When big companies let their employees rant publicly

A few months ago, one of Google's employees posted a rant about how Google was messing up in a significant way in their overall strategy:

That one last thing that Google doesn't do well is Platforms. We don't understand platforms. We don't "get" platforms. Some of you do, but you are the minority. This has become painfully clear to me over the past six years. I was kind of hoping that competitive pressure from Microsoft and Amazon and more recently Facebook would make us wake up collectively and start doing universal services. Not in some sort of ad-hoc, half-assed way, but in more or less the same way Amazon did it: all at once, for real, no cheating, and treating it as our top priority from now on.

But no. No, it's like our tenth or eleventh priority. Or fifteenth, I don't know. It's pretty low. There are a few teams who treat the idea very seriously, but most teams either don't think about it all, ever, or only a small percentage of them think about it in a very small way.

Any employee at a normal company would have been worried about losing his job. He took down the post soon after he realized what he had done. Interestingly, though, Google didn't force him to; in fact, he says they weren't in any way negative about the public posting:

I contacted our internal PR folks and asked what to do, and they were also nice and supportive. But they didn't want me to think that they were even hinting at censoring me -- they went out of their way to help me understand that we're an opinionated company, and not one of the kinds of companies that censors their employees. That was cool and all, but I still didn't know what to do.

He took the post down anyway, but of course in this day and age it was shared and copied and, well, out there for good. Taking it down didn't do anything to minimize the sharing of the message.

But the coolest thing is this:

Amazingly, nothing bad happened to me at Google. Everyone just laughed at me a lot, all the way up to the top, for having committed what must be the great-granddaddy of all Reply-All screwups in tech history.

But they also listened, which is super cool. I probably shouldn’t talk much about it, but they’re already figuring out how to deal with some of the issues I raised. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though. When I claimed in my internal post that “Google does everything right”, I meant it. When they’re faced with any problem at all, whether it’s technical or organizational or cultural, they set out to solve it in a first-class way.

In other words, this is a company that truly 'gets it' when it comes to idea sharing and the importance of differing opinions. Instead of firing him for publicly airing his frustration and internal strategy and behavior, they took the opportunity to self-reflect and decide what, if anything, needed to be done to make the company better.

If you generally understand tech and/or are interested in the business decisions being made in the industry, the rant itself is a fantastic read. If not, though, it isn't the point. The point is that Google's response was what any company should do: listen, assess, adapt. Contrast that with what most companies would have done: fire the employee and engage damage control.

The more I study Google, the more impressed I am.


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