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Techonomy Events

Marissa Mayer on Encouraging Idea-Sharing in the Workplace

In this session from Techonomy 2011 in Tuscon, Ariz., Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! and former Vice President of Consumer Products at Google, describes how an open work environment in offices encourages networking and idea sharing. She says Google works hard to encourage a networked workplace, as opposed to a hierarchical one. Also appearing in this video: Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel; Kevin Johnson, CEO of Juniper Networks; and Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick: You’ve been involved in Google for so long, I know you’ve thought and been involved in a lot of efforts to think about how to effectively organize and communicate information internally, empower and make transparent the organization. Talk a little bit about how that’s evolved over time at Google and how much that remains a high value of the culture.

Mayer: I think it’s interesting, tying into that question and the previous discussion, I think that one interesting observation, that came out of Forbes, actually, from a guy named Quentin Hardy a few years ago, was he was talking about how organizations mimic the process that they’re designed to run. This triangular, tree-like org chart that we all have is based off of factory assembly lines. You’ve got four people on the line. You need one person to oversee them, one person to oversee the overseers, and you end up with this pyramidal structure. One of the things that he saw happening at Google, and he also felt he saw happening in other places, is that, he basically said that organizations, while they do still have that hierarchy because you do need some kind of management and accountability, more and more he was seeing things operate like networks. Our system at Google is we’ve got thousands of computers, your query arrives, different computers light up and they come together and they play different roles to answer your question. He was seeing more and more of that; someone who was a lead on one project is an individual contributor on the next and different people are jumping in with different skills. I think that we see a lot of that overall at Google.

The other thing about Google is, to your point, it’s a very vocal place and always has been. I’ve been there now for 12 and a half years and, yes, obviously social media and this empowerment have changed things somewhat. That said, it’s always been a really vocal place. It’s funny for me, because I’m actually quite shy, just by my nature, but I’ve never been shy at Google, because Google just isn’t a shy place.  I’ve always felt very comfortable speaking my mind. On really controversial topics it’s not unusual for me to know the opinions of dozens of other employees or hundreds of other employees, depending upon how long the debate has gone on. People really do feel that they can speak their mind. They recognize also that you have to make a decision and the decision may not go their way, but, that said, I do think there’s an opportunity to really say what you think, be heard out and debate it out. And as a result I think there are times when we’ve come to much better decisions, because there are six, seven, eight smart people who also have heard the opinions of dozens of other people all coming together and really trying to get to the best decision.

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