The Problem Is Not Entitled Workers or PC Culture - It's Google

Ex-Waze CEO says yoga classes and entitled workers kill innovation at Google. But it is its size and power that are the real issue, not sushi

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A protests against Google in Berlin in 2017
A protests against Google in Berlin in 2017Credit: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE / Reuters

Noam Bardin, the outgoing CEO of Waze, sparked massive debate over the weekend about corporate culture in Silicon Valley after publishing a post ripping into Google and what he termed the stifling and entitled culture at the company. 

Google perks, including free meals, stock-based compensation and liberal leave policies crept into Waze and eroded its “startup magic,” he lamented.

"I was invited to speak on many different Google panels and events and very quickly, I began racking up my HR complaints. I used a four letter word, my analogy was not PC, my language was not PG,” he writes.

He also complained Google granted too much emphasis to employees’ personal life, in contrast to their professional life. “Having trouble scheduling meetings because ‘it's the new Yoga instructor lesson I cannot miss’ or ‘I’m taking a personal day’ drove me crazy. The worst thing is that this was inline with the policies and norms - I was the weirdo who wanted to push things fast and expected some level of personal sacrifice when needed.”

Bardin presents a situation which seems to stifle innovation - too much legal red tape, what seems to be tenure for employees and uncommitted workers. So how is it that Google does not suffer from innovation problems. It’s simply that they are rich enough to pay a lot of money to create innovation, even if very efficiently.

The reason is that Google is able to pay the best researchers in the world and to pay for a massive and growing number of workers.” In that sense, the problem is that Google is just too strong and its growth into a massive cooperation seems to be at the root of most of the issues he raises. 

Nonetheless, lets take Waze as an example. Bardin says Waze’s biggest competitor was Google Maps, but that’s not really the case. If they had had real competition they would have needed to innovate regardless of whether they were independent or not.

Outgoing-Waze CEO Noam Bardin quits Google, says yoga classes and PC culture undermine start-up energy: I began racking up my HR complaintsCredit: Daniel Bar-On

More than 140 million drivers worldwide use Waze monthly, up from 10 million when it was acquired, according to the blog post by Bardin, who left January 31 after helming Waze since 2009.

While Bardin seemed to suggest Google Maps stifled Waze, one could say that Waze was actually lucky to be part of Google and not an independent company trying to compete both with Google Maps and Waze together. 

There is also an issue with Bardin’s claim that Google’s focus on compliance and legal matters prevents its workers from striving to create value for users.

It’s true Google focuses on privacy but can one really claim that privacy is not of value to users? Maybe it's a matter of balance but if Bardin had perhaps chosen a different company that does not control so much information maybe things would have been different.

Bardin’s claims about hiring and firing practices are also an issue as making it hard to fire someone is not necessarily something bad. True it seems to be a relic of a time when big unions had a strong role, but CEOs need to be flexible and it is possible that Google’s workers, that are selected through a grueling interview process, may actually find another role in the company and should not just be let go.

In this regard it is worth noting that recently Google employees from across the globe began forming a union alliance, weeks after workers at the search engine giant and other units of parent company Alphabet formed a labor union for U.S. and Canadian offices. Called Alpha Global, Google's union alliance includes multiple countries such as the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and the U.K.

In response to his blog, Google said it “invested enormously” in Waze and its community, citing increased marketing spending, and added features such as Waze Carpool, toll prices, contactless fuel payments and integration with Audible. “We wish Noam all the best with his future endeavors,” it said in a statement.

Regarding the entitled culture, it is worth noting that high-paid managers of high-paid workers should be able to find ways to get their employees excited even without additional financial perks. It is interesting to note in this regard that about Google’s senior management, it seems Bardin does not have any criticism, or at least not one that he wants to make publicly.