Lessons Learned From Visiting Google

I had an opportunity to visit a friend of mine who works atone of Google?s satellite offices (not the main GooglePlex in MountainView, Calif.). It was aneye-opening experience on several levels: the number of people still workinglate at night, the numerous perks, the free food, a fleet of bicycles thatanyone could use for their errands, the evening exercise classes and  the on-staff masseuse.

What, you don?t have anon-staff masseuse? Well, that might be a bit much. But it got me thinking aboutways that you can make your own shop more desirable and your staff morewilling, and most of these don?t cost a lot, either.  Here are some suggestions.

Find someone inaccounting that wasn?t schooled at Hogwarts.
I can?t tell you how manyorganizations where I have worked had accounting black holes or magiciansworking there.

You know the drill: You send in your paperwork, and nothinghappens for weeks while someone has placed your paperwork at the bottom oftheir in-basket or, worse, lost it completely. Get accounts payable to actuallyreimburse the staff quickly, say within a day of receipt, and you will boostmorale quickly and easily. No one likes to wait for checks, and you shouldn?tmake your staff feel unworthy because they incur business expenses.  

Listen to your staff?sneeds.
Sure all those free snacks and catered lunches and dinners help, butunderstanding what your team really desires is key. At the Google offices, anexpensive espresso maker was the centerpiece of the kitchen, but what impressedme was the wall of snacks that rivaled Trader Joe?s in its range of offerings.But what really mattered was that the staff had input into how these items wereselected, and their suggestions were acted upon quickly. 

Learn from how youcommunicate with your boss, and don?t make the same mistakes.
How easy isit to get your boss on the phone when s/he is out of the office? Or on e-mail?I remember at one place I worked it was rarer than some endangered speciessighting, and when an e-mail arrived, it was treated like some artifact alaIndiana Jones.

There are some bosses who are too intrusive: They are on instantmessaging, they subscribe to your personal blog and Twitter feeds, and theywant you available 24/7 to respond to their queries. Find the best middleground, and learn from your boss? mistakes.

Hire someone to fixyour desktop and laptop fleet in-house.
One of the best parts of the Googleoffice was the room where you could bring your PC to have it repaired, upgradedor otherwise attended to. The room reminded me of my high school AV(audio-visual) squad days?of course, back then we barely had electricity, let alonecomputers. But what was more important was how this demonstrated the importanceof having working machines for Google?s employees.

At many IT departments, thesquad room is filled with antique parts and outdated supplies. Or worse yet, yououtsource this function and your equipment disappears into that accountingblack hole, never to be seen again.

Not at Google: You could get just aboutanything fixed while you waited, or a new machine if yours had a seriousproblem.

Finally, think of ITas managing creative people, not clock-punchers.
I have seen many differentkinds of people working in IT, and the best companies understand that they haveprofessionals who, let?s face it, are somewhat quirky and unpredictable.Understand these quirks and what motivates people, and you will attract thebest and brightest.

Sure, it helps to have a stock that trades at severalhundreds of dollars a share, and a cachet that you can?t buy for being at thecenter of the Internet revolution. And that masseuse, too. But start actinglike a Google, and you will attract and keep the talent.