Can vendors attract staff from rivals with free lunches and coloured paint?

Someday someone will invent a spider that trolls all the blogs on the Web for best practices. And that piece of software will be a huge competitive advantage for the inventor's company.


Case in point: a recent blog entry about an interview with a former Google employee, now at Microsoft. The blog, mysteriously titled "Just Say No to Google", has only a single post, which has so far garnered over 400 comments. It's not signed by anyone, and there's no "about" page. It's officially a Phantom Blog.

The ex-Googler dishes dirt on what it's really like to work at Google and what Microsoft can do to lure top candidates from its nemesis.

The sexy part of this expose is right at the top: Google keeps its 20-something employees working round the clock by providing all the amenities of a college dorm. Google has a loosey-goosey attitude towards work spaces. Most Googlers don't actually use 20% of their time on a "personal project." The Google management structure is hyper-flat, and there's very little career development support. And so on.

The memo then provides some specific suggestions for how Microsoft can make itself more attractive relative to Google: Make cafeteria food free instead of increasing salaries (the average Google employee eats a paltry US$10 worth a day). Give developers private offices, but let them paint them any color they want (apparently Microsoft has a strict color code).

But the real gem here comes at the very bottom: A revolutionary, thought-provoking concept for every CIO who wants to think outside the box on empowering people via technology. Google has what it calls Tech Stops on each floor of each building. You can walk into a Tech Stop with any IT issue and talk to a person who will immediately fix it for you, whether it's a network problem or an equipment problem or whatever. They have cables and mice, they can swap out equipment, and so on. It's like the Genius Bar at an Apple Store.

Holy overhead! What an outrageous expense, you're thinking, compared to our efficient call center and issue tracking and resolution! They must be out of their minds!

But wait a minute, what if they're not? What if this very non-quantitatively-measurable boost to employee productivity actually far outweighs the (very measurable) additional overhead cost? Apparently Google values its employees' time pretty highly with a policy to "repair or replace" within an hour. They don't want employees spending hours and days calling or emailing IT. They want them to just walk down the hall and deal with a person, where many IT problems become, as the memo says, "trivial."

Before you dismiss this out of hand, remember that people thought Apple was dumb for opening up retail stores, too. People thought FedEx was stupid for "transferring" all its packages at a hub rather than flying them direct (the company's founder actually got a C on his Yale thesis suggesting the concept). True best practices always have detractors until they're tried. If they didn't, they'd be average practices.

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