We caught up with Karolina Lewandowska, Change and Transformation Lead at Google, at Voxxed Days Belgrade 2016. Karolina’s talk, Inspiring a culture of Innovation: Insights from Google, discussed culture, strategy and innovation.

What trends have you noticed that influence how we operate at work?

I see three main trends that significantly influence how we operate at work.

Millennials

The first trend is the growth of Millennials in the workplace. It’s estimated that by 2020 almost half of the workforce will be made up of Millennials (Gen Y) and these are the people who are unfamiliar with the concept of being offline. These digital natives have very different expectations of what they want from an employer. The idea for them that they need to be in a physical place to get things done just doesn’t compute. This means that if organisation is looking to attract top millennial talent, they need to provide them with the tools and work environment where they can thrive.

Workplace

The second trend is about workplace. With the advancement of technology, we are no longer chained to our desks to work on individual tasks. If you have a think back to what your first desk or office looked like, you probably had a bunch of physical things that you needed to use to get your work done. Now projects can be worked on with a laptop or a mobile phone – meaning we can work from anywhere today. Not so long ago having a single desktop device was the only way to work, while now we are all used to switch between few devices in our personal lives and we expect the same flexibility at work. Using technology in the workplace that will provide seamless experience on laptop, tablet or mobile has become one of the key business objectives for many organisations.

Continental collaboration

Last but not least, I see more globalisation of the workforce. Collaboration across continents and time zones has never been easier. Due to the advancement in technology, the workforce has expanded as companies can now look for talent all over the world.

At Google, we truly believe that technology plays a role of a key enabler for global organisations. Internally, we use G Suite, a set of intelligent apps that help to streamline communications, collaborate real-time and to gather business data. With the right technology platform you can enable these new ways of working and really take advantage of the benefits, such as happier and more engaged employees. These are also the foundations of developing a culture of innovation.

Is there a ‘new reality’ with work behaviours: new ways of collaboration and sharing?

I think many organisations took collaboration and information sharing in the workplace to the next level. As a natural consequence of the above mentioned trends, there is a clear business need for real-time collaboration, instant sharing and teamwork. I truly believe that working in a silo on different versions of the same document is highly inefficient. We embrace collaboration everyday by using Google Drive and Docs to brainstorm, create new assets and take meeting notes. Machine intelligence will help automate some of the more mundane tasks. This will free up employees’ time to focus on the more creative and valuable activities.

Is it easier for businesses to change strategy or culture?

There has been a long debate whether Peter Drucker was right saying that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. I strongly agree with Mike Myatt that it’s not about strategy vs. culture. We should do our best to have them both aligned. Having said that, from my experience of working with Google customers embarking on a digital transformation journey, it can be challenging and time consuming to change organisational culture, which is shaped by the behaviors, attitudes and values of the employees within the organisation. Oftentimes these are not easy to change without a prescribed and deliberate effort from business leaders.

As a change management professional, I’m lucky enough to witness organisational culture changes enabled by the introduction of Google technology. Culture change will take deliberate effort over time by everyone within the organisation, especially leaders. In my view, getting culture right is really important for the long term success of an organisation.

Google is famous for its culture. What makes the culture at Google special?

People are at the heart of Google’s culture. They are what make the organisation so special and an exceptional place to work. Throughout the years, we managed to build a set of values, principles and behaviors that we all cultivate on a daily basis. Google’s culture is based around three core tenants: Mission, Transparency and Voice. It is these values that have been a core part of how the company operates right from the start. They are the values that are reinforced by our leadership team and employees on a daily basis.

We have a phrase that someone or someone’s behavior is ‘Googley’. That’s why ‘Googlyness’ is one of the categories we screen for at the hiring process. We want people who will thrive at Google and will be a good cultural fit. Googleyness includes attributes such as intellectual humility (it’s hard to learn if you can’t admit that you can be wrong sometimes), being comfortable with ambiguity, being a team player and showing evidence that you’ve taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.

How do you preserve culture in such a large company, especially when the employee numbers grow?

Aggressive hiring and growth can be challenging for maintaining organisational culture. At Google, our organisational culture has always been a top priority for our leaders. There is no secret recipe for a successful culture. The key here is to be very mindful about it and have everyone (seriously, everyone) build and believe in the culture. While Google culture may be quite inspirational, every organisation will be better off crafting its own unique approach to culture and the values that are important to them. For more insights into how we do things at Google check out Work Rules! This is a book recently written by our ex-VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock. If you have a winning culture in your organisation, new joiners (regardless of their number) will simply welcome it with big smiles on their faces and embrace it.

How do you foster innovation?

Based on my personal experience, it’s important to have open-minded and audacious employees. Hiring is the most important process every organisation does. At Google, every employee is involved in the hiring process and we’re told to only hire people that are better than ourselves. Employing the right people and setting them big, exciting challenges that align with a mission they believe in has triggered innovative thinking at Google. That is why we look for people who are open, transparent, and who don’t see failure as a bad thing. One of the phrases we use a lot internally is : ‘Fail fast. Launch and iterate’, which simply means that it’s okay to try something new and fail then refocus if needed. I truly believe this is an essential part of encouraging employees to try new things and innovate.