As part of an assessment requirement for NZ530 Organisations and Management;
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the purpose of this paper is to analyse the leadership styles adopted at Google, how they fit the theoretical leadership models and how they link to employee motivation.
Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brinn. In 1996 they developed a search engine called BackRub and after further development incorporated Google in 1998. Today Google is one of the largest companies in the world with a current market capitalisation of $185.56B (YCharts, 2012). They are also the most used of all internet search engines, with approximately 50% of all internet users searching through their engine (Alexa Internet Inc., 2012).
What will be covered in the analysis of this paper is the organisational structure and leadership style adopted within Google, why this works and why other types of leadership model would not suit Google. It will also address how the leadership model at Google influences employee motivation and how this compares to theoretical motivation models.
Google’s leadership style is certainly not hierarchical. Based on their flat organisation structure the company is much more democratic than autocratic. Their organic structure is consistent with this, in that it thrives on the power of personalities and is not dependant on rigid structures and procedures. As Karen Goodwin at Google states, “We’re a highly collaborative culture… There’s no top-down hierarchy” (Yung, 2007).
Larry Page and Sergey Brin the founders of Google still have an active role in the day-to-day operation of the company. In spite of their accumulated wealth, they are still passionate about their company.
They created “a company culture that deeply believes in delegation. Individual employees are encouraged to speak their mind from the first day, and even decisions classically reserved for management, such as hiring, are done through a collaborative process” (Johansson, 2010). It is evident that Google’s leadership creates a robust open communication environment where all employees are encouraged to speak up and share their thoughts and ideas.
The company believes that leadership is a vital key in their growth and success. Whilst growing rapidly, Google still maintains a small company feel and the emphasis on innovation means that each employee is a hands-on contributor.
In January 2007, Fortune Magazine cited Google as the no. 1 (of 100) best companies to work for (Cable News Network, 2007), yet salaries are deemed to be quite low by industry standards. However their stock performance following its IPO has allowed its initial employees to be well rewarded by involvement in the company’s extraordinary equity growth.
At Googleplex headquarters employees sit and eat at whatever table has space and enjoy conversations with Googlers from all different departments. Googleplex, located in Mountain View, California, is built for the convenience and relaxation of Google’s employees and is a way of demonstrating the value and importance they attach to their employees. At Googleplex the lobby is decorated with old server clusters, lava lamps, a piano and a projection of search queries on the wall and the hallways are filled with bicycles and exercise balls. Each employee has access to the recreational amenities that are situated throughout the Google campus and these include a workout room with weights, washers and dryers, locker rooms, a massage room, various video games, foosball and a pool table. There are also snack rooms stocked with various fresh fruits, cereals, candies, nuts, yogurts, and different kinds of refreshments. In addition, Google provides free meals to employees to enhance their productivity and also to encourage interaction and discussion.
Google’s leadership style is also participative. This type of leadership style involves employees in decision making and thus they feel they have ownership in key decisions made. As a result, it encourages more commitment and motivation towards achieving the organisation’s goals. The success of this business model spawned many imitators who have since adopted this style within their corporations. The multiple changes occurring in society and the business world have created a greater need for transformational leadership and Google’s challenge is to find ways to evolve its leadership model (Krishnan, 2002).
A transactional leadership style would not work at Google as this is goal orientated and task specific, allowing little or no room for creativity. Specific requirements inherent in the transactional leadership model would restrict freedom of thinking and creativity that stem from team communication. Google hires the best and the brightest free thinkers and their creativity is what makes them successful.
Google’s unique brand of transformational leadership is a key factor in its success. High expectations, intelligence, employee considerations, and problem solving are all part of Google’s management and culture. Google receives thousands of resumes a day because they are rated one of the top companies to work for. They receive this credit through trust and admiration from their employees.
Although the leadership style has positive effects on employees’ motivation and encourages freedom to operate, the apparent lack of hierarchy has the potential to result in confusion about control and decision making power, affecting overall working conditions. Whilst this democratic leadership style seems to work well in the creative environment of Google, it may not be suitable for businesses that require more structure.
The link between Google’s leadership style and employee motivation is key. By being encouraged to participate and working in an environment where people feel valued, employees feel motivated. Vice president of SearchEngineWatch.com, Kevin Ryan, is quoted by Yung as saying “the Google culture is probably one of the most positive, influential, all-encompassing, productivity-inducing environments the world has ever seen” (Yung, 2007).
It can be argued that much of what motivates Google employees comes from within them since the management is so open. It also allows the employees to set their own agendas within the scope of the employees’ job duties with little to no oversight. Employees are the organization’s internal “customers” and feel a sense of purpose, enhancing their self-esteem and sense of belonging.
Appreciating the effort employees put in or providing them with monetary rewards will influence employee motivation and, according to Karlgaard (2005), the levels of motivation at Google are very high. An interesting fact is that around a quarter of Google’s 4000 employees became millionaires due to its market floatation. Even though these employees were guaranteed financial security, monetary reward was not their only priority, as this environment became a stimulating workplace for creating ideas. With regards Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the employees at Google have created a culture in the organisation, which goes far beyond one that is based on physiological, safety and social needs. These workers are able to meet their self-actualization needs which according to Maslow’s hierarchy is of utmost importance when it comes to leading a stable, successful life as it aims at an individual reaching their full potential (Robbins, Bergman, Stagg & Coulter, 2008). The employees are able to align their personal goals with the goals of the organisation.
Employees at Google are trained to shoulder the responsibility of coming up with new ideas and new products. In most organisations, this would be considered a major challenge but in Google, which operates with a flat organisational structure, it is achieved relatively easily. In fact employees are elated to take on the additional challenge that they are entrusted with.
The reason Google ranks so highly as an employer of choice is not simply because it has become one of the most successful companies in corporate history but because it allows employees to express themselves and think creatively which makes them feel more in sync with the workings of the organisation (David, 2008).
At Google employees are allowed to spend 20% of their time per week, usually Friday, to work on anything they want. They have autonomy over their time, their task, their team, and their techniques. About half of Google’s new products are birthed during the 20% of this time (Virtual Project Consulting, 2010). This is a great example of employee empowerment and has a positive effect on both the company and its employees. Employees feel they have control and freedom over their time and Google benefits because in the 20% of free time employees are developing new products for the organisation.
Hertzberg’s motivator-hygiene theory aims at explaining what satisfies employees and what removes dissatisfaction (McShane & Travaglione, 2008). He mentions that employees do not experience dissatisfaction when there are good working conditions and when job security is provided (hygiene factors). Employees become satisfied when they as individuals are allowed to grow and are able to fulfil their self-actualization needs (McShane & Travaglione, 2008). With the wide variety of facilities that Google provides, the hygiene factors are accounted for and with its flat organisational structure they allow their employees to grow and expand their intellect, which in turn, helps them achieve their personal goals.
Google has become a brand that has been considered synonymous with success, creativity and innovation and this can be partly attributed to their leadership style and various methods they use to motivate employees. Their employees have been able to innovate and come up with new ideas and products whilst having fun as a result of treated well and being considered by the leadership as the main assets of the organisation. As a result, Google has become an organisation that everyone wants to work for.
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