How leaders at Google et al lost the room

Andy Walker
9 min readJan 17, 2024

And what happens next

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

As we start another year; an internal post at Google says “thank you to our corporate overlords for our new annual tradition”. The post is referring to the latest round of layoffs or as those overlords like to referring to them as “reduction in force” because nothing makes you sound honest like using weasel-speak instead of plain English. This is a trend happening across the industry. At Cloudflare one employee captured the moment when they were told they were being let go and the inability of those handling the situation to explain the situation. My heart goes out to both sets of people in that situation — firstly the ones on the receiving end of the news. But, also to anyone put in the situation of carrying out something they disagreed with.

When a leader loses the trust of their organisation then the capabilities of the organisation take a nose dive. This is something which happens slowly at first but accelerates over time. It’s worth understanding how this came about and how this is likely to progress over time. Organisations have their own set of human physics. In the same way that an apple is subject to the laws of gravity if you drop it, an organisation’s culture will also change predictably based upon how its leaders behave.

Before we get to present day, let’s consider the journey that Google has taken to get to the point where Sundar and his leadership team have lost the trust of those they are meant to be serving. One can look at the layoffs in 2023 but the rot started earlier than that. Here are some of the ways trust began to be eroded.

  • Android. Android you say? Surely that has been one of the biggest successes Google has had. And it’s true yet Android led to cultural warning signs around organisations holding themselves separate from the rest of the company. Buildings you could only go into if you were working on Android for example started created walls in a company which prided itself on openness. The exec in charge of Android was given a $150 million stock grant while being investigated for sexual misconduct and then a $90 million payout when he left the company.
  • Google+. Google’s social network that started so well and petered out. Like Android people working on Google+ were given preferential treatment to the…

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Andy Walker

Interested in solving complex problems without complexity and self sustaining self improving organisations.