Natalie Bagnall, Head of Acquisition at Google UK, offered an insight at the recent Breakthrough Live event in London, into what it’s like to work for one of the most forward-thinking and original companies in modern history. Google is well known for using innovation to shape its culture, and Natalie treated delegates to a look at the company’s ‘Nine Rules of Innovation’, which enable it to stay agile and creative on a worldwide scale.
The first rule Natalie addressed was Google’s hiring strategy, one of the rules she said had impressed her the most. The company hires from some of the top universities in the world, and receives in excess of 3,000 CVs each day. Co-founder, Larry Page personally vets the CVs of the individuals Google is hiring. Candidates are then subjected to a rigorous selection process. “The calibre of people is so high,” says Natalie. “It creates a very challenging environment and that keeps you sharp.”
Natalie explained that while experience and success are important, passion is the key to driving innovation. But it’s also important to create an environment that encourages creativity. Natalie described Google’s offices as an “adult’s playground” where bowling alleys, swimming pools and numerous breakout spaces can be found. As she explained, “Happy employees are more likely to share ideas and participate.”
Sharing company vision
Another rule dictates Google’s non-hierarchical structure, designed to encourage everyone to share and understand the company vision. Employees are entrusted with confidential information, and an open feedback loop exists whereby teams rate their managers every quarter. The facility also exists to submit anonymous feedback. “There are no silos,” says Natalie. “Team working is hugely important.”
Adapting ideas rather than killing them is determined by another rule. “We operate a ‘dog fooding’ policy,” says Natalie. “We trial products internally and that allows us to test and gather feedback and improve it before launching.” This process has allowed Google to launch many of its most successful ideas, including Google+.
Another rule is concerned with putting the user first and thinking about monetisation later. “For example,” says Natalie. “When we bought YouTube it was a content network for a long time before we sold any advertising on it.” Natalie says that in her role in the commercial department, this philosophy means that if she wants to pilot a project to see whether it could benefit users and ultimately drive more revenue, Google would allow her to do so without giving her sales targets. “You can get target protection for a period of time while you test new ideas,” she says.
Google’s famous ‘20% time’ constitutes another rule. “All our employees can spend 20% of their time working on new ideas or contributing to new projects,” says Natalie. Many new concepts have been spawned from this way of working, including Google News and Google Suggest.
One of the things that resonated with Natalie when she was presenting to the Breakthrough audience of fast-growth businesses was that Google was originally in the same position as many of the event delegates: it was once a growth company looking for support.
“I came away from Breakthrough feeling that I can give something to other companies. SMEs are the future engine of our economy and companies like Google need to take responsibility for doing more evangelising to that group.”
Natalie added that she was impressed with the Breakthrough event and the general reaction to it. “It was very aspirational, in a beautiful part of London and in a beautiful building. Lots of money had clearly been invested in the event, which is a real signal to the audience that Santander is supporting them and putting their money where their mouth is.” She added that the opportunity for people in the audience to network and hear from more experienced players is one not be missed. “The calibre of people at the event was exciting and inspiring,” she says. “Any SME who sees the event agenda is bound to feel that this is something they want – and need - to be part of.”
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