Saturday, March 17, 2012

Company culture is what keeps people together

We are hearing lot of stories of people switching jobs. Kevin Rose and his Milk team joined Google, Gowalla team joined Facebook, and James Whittaker switched from Google to Microsoft. In San Francisco Bay Area, it is difficult to hire good people with experience. It's even more difficult to hang on to them. Given that startups are powered by people, losing the key people is devastating. It can set back months of progress. Not only does it cost the company financially but also it can dampen spirit for the remaining team.

That is especially true when the person jumping the ship publishes his reason for switching as losing faith in the company culture. That's what happened with James Whittaker, ex-Googler who decided to join Microsoft last week.

He posted an article on Microsoft blog explaining why he decided to leave Google. He decried how Google lost its way of fostering innovation among employees.  He said
"The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus."
Statement like that from former employee will cause soul searching among remaining team members.

All big companies are at disadvantage to startups;
it's much more difficult to keep thousands of
employees in sync with company vision
I don't know whether James' sentiment is shared among other Google employees.  I do see, however, that Google is under tremendous threat from Facebook.  Facebook is going full speed ahead to claim a good chunk of Google's advertisement revenue.  That should scare any CEO.  Especially you are the founder who has personal stake in the company like Larry Page at Google.

When company is under attack, it has to respond.  It has to rally its troops to go extra miles to win the battle.  But that has to happen under bigger context.  There has to be a grander vision and mission that drive everyone's behavior.  Employees have to be able to see that vision and galvanized by the value behind the mission statement.  In other words, culture has to be preserved.

Challenge with all companies in age of social media is to keep all employees dedicated in realizing the vision.  It's easier than ever before for anyone to launch a criticism against the management on social media.  Everyone has voice.  If criticism has ring of truth to it, it will spread not only in public forum but among your employees as well.  Therefore, all cultural problem must be dealt with upon detection.  It must be discussed immediately and openly.

The best policy to retain people is to make sure company preserves its culture.  It's the only way to build a team and keep it going in Web 2.0 environment.

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