Peeking behind the curtain at Google.

A recently-departed Google engineer gives us the lowdown of what’s actually been happening at his former company.

Steve Yegge, a former engineer at Google who has recently joined Grab, a fast-growing ride-hailing and logistics services firm serving customers in Southeast Asia, has just gone public with an explanation of why he decided to part ways with Google after having been with the company for more than a dozen years.

His reasons are a near-indictment of the company for losing the innovative spark that Yegge thinks was the key to Google’s success — and which now appears to be slipping away.

In a recently published blog post, Yegge lays out what he considers to be Google’s fundamental flaws today:

  • Google has gone deep into protection-and-preservation mode. “Gatekeeping and risk aversion at Google are the norm rather than the exception,” Yegge writes.
  • Google has gotten way more political than it should be as an organization. “Politics is a cumbersome process, and it slows you down and leads to execution problems,” Yegge contends.
  • Google is arrogant. “It has taken me years to understand that a company full of humble individuals can still be an arrogant company. Google has the arrogance of “we”, not the “I”.
  • Google has become competitor-focused rather than customer-focused. “Their new internal slogan — ‘Focus on the user and all else will follow’ – unfortunately, it’s just lip service,” Yegge maintains. “A slogan isn’t good enough. It takes real effort to set aside time regularly for every employee to interact with your customers. Instead, [Google] play[s] the dangerous but easier game of using competitor activity as a proxy for what customers really need.”

Yegge goes on to note that nearly all of Google’s portfolio of product launches over the past 10 years can be traced to “me-too copying” of competitor moves. He cites Google Home (Amazon Echo), Google+ (Facebook) and Google Cloud (AWS) as just three examples — none of them particularly impressive introductions on Google’s part.

Yegge sums it all up with this rather damning conclusion:

“In short, Google just isn’t a very inspiring place to work anymore. I love being fired up by my work, but Google had gradually beaten it out of me.”

Steve Yegge

It isn’t as if the company’s considerable positive attributes aren’t acknowledged – Yegge still views Google as “one of the very best places to work on Earth.”

It’s just that for creative engineers like him, the spark is no longer there.

Where have we seen these dynamics at play before? Microsoft and Yahoo come to mind.

These days, Facebook might be trending in that direction too, a bit.

It seems as though issues of “invincibility” have a tendency to creep in and color how companies view their place in the world, which can eventually lead to complacency and a loss of touch with customers. Ineffective company strategies follow.

That’s a progression every company should try mightily to avoid.

What are your thoughts on Steve Yegge’s characterization of Google? Is he on point?  Or way wide of the mark?  Please share your perspectives with other readers here.

The companies everyone love to hate.

Bad company ratingsIt seems that there are certain companies people like to criticize all the time. One that I’ve heard quite a bit of grumbling about in recent months is Comcast.

Now comes along a report from 24/7 Wall St, an equity investment data aggregator and investment firm, which has compiled a list of the “Ten Most Hated” companies in America.

Its list is based on reviewing a variety of qualitative and quantitative attributes. Companies were examined based on total return to shareholders in comparison to the broader market plus competitors in the same sectors.

Financial analyst opinions on publicly held companies were also reviewed, as well as findings from consumer surveys conducted by diverse sources (the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, Consumer Reports, J.D. Power & Associates, ForeSee, etc.)

Also evaluated was the Flame Index, which uses an algorithm to review ~12,000 websites to rank companies based on the frequency of negative words and terms associated with them.

Lastly, an analysis of media coverage to determine the extent of negative and positive news coverage was conducted.

Stripping away such quasi-governmental agencies as the U.S. Post Office, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, it leaves us with an interesting list of the “worst of the worst.”

Some of the companies that made the 24/7 Wall St list – and the reasons for them achieving the dubious honor – include:

American Airlines – Not only has this airline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it’s rated the worst airline for customer service. It’s performing at or near the bottom of the heap on attributes like on-time departures, flight cancellations, and baggage handling problems. American Airlines’ University of Michigan ACS index of 63 is dramatically lower than Southwest – the industry’s leader which scored an 81 on the index.

Facebook – This behemoth may claim a user base of 800 million+, but that doesn’t stop people from having major grievances with the company. A recent customer satisfaction survey conducted by IBOPE Zogby found that ~30% of users consider Facebook’s customer service to be “poor.” (Anyone who has ever actually tried to interface with the company might be tempted to ask, “What customer service?” Facebook has also received negative press coverage for sneakily instituting, with no warning, privacy settings that change how it shares personal information with others.

Best Buy – This company is still smarting over self-inflicted problems during the holiday season when it ran out of popular merchandise it sold online … then neglected to inform buyers of the fact until just two days before Christmas. The retailer’s explanations (excuses?) seemed lame. It’s one reason ForeSee dropped Best Buy from being the second-ranked company for retail satisfaction prior to the holiday season (just behind Amazon). Now Best Buy is ranked so poorly, it no longer appears among the Top 20 national retailers. To make matters worse, Forbes magazine predicts that Best Buy is a prime candidate for simply disappearing … the only question is whether it will happen before or after Sears/Kmart bites the dust.

Netflix – Here’s a company that’s gone from the “highest of the high” to the “lowest of the low” in one fell swoop. Instituting dramatically higher pricing in August 2011 resulted in the rapid loss of more than 800,000 Netflix subscribers … accompanied by the company’s stock price plummeting 30% from over $300 per share to $215 in under six months (and more than 60% for the full year).

Johnson & Johnson – When an iconic brand like J&J can manage to have a slew of two dozen product recalls over a two-year period – including with Motrin and Children’s Tylenol – it’s bound to have a dramatic impact on company performance and reputation. The FDA took over three Tylenol plants in March 2011, and OTC drug sales are off double digits compared to the previous year. While J&J’s stock price hasn’t tanked in the event, it has remained flat – which is horrendous performance compared to the rest of the pharma industry.

For the record, the five other companies named to 24/7 Wall St.’s “Ten Worst” list were:

 AT&T
 Bank of America
 Goldman Sachs
 Nokia
 Sears

… And I’m sure all of us can think of reasons why these also gained entry onto the “rogue’s gallery” of corporations.

What do consumers think of America’s corporations?

Corporate Trust ... Corporate ReputationWith the budget negotiations in full swing – and high dudgeon – on Capital Hill, naturally the public’s critical eye is trained on our political figures. And Congress is most assuredly taking a beating in the political polls, with approval ratings plunging astonishly below the 20% figure.

[Of course, is that really so surprising? After all, Congress is pretty evenly matched between the two parties … so partisans see much to criticize on both sides.]

The focus of attention on Washington has taken the spotlight off of corporate America – at least in terms of media attention. But that doesn’t mean that “John Q. Public” is giving companies much of a break.

I’ve blogged before about corporate reputations — most recently commenting on a field survey conducted early this year by Harris Interactive that measured the appeal of 60 of the “most visible” American corporate brands. That survey showed an uptick in positive opinions about those firms when compared to prior-year results.

But a May 2011 survey by GfK Custom Research North America shows otherwise. The findings from GfK’s online field survey of ~1,000 U.S. consumers include this doozy: Two-thirds of respondents believe that it’s harder today for American companies to be trusted than it was three years ago.

Furthermore, ~55% say it will be harder for companies to gain their trust in the years to come.

What’s bothering people about U.S. corporations? In order of significance, here are the key concerns:

 The perception that CEOs and other senior executives of corporations are overpaid.

 Corruption in senior management circles.

 Companies make up lost earnings at the expense of their customers.

 More products than ever are being manufactured overseas.

Interestingly, there’s less concern about declining product or service quality as a reason for lower levels of trust. And as has been found in other studies, the public’s view of technology companies is somewhat higher than its trust for companies in other industry segments.

But back to the rather grim overall findings … fewer than one in five survey respondents anticipate that corporate corruption will become better over time – a result that’s substantially lower than what was found in similar field research conducted by GfK a few years ago.

This survey underscores the fact that corporate America has a long way to go to change the sharply negative impressions consumers have of the world of business. Clearly, the financial crisis of 2008 continues to extend its long shadow more than two years later.

And it looms over everyone – public and private sector alike.

This helps explain the generally sour mood people are in these days.

Taking the Buzz-Saw to Corporate Buzzwords

No buzzwordsBuzzwords – those stock words or phrases that have effectively become nonsense through their endless repetition – tend to find their penultimate manifestation in forgettable corporate vision and mission statements.

If you look online, you’ll find that the “about us” pages on corporate web sites are littered with the detritus of high-mannered phrases. We all know them — terms like:

 Best-in-class
 Best practices
 Commitment
 Customer-focused
 Cutting-edge
 Delighting customers
 Exceeding expectations
 Expertise
 Green
 Innovation
 Integrity
 Out-of-the-box thinking
 Proactive
 Quality
 Solutions
 Sustainability
 Synergy
 Trust
 Worldclass

Considering how frequently these terms show up in company positioning statements, is it any wonder they’ve become nothing but meaningless pablum?

Here’s an interesting exercise: Try to find a published corporate vision, mission or positioning statement that doesn’t contain any of the terms above. I spent the better part of an hour looking, only to come up empty handed.

This is not to denigrate the aims of businesses. We all want our companies to embody the laudable qualities these terms describe. And why not? They’re good principles that are worthy goals in how to interact with customers, with communities, and with the larger world.

But companies also want differentiation, not sameness.

Unfortunately, you’ll find none of that with these terms here. Just mealy-mouthed nothings and “yesterday’s vision for tomorrow” … conveyed with all the pizzazz of a cold mashed potato sandwich.

So it’s back to the drawing board, or it should be. But considering the birth pangs most of these mission / vision statements must have endured in the first place — committee assignments and all — that’s probably not going to happen.