Google has lost its way and could be brought down by its lack of a sense of urgency, a former employee who sold his company to the tech giant has argued.
Praveen Seshadri, whose company AppSheet was acquired by Google in early 2020, became an employee of the tech giant shortly before the pandemic.
The purchase price was not disclosed publicly, but TechCrunch reported at the time that AppSheet had a valuation of around $60 million.
According to Seshadri’s LinkedIn profile, he left Google last month after a three-year tenure as a software engineer.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Seshadri lashed out at Google, arguing that the tech giant had four “core cultural problems”: no mission, no urgency, delusions of exceptionalism, and mismanagement.
“They are all the natural consequences of having a money-printing machine called ‘ads’ that has kept growing relentlessly every year, hiding all other sins,” he said.
“Now, at the expiry of my three-year mandatory retention period, I have left Google understanding how a once-great company has slowly ceased to function.”
Seshadri said that while Google’s thousands of employees were “capable and well-compensated,” they were like “mice trapped in a maze of approvals, launch processes, performance reviews” and other bureaucratic procedures.
“The mice are regularly fed their ‘cheese’ (promotions, bonuses, fancy food, fancier perks), and despite many wanting to experience personal satisfaction and impact from their work, the system trains them to quell these inappropriate desires and learn what it actually means to be ‘Googley’—just don’t rock the boat,” Seshadri alleged.
Risk mitigation trumps everything else at the company, he said, which was creating a working culture where approval was needed from multiple people before any decision could be made and deadlines were unnecessarily elongated. All important choices were made by senior leaders who did not always have the expertise to back up their involvement, Seshadri also claimed.
“[Leaders at Google] may claim and even think it is better to be slow and do it right, but it doesn’t mean it is done right—but it sure is done slow,” he added. “Google can no longer seek success by avoiding risk. The path forward has to start with culture change, and that has to start at the very top.”
‘Delusions of exceptionalism’
Delusions about the company being exceptional were so pervasive, Seshadri also warned, that they had the potential to bring about Google’s downfall.
“You don’t wake up every day thinking about how you should be doing better and how your customers deserve better and how you could be working better,” he said. “Instead, you believe that things you are doing already are so perfect that they are the only way to do it. When new people join your company, you indoctrinate them. You insist on doing things because ‘that’s the way we do it at Google.’”
He suggested Google make three changes to turn itself around: Lead with a commitment to a mission, cull middle management, and cut “peacetime generals who underpromise and underdeliver.”
“Can Google achieve a ‘soft-landing’—i.e., gradually transform and become a powerhouse again while continuing to grow steadily?” Seshadri pondered.
“Most companies fail this test. Either they gradually wither and then linger on as a shadow of themselves, or they spectacularly fail. Microsoft managed to turn things around, but it required exceptional leadership and good fortune. Google has a chance, and I’ll be rooting for it.”
Google did not respond to Fortune’s questions about Seshadri’s blog post.
The company, which is currently engaged in a race with Microsoft to develop high-performing A.I. for its search engine, is caught up in a “fragile moment” thanks to the pressure arising from Microsoft’s recent breakthroughs with hot product ChatGPT.
“Most people view this challenge along the technology axis, although there is now the gnawing suspicion that it might be a symptom of some deeper malaise,” Seshadri said. “[But] Google’s fundamental problems are along the culture axis, and everything else is a reflection of it.”
Earlier this month, Google parent company Alphabet saw some $100 billion wiped off its value after its answer to the A.I. chatbot phenomenon made a mistake in its very first public outing.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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