What Growing Businesses Can Learn from Google’s Rebirth as Alphabet

HR and business leaders can learn a lot about fueling growth and staying relevant from Google’s recent restructuring into Alphabet.

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Google, Alphabet and HR

Yesterday, Google announced that they’re restructuring from a single company with several products to a collection of companies called Alphabet. Under Alphabet, Google and its many other products and projects like Android, Fiber, and Wing will become separate entities that fall under Alphabet’s purview.
Most small businesses and startups are a far cry from Google in both size and ubiquity, but the news is a good reminder for HR and company leaders that there’s always room to improve how you run your business. Here are three lessons that we gleaned from Alphabet’s announcement.

Lesson 1: Growth comes from focus.

Creating Alphabet was a way of making everything “cleaner and more accountable.” Products will become separate companies with independent CEOs, with the hope that each new subsidiary will dedicate 100% of their allocated resources to focusing on growing their product. Former Google heads Larry Page and Sergey Brin will now man the controls at Alphabet, focusing on “capital allocation and work to make sure each business is executing well.” The duo plans to hire or promote star team members to CEO roles, starting with promoting Sundar Pichai, former head of two major Google products, Chrome OS and Android, to CEO of the new Google.
How HR can help: Writes Page, “Alphabet is about businesses prospering through strong leaders and independence.” As an HR leader, you can help managers grant teams and individuals the same clarity and accountability as Page and Brin are giving each Alphabet company. HR has the unique ability to uncover team dysfunction, identify strong and weak employees, and play a critical role in facilitating change. If your growth is flat and you can’t pinpoint why, search for what’s hindering focus. Is it micromanaging leaders? Isolated and unempowered teams? Clarity helps your entire company move along smoothly and gives everyone room to dream bigger.

Lesson 2: Your org structure is married to your mission.

Alphabet reconnects the company with its ten original core beliefs that a larger Google, with numerous distinct products, perhaps no longer could. In the founders’ words, “from time to time we revisit this list to see if it still holds true,” and these three key Alphabet values are given new life with the company’s new streamlined org structure:

  • It’s best to do one thing really, really well. Page and Brin formed Alphabet to better “run things independently that aren’t very related,” giving different ideas like Google and longevity product Calico breathing room. Smaller companies can help teams “do one thing really, really well” by granting everyone unique, well-defined responsibilities, with clear metrics for success.
  • Fast is better than slow. Alphabet will be larger than Google, but Brin and Page also hope it will run faster—by reorganizing their employees into tighter, more empowered, simplified units, every team and product can move more swiftly and challenge competitors.
  • Great just isn’t good enough. Alphabet is one of the most successful companies in the world, but to Page and Brin, they could do better. Whether it’s incubating new ideas, continuing to test “things other people think are crazy but we are super excited about” like YouTube and Chrome, investing in promising ventures, or running high-tech R&D, there’s always room to be better. This applies whether you’re with a tech behemoth like Alphabet or conquering your own corner of the market.

How HR can help: Values aren’t an aside. They reduce team friction and help you recruit like-minded individuals. Codify your values if you haven’t already, and check that your org chart reinforces this regularly. At Zenefits, for example, one of our values is “radical transparency,” and we try to build out our team in a way that supports this belief. What are your values? Is the way your company is structured supporting these values, or letting them slip?

Lesson 3: Pain is a sign of life.

“In the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant,” Page writes. As technology impacts every industry under the sun, even the smallest businesses can’t afford to stay wedded to old practices. Whether it’s small business marketing, sales or HR, the most competitive companies know that technology is vital to finding both loyal customers and star employees.
How HR can help: Work to implement progressive policies that attract strong workers and systems that make employees’ lives easier, even if it takes shaking up the way you’ve always done things. Learn more about cutting-edge HR practices for your own professional development, and, if you end up taking any cues from Alphabet, host workshops to help teams weather and come out empowered from your new organizational changes.

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