Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Larry Page Reforms Decision-Making at Google

Google Vice President of Operations Kristen Gil has written a terrific memo explaining how Larry Page changed decision-making at Google when he took over again last year.  Page worried that decision-making had gotten bogged down at Google, that the firm wasn't acting with the same agility as in the past.  What did Page do?  First, he outlined some new rules for how and when meetings should take place.  Here's an expert from Gil's memo: 

For starters, we noted that every decision-oriented meeting should have a clear decision-maker, and if it didn’t, the meeting shouldn’t happen. Those meetings should ideally consist of no more than 10 people, and everyone who attends should provide input. If someone has no input to give, then perhaps they shouldn’t be there. That’s okay – attending meetings isn’t a badge of honor – but the people who are attending need to get there on time. Most importantly, decisions should never wait for a meeting. If it’s critical that a meeting take place before a decision is made, then that meeting needs to happen right away.

As I wrote in a recent blog post, Alan Mullaly also changed decision-making at Ford by setting out some new ground rules for his key Thursday morning business review meetings with his senior team.  Clearly establishing new ground rules and shared norms can be very important for altering patterns of behavior that have become dysfunctional.    Page made a second change that I find even more interesting and potentially quite effective.  He recognized that, as a firm grows in size and complexity, senior executives often find themselves disconnected.  Senior teams become fragmented.   Travel schedules, meetings, and the needs of their particular units take them away from their peers.  As a result, members of the senior team do not communicate often enough.  They don't share and integrate information effectively.   Page set out to change that dynamic.   Here's another excerpt from Gil's memo:  

Besides fast decisions, another key hallmark of start-ups is their fast-paced, densely populated offices. We’ve always promoted this approach at Google, organizing around small teams and working in close proximity to one another. Even Eric Schmidt shared his office with an engineer when he first joined the company.  But as Google grew, the executives spread out to the far reaches of our campuses so they could work side-by-side with their teams. To make sure our key decision-makers could work and make decisions in an environment more reminiscent of a start-up, we created a ‘bullpen’ in one of the buildings on our main campus, which was specially designed as a place for members of our executive team to work and talk in an informal setting. These execs now set aside a number of hours per week to be there. It’s amazing how fast things can get done – even in a large company – when you put so many key people together and don’t give them an agenda.

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