Google Follow Up

The following is a comment on my post "What Was Google Thinking?!" My response required more than few words so you'll find it below.


What would be an appropriate model for fiduciary reinforcement in an organization like Google, where creativity is highly encouraged and employees are about as fully empowered as anywhere on earth? Smaller reinforcements are generally the norm and asking employees to give more and more discretionary effort when they are often already working 70 to 80 hours a week is a difficult proposition. I realize that an examination of the system would probably lead to a means of ensuring appropriate reinforcements are capitalized upon but I was wondering, given the information that is available, what would be your inclination?


Aubrey's Response

Thank you for your questions.

While it may be presumptuous of me to question anything about Google in view of their huge success, I know the laws of behavior will catch up with them if they keep doing what they are doing now and that is non-contingent pay and benefits. There is an old Greek saying, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first send forty years of success."  That was said two thousand years ago when things moved much slower.  I am sure that the time has shrunk to 20 years and quite possibly less.

From what I have read, and I need to point out that is not always the best source for knowing factually about day to day practices,  current management seems to think that money will solve their problems.  That is why they gave the salary increases and bonuses.  I don't think money is the problem. I think management is the problem. There seems to be too little understanding of the basics of human motivation.  This is demonstrated in part by the fact that the work environment has too many positive reinforcers that compete with the doing work of Google. Haircuts, billiards, ping pong or foosball and others too numerous to mention in this response are all done on company time.  In the early days when discoveries were being made by the minute this probably worked well as people would work all night and weekends fueled only by their creations.  Today employees complain that if they eat dinner in the company dining room, they are expected to work late and that in many cases working late is unproductive and may be better described as hanging around long enough to avoid the frowns.

You state that " asking employees to give more and more discretionary effort when they are often already working 70 to 80 hours a week is a difficult proposition."  The fact is that if you have to ask for discretionary effort, it is an indicator that it is not being done because of positive reinforcement.  Discretionary effort is that which is given freely -- not that which is expected, required or demanded.

There are several sources of reinforcement at work:

1) that which comes from the work,

2) that which comes from managers,

3) that which comes from peers, and

4) that which comes from policies, procedures and the physical environment.


I am quite sure that reinforcement that comes naturally from the work has diminished in the recent past. To quote a former Googler, "While outside, I had all these big ideas I could do if I worked there.  Once inside I discovered there were 18,000 googlers who thought the same."  If you read the blog post in Tech Crunch by Michael Arrington, "Why Google Employees Quit," you get the idea that reinforcement has been reduced from the other three as well.

I would suggest that one of the things that is supporting Google these days is that their competitors are no better at management than they are.  My solution is that Google managers should learn something about the laws of human behavior.  Until they do things will not get better even if pay gets much better.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.