Google Day Care -- No Place for Parents on a Budget

Last Updated Jul 7, 2008 8:22 PM EDT

Google logoAll companies have weaknesses, and under the stress of growth, Google is beginning to show them. One person who left Microsoft for Google and then returned to Seattle, mentions what left him unimpressed:
  • silly politics
  • under-performance
  • inefficiencies and ineffectiveness
  • things that are plain stupid
You could call it the cruel side of cool: when you have to be hip, pragmatism can take a powder. Sure, upgrade releases happen at a pace that makes Microsoft look frozen in amber. However, what good does that do when it keeps breaking down?
It seems like every week 10% of all the features are broken in one or the other browser. And it's a different 10% every week - the old bugs are getting fixed, the new ones introduced. This across Blogger, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, and more.This is probably fine for free software, but I always laugh when people tell me that Google Docs is viable competition to Microsoft Office. If it is, that is only true for the occasional users who would not buy Office anyway. Google as an organization is not geared - culturally - to delivering enterprise class reliability to its user applications.
It's the curse of the cool, when you do what is slick but you haven't developed the boring habits of consistency and predictability. That alone should make the Google cheerleaders take a breath and consider just how much the company does well that is outside search -- like conducting daily business.

"Plain stupid" reared its head as a recent managerial disaster: Google's day care fiasco. Corporate day care policy seldom rises to significant news story status, but don't say that Google doesn't think big. From the NYT's Joe Nocera:

Having conquered the Internet, Google's executives tend to believe that they can do pretty much everything better than everybody else -- even day care. When I spoke to Laszlo Bock, the company's vice president for "people operations" (a k a human relations), he told me that "what is really driving the cost is eliminating the two-year wait list while focusing on providing really high quality."
In the process, it has driven the annual cost to employees for day care (for one child!) from about $33,000 to more than $57,000, a 73 percent jump that takes costs well above market rates.

With a young-skewing employee base, experienced managers expect employees with families and interests outside work. A smart day care program can lower HR retention and recruitment expenses, literally paying for itself. But when management raises costs this much, the day care program could become an employee repulsion tool, particularly when the company sounds like it's starting to radically change its relationship to employees from just two years ago:

And there are still other incentives; the list goes on and ON and ON; the perks are over the top, and the rewards are over the top, and everything there is so comically over the top that you have no choice, as an outsider, but to assume that everything the recruiter is telling you is a baldfaced lie, because there's no possible way a company could be that generous to all of its employees, all of them, I mean even the contractors who clean the micro-kitchens, they get these totally awesome "Google Micro-Kitchen Staff" shirts and fleeces.
You have to have some sympathy -- it's tough to manage through explosive growth. But companies eventually must grow up eventually and become places to count on, and not just be cool.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.