Mark’s son, Micah, works at Google and invited us to attend his “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” earlier this month.  Just the idea of that sounded fun, creative, and innovative.  While milling around having breakfast at Google’s Mountain View campus with 4,000 other parents, Margo said “I think it’s a cool idea but why bring your parents to work?”  I don’t know, Micah said, maybe they’ll tell you.

And, as if reading my mind (is there a Google search going on in my brain that I don’t know about??) one of the first comments that Laszlo Bock, SVP of PeopleOps (HR) said was “You may be wondering why Take Your Parents to Work day?”  He explained that as they were thinking about things to do for employee engagement someone said “Why do the kids get to have all the fun?  What about the people who packed the lunches for so many years for our employees?” And “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” was born … complete with some Googlers walking around with bright blue shirts that said “We Love Our Parents”.

As an Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant, we always look at companies through the lenses of what the company is saying versus what they are doing.  That day at Google was no different.  So what did we notice?

There is unquestionably a Google culture. During the initial talk by Laszlo, he repeatedly talked about the Google culture.  Google employees named themselves “Googlers.”  Walking across the campus we didn’t see signs hanging that espoused words about culture; we saw signs of the culture.  From the bright colors in the buildings, to the enthusiasm with which Micah’s colleagues greeted us, to the cartoons plastered throughout the walls the culture was obvious – and appealing.

It really is the people.  Google’s company page starts with “It’s really the people that make Google the kind of company it is.”  When listening to the speakers and employees, it is clear that Google understands that without incredible people there is no incredible product, without incredible products there are no customers, without customers there is no business.   Not only does Google realize the importance of the people, they put the recognition into actions through the benefits and opportunities they provide.   The focus at Google is on the outcome, not the incidentals such as what you wear to work or how many hours you sit at your desk.  As Mark always tells his clients, “Your most important and valuable asset goes home every night.”  Google understand this and it is obvious everywhere you look.

There is a lot of diversity at Google. The Company’s webpage “About” says “Although Googlers share common goals and visions for the company, we hail from all walks of life and speak dozens of languages, reflecting the global audience that we serve. And when not at work, Googlers pursue interests ranging from cycling to beekeeping, from frisbee to foxtrot.” Looking around, it was obvious.   Just to see how far the diversity went, Margo checked the make-up of the Board of Directors.  In addition to the founders, there are 4 men and 3 women on the board – not quite, but almost a 50/50 split.

Cubicles can work. While senior executives at Google have private offices, most Googlers work in cubicles and clusters.  At first glance, we didn’t think we would like that work arrangement.  But after meeting Micah’s office mates who work in large 3-person clusters, we realized how this arrangement contributed to communications, creativity, collaboration and continued learning.  Also, by having newer Googlers share space with those with more longevity, it helped the new employees have access to the experience of the longer term employees.  This arrangement also helps keep the longer term employees constantly exposed to new ideas.

Other companies talk about it, Google lives it. Many companies say they want to be the best place to work, have high values, and focus on the people.  Unfortunately, too often the focus is on the message and not the acts.  At Google, there are no set office hours or timecards; with a culture of trust, each employee is treated as a professional not constrained by unnecessary bureaucratic overhead.  Google says they are often asked, “How can you afford to do this?”  Their reply, “How can you afford not to?”  Google understands that a workforce that is content and respected is part of a great company.

Google isn’t perfect. As the company has grown, they have had to consciously strive to maintain the culture, openness and innovation.  But they don’t seem to hide behind “We are Google we can do what we want” or rest on the laurels of what they have done in the past.  They live continuous improvement.    Even though there are now 30,000 employees, the founders still try to keep the pulse on the individuals including having weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings where Googlers ask questions directly to Larry and Sergey, Google founders, and other execs about any number of company issues.

About the food… One always hears about the endless food at Google, to the point that we almost begin to think “It really can’t be like that”.  Trust us, it is!  What struck us wasn’t the volume of food, although it was plentiful.  It was the health and quality of the food.  You could get pizza, but the pizza station in the cafeteria was the smallest one.  In the food areas throughout the campus, the healthy food was right at eye and arms level.  If you wanted the candy, you had to bend over to get it.

We began to think that perhaps their approach to food was analogous to their approach overall – abundance is nice, but health and quality reign supreme.

In case you’re thinking you’d like to work at Google – here’s a reality check.  The SVP for PeopleOps indicated that it is 50 times more difficult to get hired at Google than it is to get admitted into Harvard.   If you or your company wants to be THE PLACE to work, perhaps you can look to Google for some ideas.

Thanks to Google for offering Take Your Parents to Work, and thanks to Micah for making it happen for us.