Like a lot of tech companies right now, Google has had a bit of a rough time. It’s still the world’s largest advertising platform, and one of the most important tech companies, but it’s also seen its revenue growth start to slow and it made less profit than the previous year for the second time in a row.
That’s obviously a problem. If you were the CEO of a company like that, you might be thinking it’s time to start motivating your employees to step up the pace. After all, CEOs of big tech companies don’t get paid to tolerate anything other than rapid growth. Anything less is considered a failure. You might even be tempted to challenge them to “do more with less,” as Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, reportedly told employees before he also suggested that some of them should probably quit.
Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, has different idea, and it’s so smart it’s something every leader should try.
Acknowledging the company’s challenges during an all-hands meeting last week, Pichai told employees that the company has some work to do. That’s according to a report from CNBC. “There are real concerns that our productivity as a whole is not where it needs to be for the head count we have,” Pichai said.
To get there, Pichai said that Google needs to “create a culture that is more mission-focused, more focused on our products, more customer focused. We should think about how we can minimize distractions and really raise the bar on both product excellence and productivity.”
The key word in that sentence is “we.” Pichai didn’t say that he was sitting around thinking about what should be done, or that his top team is on the problem. He said “we,” as in everyone at Google.
A lot of times when executives say “we” they don’t actually mean it. What they really mean is “this is what I think, and it would be great if you’d all just get on board.” In Pichai’s case, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“I would love to get all your help,” Pichai said as he told employees the company was launching a “simplicity sprint” to get ideas of how to improve efficiency and employee focus. The goal is to help everyone be more productive by asking them what they need to be, well, more productive.
That one sentence–just eight words long–is brilliant, if for no other reason than Google’s CEO isn’t assuming that he already knows what to do. He’s asking for help. Not only that, he’s not asking managers what they think about making their team perform better, he’s asking the people who are most likely to know what would help them be more productive.
Let’s be honest, most leaders aren’t great at asking for help. A lot of them assume they know what to do and believe their primary job is to convince others to just do it.
Most of the time that’s not the case. Usually, the people you lead have lots of great ideas. They certainly have ideas about what they need to be more productive, you just never asked them. You might be surprised what you hear if you did.
When you ask for help, you do three things. First, you validate that you value your team’s input. That alone might be the most powerful reason to ask. Your team needs to hear you acknowledge that they have insights and ideas that can help your company.
Second, it creates shared ownership for solving the problem. It gives your team buy-in and invites your team–who are presumably smart enough that you hired them to do the job in the first place–to contribute to solving whatever problem your company is facing.
Finally, it encourages accountability. When you ask for your team’s ideas, you’re accountable for engaging with what they tell you. If you’re asking your team to tell you what they think you should do, only to ignore them, you’re doing it wrong. You’d be better off not asking at all.
Instead, you should listen to the people you hired presumably because you thought they were smart and talented and able to contribute. Chances are, you were probably right, which is why you should give this a try.