What a Dog and a Monkey Taught Me About Management at Google

At all hands meetings on Tuesday afternoons, our 75 person AdSense Ops team reviewed the most important metrics for the business: top-two box customer satisfaction scores, revenue growth and customer churn.

But unlike every other all hands meeting I attended, these meetings ended with a monkey and a dog. Our director, Kim Malone, would stand up and call for two stuffed animals, first, Whoops the Monkey and Second, Duke the Dog, both of whom employees had carried to the meeting.

At the mention of Whoops, a handful of team members would stand up and one-by-one retell the story of a mistake, big or small. It might have been a mishandled customer case, a forgotten internal data analysis or causing a car accident on the way to work. Often, the team's managers and directors contributed anecdotes. Once or twice, an employee's Whoops mistake cost Google millions of dollars. After hearing all the yarns, the team voted on the worst mistake and Whoops would be thrown from one side of the room to the other, finding the "winner" of the competition who would put the monkey in his or her cubicle for the week.

Then Duke the dog was summoned. In contrast to Whoops' self-reported monkeywrench mistakes, Duke stories are retold by someone else and the dog is a reward for service to the team that went above and beyond the call of duty. Several Googlers would stand and tell a story of a teammate's dedication: how a colleague alerted them of a problem in a customer's account, or stayed late that week to process unusually high customer support volumes, or released an internal tool that might have increased our productivity dramatically. Again, the team would vote on the stories and Duke would be bestowed on the winner. Then, the all hands meeting adjourned.

Despite their childlike simplicity, Duke and Whoops, were incredibly effective management tools. Whoops created a culture of honesty and transparency, where mistakes were shared in an environment of openness, trust and support. With Whoops, Kim created a culture that valued learning and camraderie over pride.

Duke celebrated our internal successes. Each week, we wanted to win Duke because we knew whatever effort we contributed at the very least would be celebrated before our teammates and Duke, prominently displayed on in our cubicle would remind our teammates and start conversations. That knowledge made us all work harder.

To the individual, it mattered who won Duke and Whoops. But sharing all of the stories, building a community based on shared experience and trust, was far more important and beneficial to the team. The dog and the monkey were tools to weave a fabric of shared experience and create a culture of strong values.

The first time I interviewed at Google, Kim told me about a book she was writing. A little more than 8 years later, Kim has finally published that book. This week, I'd like to nominate Kim for Duke because of her perseverance and her commitment to achieving her dream.

21 October 2013

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