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.

Are Company Growth Strategies Behind the Curve?

Business StrategyMost businesspeople recognize the value of planning and implementing long-term growth strategies.

So it may be a surprise to learn that only a minority of companies are actually doing anything extensive along those lines.

That’s what the results from a January 2014 survey of ~825 senior executives seem to be saying.  The research was carried out by business strategy consulting firm Innosight, and included respondents active in 20 industry segments ranging from manufacturing and consumer goods to financial, healthcare and telecommunications firms.

There is near-unanimous agreement among the execs in the survey that their organizations need to be continually chang their core offerings, or their business models, in response to rapidly changing market dynamics.

As to whether those changes are actually happening — well, that’s another matter.

In fact, only ~42% of the respondents expressed confidence that their companies are setting the table for any sort of “transformation” at all within a 5- or 10-year horizon.

And here’s an interesting twist the research revealed.  One would typically think that the smaller the company, the less confident those execs would be about sufficient planning for future growth.

But the Innosight survey found exactly the opposite finding.  The confidence level is actually lower among those respondents who work at the largest companies in the research sample:  Only about one-third of respondents with $1-billion revenue companies expressed confidence.

The problem is that many companies are changing at a slower pace than the markets in which they operate.

Or at least that’s the perception.  About 40% of the survey respondents feel that their organizations are changing at a rate that’s slower than the market’s evolution.  (It’s the case with roughly half of the large company respondents.)

Tied to this concern is another finding that the Innosight research uncovered:  Only about one in ten of the respondents reported that their companies have formal growth strategies covering at least a 5-year horizon.

The rest have either no formal growth strategy at all, or one that’s extremely short-term and mainly tactical in character.

The reason for this lack of growth planning is the sense that markets are way too unpredictable in today’s business environment.  Long-term strategizing in such an environment seems more like a theoretical exercise and less of a practical use of time to many of the execs in the survey.

On top of that, pressing issues that crop up on a daily basis are prone to suck most of the planning oxygen out of the room.

Scott D. Anthony Innosight
Scott D. Anthony

As part of its report, Innosight managing partner Scott D. Anthony pointed out that despite its shortcomings, transformational innovation has an important role to play, even though it takes time to pay off — sometimes as long as five or ten years.

“Companies that invest in planning methods that help align senior leaders on long-term growth strategies are probably at a real advantage to develop new business models and open new growth markets,” Anthony contends.

And this:

“If you have a long-term strategy, you don’t have many competitors — a good thing — because most companies want a return on investment within three years.  In other words, a switch in timeline can e a real competitive advantage.”

By contrast, companies that are always working in the “here and now,” are usually facing multiple market players and a much more competitive environment.

You can review further survey findings in an executive summary of the Innosight report here.