Last Updated May 7, 2010 1:52 PM EDT
Like everyone else, I depend on Google being fast and effective and when companies provide excellent service, their employees ought to be paid well. The difficulty arises when the stock price starts to fall. How do you keep the team engaged, optimistic and focused? When equity is a big part of compensation, can you stop workers checking their portfolios every few minutes? Call me perverse, but I think these moments can be great for true leadership. Here's why.
WEED OUT THE UNCOMMITTED. If you have people working for you who are only there for the money, now is the time that will identify them for you and, with any luck, they'll leave. Employees who check the stock price constantly are poor performers and bad investors. No company wants people there just to make a fast buck; such employees don't believe in service, they don't care about customers or innovation and you are better off without them. Hyper growth companies (especially in technology, I suspect) are always attractive to carpetbaggers - those who want the upside without the risk. Don't waste your time trying to build their morale. Let them go.
STOKE THAT FIRE IN THE BELLY. Real entrepreneurs love to prove themselves; it is the number one motive for starting a business and it's a very big reason why employees join start ups. Leaders should use moments like this to renew commitment and remind everyone that success is not given, it is earned. If there was complacency (and, at Google, there has been a fair amount) now is a moment to replace it with passion. Morale is often highest when you have a fight on your hands. So go on, prove yourselves - again.
STRESS TESTS WEAKNESS. Any time a system is under stress, its weakest points break first. So a downturn -- or a stock downturn -- can be a great diagnostic. Departments and teams that didn't have great leadership will start to founder; you can fix them before they break.
My personal experience is that managing in a downturn is easier than during periods of up, up, up. Why? Because nobody takes anything for granted. And, in this particular downturn, Google has it easy: the downturn isn't about Google. Nobody's abandoned the Internet. Its market hasn't - yet - been disrupted by a new arrival and there's no evidence that its business model--at least its core search business--is flawed. But that doesn't mean they can escape the iron rule of business leadership: Focus. Focus. Focus.