Tips for enabling a culture of openness and transparency through Google Apps

Version 6

    Hi everyone,


    I’m writing today’s blog post from the beautiful London sunshine  (36 Celsius / 97 Fahrenheit) - an occurrence that only happens pretty infrequently here!


    Before I get onto today's topic, I wanted to check in with you all to see how you’ve been finding the content on the blog so far? Are the topics useful and relevant for you? How are you enjoying the guest blog posts? Are there any specific subjects you’d like me to cover? Do you have any suggestions about how I could make this more useful for you all? Do you ever pass any of the articles onto other people within your organisation? Do you have any comments or feedback or ideas from them that you could share with me?


    If you think it is working okay - my plan is to continue bi-weekly posts, having one per month from a guest blogger and one written by me. Do you think that is a good mix and frequency?


    Any suggestions about how I can make this more useful and relevant for you all would be very welcome.



    Onto today’s topic.


    The blog post I wrote a couple of weeks back about culture change stimulated a lot of great conversation - special thanks to Patricio Diez, Michael Higgins, Mark House, Verria Kelly, Liam Timothy and Información Monedero Ecológico for sharing their comments, insights and observations.


    Based on the interest of that topic I thought that I’d delve a little deeper into one element of organisational culture: openness and transparency.


    Transparency is one of the core tenants of the culture at Google. Transparency is about making sure that everyone within an organisation has access to the data and information that they need to make the best decisions. This can result in efficiency, less duplicated work, and an increase in employee engagement where people feel valued and trusted.


    In reality there does need to be a high level of trust between all employees and leaders. This comes from making sure that people are hired (and fired) to fit the culture of openness. If you hire smart adults to work within an organisation, then they need to be treated like adults and trusted. For this to work all employees must have a clear understanding of what the expected behaviours are.


    Here are a couple of examples of how ‘transparency’ works at Google:

    • Default to open with sharing data or information that might be of interest to or benefit another team or individual within the organisation. For example our KPI’s (we call them OKR’s at Google) are shared by individuals and at team, department and organisation-wide levels. And our employee engagement survey data is shared with the whole organisation - so every employee knows what is top of mind and what the action items and improvement areas will be focused in the coming quarters.
    • TGIF is the org-wide weekly all-hands where our founders share information about new launches, upcoming products and they celebrate wins. More importantly they also have an open Q&A session where any employee from across the organisation (from Noogler to executive) can ask a question or give feedback on anything that is top of mind for them. Employees are not penalized for asking difficult questions or providing ‘constructive’ feedback. At Google we have a mantra that ‘feedback is a gift’ and the response to receiving a gift - should be ‘thank you’. The same goes for feedback - what ever the flavour. I recently helped to facilitate a transformation lab with one of our customers where the focus was on identifying ways to improve communications and increase transparency across the organisation. That organisation has now established their own version of TGIF where the CEO runs a monthly hangout on air for all employees - to share updates and answer questions.
    • Sharing and celebrating successes and lessons learnt. Internally at Google G+ is used extensively for sharing successes. And of more value to most people it is also used to share lessons learnt from failures or difficult situations.


    Each of the above three examples are things I talk about often when people ask - ‘What’s it like at Google?’ And these are all things that any organisation can do.


    So how do you get started? Firstly it’s only going to work if the executive team want this type of culture - and in that case you should be able to find a lot of support internally and from other teams such as HR etc. Introducing these types of ideas will take dedicated effort and time, but it will be worth it and your expertise of how the Google products work and how they can be used to help increase openness will be highly valuable.


    If you’re not at an organisation where there is a company-wide desire for this type of culture - you could work within your own team and see if you could try some of the above ideas more at a team or business unit level and demonstrate the value that this way of working can bring regarding increased efficiency and engagement.


    I'd love to know how many of your organisations are looking to become more transparent and open? Do you think your executives are ready for this? Will they be ready and willing to lead by example? If not - do you personally see value in this type of working? If not - I’d love to hear your fears or concern.


    Please share your thoughts on the above - I’d love to hear from you all!