Two of the most powerful organizations on the planet have the same management philosophy…is there a connection?
Included is a quick list of comparisons:
1. High Barrier to Entry
For both the Obama Administration and Google, the hiring process is extraordinarily drawn-out and has strangely close oversight from top officials.
Just this week, Hillary Clinton said that, “The clearance and vetting process is a nightmare. It takes far longer than any of us would want to see. It is frustrating beyond words.” Indeed, the same frustration seems to be felt by former employees of Google who, after quitting, say things like, “Google took longer than any company I ever worked for to get thru the hiring process”
A high bar is typical of organizations where each member is expected to take initiative. For instance, in Switzerland, where citizens sometimes vote over 5 times a year on every major government decision, the process to non-naturalized citizenship can take longer than 12 years and involve grueling personal interviews.
2. Encourage Dissent
Obama seems intent on surrounding himself with a team of rivals that strongly disagree with his policies, as evidenced by appointing the position of Secretary of State to a woman who once shouted “Shame on you, Barack Obama” on national television. His cabinet consists of both Democrats and Republicans, and he likes to invite cabinet rivals to debate their ideas in front of him before making big decisions. This stands in stark contrast to the previous President, who was notorious for demanding lock-step obedience to the party line.
At Google, engineers spend 20% of their time (or one day a week) doing something unrelated to their job description. By encouraging employees to creatively experiment, Google has stumbled into areas once thought completely irrelevant to a search engine company. Any reader with a Gmail account is a direct beneficiary of 20% time, as many of its features were creations of developers using this time to beef-up Google’s widely used email client. It’s easy to see how the philosophy behind 20% time is representative of humble leadership. Google fully admits that they can’t even imagine how to tell employees to spend their time, let alone the direction which Google should necessary follow.
3. Forget the clock, the dress code, and a fat paycheck
The White House and Google seem to be for people who love their work. Expect to stay late, button down, and earn less money.
Karl Rove, the architect of President Bush’s election campaign, also had similar criticisms, “Mr. Obama’s tendency to work late into the night will also pose problems…Requiring a senior staff that meets at 7:30 a.m. to work until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. will quickly cause burnout and diminish the quality of advice and oversight.”
This has left some anal-retentive bureaucrats uneasy, who were comfortable with President Bush’s strict dress code and timely schedule. As seen in the picture, Obama frequently arrives late for meetings, sans the jacket suit. The style is reminiscent of the populist president, Thomas Jefferson, who used to greet foreign dignitaries in his pajamas.
Last, both organizations are paying employees less than either competitors or previous administrations. As CEO Eric Schmidt is fond of saying, people don’t work for Google for the money.
A Faith in Reason
Both Google and Obama seem to be banking on the idea that smart people and good ideas are better than procedures, rules, or strong-armed leadership. It’s certainly a risk. But, it just might be the best way to deal with an unpredictable start to a new century. Interested readers are invited to listen to a talk I gave on the subject in the video below,