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A Unifying Mission

By Goutam Das     February 18, 2017

In October 2016, as the National Capital Region's (NCR) air quality dipped to alarming levels, partly because of stump burning in the neighbouring states, leaders at Google India swung in to action. Employees from the company's human resources (HR) team, facilities, and even business units got together to find out ways to make it safer for everyone in the company to commute. They looked at global best practices to understand how to handle the problem, and learnt that Singapore had a similar problem a few years back as smoke engulfed the city - a result of forest fires in Indonesia. An air quality specialist was invited for a talk at Google's Gurgaon office. Everyone in the office got masks for themselves, and their families.

It was a small gesture, but ties into many things Google holds dear. "If a Googler is happy and healthy, he is likely to be far more productive. We want him to be comfortable when he comes to office," says Suryanarayana Kodukulla, Director, People Operations, at Google India.

Of course, Google is now famous for providing lavish food and massages for free. However, what keeps employees glued to the company is the emphasis on respect, the ability to interact with people based on ideas as opposed to hierarchies, career mobility, and most importantly, the mission of the company. It is not by fluke that Google India has topped Business Today's Best Companies to Work For ranking year after year, 2016 being no exception.

This writer met a few employees to understand why Google is so highly rated as an employer. What does it get right that others don't? It began with a chat with Rajan Anandan, its charismatic Vice President, South East Asia and India.

Mission is Critical

"A lot of people think it's about the free food, the massages and all of that. They miss the whole point," Anandan says. "We try to do amazing things. When you hire very smart people and get them to focus on hard problems, they get energised and excited." Google's mission is 'Internet for every Indian' - a message that resonates and drives every employee. "The mission of the company and what we are trying to do is super, super critical," Anandan emphasises. "How do we connect 1.3 billion Indians, and how do we make the Internet useful for them - regardless of what team you are in, that is what binds us together," he adds.

So employees have been focusing on building high-speed Wi-Fi at railway stations - about 110 stations have been wired up till now. Currently, about six million Indians access the network every month. Googlers have also been trying to create a lighter Web for India, where Internet access is often patchy even in the cities with products such as YouTube Offline and Maps Offline.

The India chief specifically mentions Gulzar Azad, the company's Head of Connectivity. "He was one of our leaders who spent two years trying to get the railway partnership done. It was just him. Now, we have added more people and they drive what would be the world's largest public Wi-Fi network. You pick passionate team members, put them on projects, support them for as long as it takes, and then they feel incredibly empowered," Anandan says. That's Google's secret recipe.

"Companies that change every year, find the programme of the year and the initiative of the year, are missing the point. From a talent and culture standpoint, what is important to Google hasn't changed for a long time. We have been focused on hiring the best and those who can be successful in our culture that is open, transparent, fast and accountable," Anandan explains.

Any role, any place

How does Google hire the best? A potential employee currently undergoes five interviews. Hiring decisions are taken by a panel that consists of the hiring manager, a cross-functional interviewer (not related to the function; ensures a candidate is a fit for Google), a peer interviewer, and a diversity interviewer (candidates need an inclusive mindset). All of them need to be convinced about a candidate. "We don't just hire for the role that is now open. We look at the person's ability to scale into various other roles; that ties into our internal mobility and career mobility philosophy," says Kodukulla.

He informs that the hiring practice in India is similar to that in the US. "So, for us, internal mobility is very easy. Everyone can shift to another market and do the job. In fact, a lot of people want to work with us because of the career mobility we promise, and the global exposure we can provide."

Kodukulla himself is not an HR professional. In his previous role, he was the director of SMB at Google India.

We also met Pious Saraswat, who was campus hired by Google in 2010. He has previously worked in SMB sales and travel sales, but does something dramatically different today. He is part of a project on mobile skilling. Google's goal is to improve the level of developer education in India, and the company has publicly committed to training two million mobile developers. This project involves working with universities and other stakeholders to introduce a high-quality, job-focused Android curriculum. Saraswat's current project, if successful, will directly impact employability for many Indians. "Google allows that sort of a thing. Being able to create that impact motives me personally," he says. This also brings us back to what Anandan said - self-energising by getting the best people to focus on the hardest problems. And that's the glue for its employees.

This is perhaps why Google's attrition rate is not a metric its leaders worry about. Google India has around 2,000 people now. A few leave to start their own companies. Anandan, an angel investor himself, believes it is not such a bad thing. "The single biggest reason we don't get the people we want to hire is that they want to be entrepreneurs, which is tells me that we are trying to hire the right people." ~

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