In each decade new institutions of power arise in the world that appear to have a stranglehold on free enterprise. The mighty metropolitan newspapers once controlled the flow of information to the mass audience. Their era is over. When I was a kid, the oil companies and television networks seemed to run the world. They are still powerful, but a lot less powerful than they were in 1965. In college I heard people fret about IBM’s monopolistic control of high technology. “Big Blue’s” wing-tipped minions ruled the computer industry. That didn’t last.
In fact, the dominant global businesses in each decade of my life have followed the same pattern of growing power followed by decline.
Google’s dominance won’t last forever. Some upstart with a bright new idea will take its place. But the company’s founders seem to be as proud of the company’s culture as they are of its financial success. Can the Google culture persist when the company’s economic power declines?
More seasoned executives might say that it’s simple to supply free food and video games to your employees while you’re one of the world’s fastest growing companies. It’s easier to have fun at work when the company is making lots and lots of money. As the company and its industry mature Google’s culture will probably become more conventional unless its managers and shareholders make continuing investments in that culture. And as company resources become more constrained with the maturing of its industry and its business model, those investments will be harder to make.
Still, managers in every industry should take note of Google’s ability to attract excellent employees with a combination of personality, conscience and equity. The opportunity of joining an attractive culture, building a business and sharing in that business’ economic success makes for an attractive offer. When Google’s growth slows, retention of great employees will be more important than attracting bright new stars. That may require some redefinition. What components of the Google employment contract are valuable after the stock options stop appreciating so rapidly?
Google’s cultural innovations are probably repeatable in companies around the world. Most of us could invest more in the corporate lifestyle to attract good people. Most companies could be a little better at citizenship, and could publicize their citizenship a little more effectively. And most companies would benefit from investing more in culture and citizenship.
Google has made its citizenship an integral facet of its product. Consumers today implicitly consider a company’s conscience a part of its value proposition. The consumer’s new mindset is probably here to stay. And workers worldwide are aware of the quality of life the staff enjoys inside the Googleplex. To compete for high-quality workers all employers must, on some level, compete with Google. Plus, the children of today’s workers won’t willingly accept a lower quality of working life. So we’ll keep on meeting these new standards in the future.