Company Culture “for” Success

From the Pages of “How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg [Part 2]

In my previous post, I talked about company culture — what it is, where it comes from and why it is important.

I also presented some of organisational principles that govern Google’s company culture today. In case you missed it, you can read it here.

In this second post of our six-part series on How Google Works, I am going to highlight even greater principles about Google’s culture “for” success.

I emphasise for because that’s how your company culture should work. It should drive your company towards success and not against it.

So what’s in Google’s culture that made it the number tech company in the world? Let’s talk about it below!

Principle #1. Don’t Listen to HiPPOs

HiPPO is Eric’s acronym for Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. Decision-making is very important as it can make or break companies.

For Google, decisions are based on merit instead of tenure. Eric used a quote from Shona Brown to describe this principle more succinctly,

“It is the quality of idea that matters, not the one who suggests it.”

This brings us to our next question: Is establishing a culture of meritocracy easy? No. For meritocracy to work, another principle must be set in place.

And that is a culture where dissention is a must. If one of your employees feel that there’s something wrong with the idea, he must be willing to voice out his concerns.

This is hard because many employees find it uncomfortable to dissent especially if the person giving the suggestion is of higher position.

That is why dissention must be an obligation and not an option in your company. Once this culture is established, it will remove fear and will empower your employees to produce greater results. It will help them feel valued too!

Principle #2. Knaves, Knights and Divas

In How Google Works, Eric has a fun way of classifying employees — he called some knaves while others he referred to as knights and divas.

Knaves, obviously, are employees who you want to get rid of right away. They are those who take credit of other’s works. They are they who are jealous of their colleague’s success.

In short, they are they whose behaviours and offenses threatens the health of the entire workforce.

Knights, on the other hand, are the complete opposite of knaves. And they are really good at controlling those who have knavish values.

In your company, you will see a lot of knaves. And the best way to deal with them is to call a knight to take charge on most of their responsibilities.

If their behaviour are intolerable, you must get rid of them right away (in a good way of course) before they can infect others.

If their behaviour are intolerable, you must get rid of them right away before they can infect others

How about divas? Divas are not as holy and chivalric as knights. Their behaviors are not on par with knaves either.

Divas are characterized by their superb egos and high exceptionalism — Steve Jobs is an awesome example. They have this mindset that they are better than everyone but unlike knaves, they don’t push others down.

Instead, they want the rest of the team to be successful too. Divas are your company’s asset as long as their outputs match their towering egos. And usually, they do.

Principle #3. Work-Life Balance? Nah!

Work-life balance is a big issue in management practices today. For many, it’s enlightening. But for Eric and Google, it is not. Why?

Because work is an essential part of life — it’s the other side of the coin! And you can’t separate one from the other. In Google’s culture for success, employees are overworked in a good way.

They have many things to do, not only at work but also at home. Your primary responsibility is to make sure that work in your company is fulfilling and lively. Don’t just count hours!

In Google’s culture for success, employees are overworked in a good way

Smart creatives and dedicated employees enjoy work more when they have a responsibility to fulfill and the freedom to do it.

They don’t want to be treated like robots who go into overtime when you tell them to or go home early when you said so.

As Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, said “burnout isn’t caused by working too hard, but by resentment at having to give up what really matters to you.”

The bottom line of this principle is this: tell your employees that they are responsible for the things you’ve trusted them and give them the freedom to do it in whatever way they want.

As you do so, your corps of dedicated smart creatives will respond with vigor and eagerness and they will do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Principle #4. fun with a small “F”

Happy employees work hard and produce extraordinary results. Every company knows that. But how do you keep your employees happy?

I really like it when Eric pointed out that nowadays, many companies try to manufacture Fun (notice the capital “F”). How?

Fun comes in the form of annual parties, raffles, contests, food, teambuilding activities, excursions, etc.

Have you asked yourself if these activities are really fun? Wait! Don’t take me wrong here. There’s really nothing horrendous with these activities as long as they have a knack.

At Google, fun is neither expensive nor crafted. For Googlers, part of the fun comes from success while the rest comes from laughing and joking around with their colleagues — even the CEO!

When Eric was the CEO of Google, he himself led the entire Seoul team to dance “Gangnam style” with Psy!

For him, it does not matter how well he danced in front of everybody. What matters the most is that he danced.

Google’s fun culture is permissive with very broad boundaries. At one point, many Googlers enjoyed creating memes of their CEO, senior officers and fellow Googlers without even worrying what would happen if the photos leak into the outside world.

What kind of culture fosters that much trust? Simply put, at Google fun comes from everywhere!

Principle #5. Don’t Be Evil

The last principle that I’d like to highlight in this post is Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra.

This is actually a signal that any employee can pull whenever he or she feels that an idea or project is not in line with the company’s values.


Culture for Success don’t have any secret or magical ingredients. However well planned and well established your company’s culture is, there will always be occasional failures on top of extraordinary successes.

But that is a good thing. The best cultures are always aspirational and they always make every member of the company better.

Let me end this post by saying Ah’cha’rye’! This is a Hebrew word that means “Follow Me” in English.

If you want to lead Millennials and smart creatives, you must have an attitude that yells Ah’cha’rye every time.

Echoing what Eric said, “Leadership requires passion. If you don’t have it, start finding it now!”

This post concludes our discussion about Google’s culture. I hope you’ve learned something from it.

The third post of our How Google Works series will be talking about Google’s hiring process.

Don’t miss it!


Written By

Lenmark Anthony Baltazar

I have been living a life of HR for as long as I can remember. My experiences helped me realize that true happiness comes from being a blessing to the lives of others. I hope my skills and talents will be a blessing to you as well.