When I was in business school, I was lucky enough to intern as a product manager at what I consider to be the best company in the world: Google (not coincidentally, Google’s also battling it out with Apple to be the world’s most valuable company). Perhaps the one thing that stands out most about Google—and there are a lot of good things to choose from—is its fantastic culture. Its employees absolutely love working there, and are incredibly loyal. This isn’t an accident; it’s a result of many deliberate decisions that have been made high up at Google. In the next few posts, I’ll talk about a few of the most key decisions that have made Google what it is.
My first day on the job at Google, I met with my manager, an incredibly nice and capable guy with whom I’m still in touch today. He explained to me what the product was that I’d be working on, how the business aspect of it worked, and what he generally hoped I’d be able to help with and achieve over the summer, and answered my questions. He gave me a list of people that would be helpful in getting some of those goals accomplished. The meeting lasted little more than an hour, but I was clear on what the product was and where he wanted it to go.
Within a few days, that manager went on a two week vacation—leaving me totally on my own! I don’t think the timing was intentional, but perhaps surprisingly, it couldn’t have turned out better. I was forced to get to know other stakeholders around the product, to jump into meetings wherever I could to find out more, to dive deep into the product and get specific about what I could help to move forward.
Those two weeks set the foundation for my time at Google. Even after my manager returned, there was no one looking over my shoulder; there was general direction but little in the way of specifics, and what I did was on me—both for good or for bad. It almost felt like being an entrepreneur (minus the stress of making payroll—Google wasn’t going to bounce any checks 🙂 ). Because I had that freedom, I felt an incredible amount of empowerment, leading to a drive and desire to do the very best I could for the company. I dived deep into some new and innovative feature ideas without fear of backlash—and one of them actually became my main project over the summer, launching the day I left.
I’m convinced that the same principle applies across companies and industries; people feel empowered when they feel trusted, which leads them to do their very best work. We all want to live up to and exceed the trust we’ve been given. Creativity and innovation thrive, and we feel the freedom to try new things and explore our best ideas. By contrast, when we’re micromanaged or have someone looking over our shoulder, we optimize to make sure we don’t screw up—a totally different mindset.
Now the real power comes when you have a company full of people who all feel this type of empowerment. They create a general feeling of excitement, innovation, and progress. There’s no fear of speaking up in meetings when an ill-conceived idea starts to move forward; there’s no sense that the highest paid person’s opinion is the only one that matters. People chase after big ideas on behalf of your company, knowing that they have the latitude to do so and will be given credit for their contributions. Imagine your company full of people working together this way—it’s just as incredible as it sounds! Try starting today by empowering your employees on an individual basis—and soon you’ll begin to sense an incredible feeling of loyalty, innovation, and excitement within your own company’s culture.
Tim is Founder and CEO of ZipBooks. He keeps his desk really nice and neat.