Just how innovative is Google?

Last month, Google was hailed as the third most innovative business in the world by US magazine Fast Company. But its size and structure can mean that creativity is stifled and employees become bored, according to a former Google executive, who does not want to be named.

When I joined Google several years ago, the company was like a start-up, with only a small number of people in the European office I worked in. It changed a lot over that time, going from a small structure to a really big multinational.

There were a lot of internal processes, bureaucracy and compliance. Conversely, they created programmes to ease internal mobility, so it was easier to change roles or locations. I am very grateful for having had the chance to work there.

I don’t think that big companies can embed a culture of entrepreneurialism because it is inevitable for any big company to have processes. You can improve that a little by changing certain aspects, but the main structure is not going to change.

If a big company has a decentralised structure, then everything can go faster. If your manager in London can take a decision even though the company is Indian, then yes it can learn from how a small company works. If a decision has to go to the headquarters, it is different. At Google, all main decisions are taken in California by the management. If it broke down its businesses and created separate units it could potentially [work more quickly].

In the few months before I left Google, the top management changed the company structure so that it felt more like a start-up. They organised the structure by product. Maybe they felt like they were working at a start-up, but I didn’t notice any change.

Employees feel happy and satisfied when they are given the autonomy to make decisions. I now work for a small but very international company. There are few processes and a lot of flexibility, which means that I can take decisions. You feel bored, empty and without passion – even if you have a high salary – when you just execute processes that have been developed by others.

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