as it is, doesn’t say much about management than anyone paying attention didn’t already know.