Crisis & Culture: A lesson from Google

If I asked you at the beginning of 2018 to list companies whose cultures you admire, I’d have to guess that many of you would have Google on your list. It’s the land of innovation, sleep pods and gourmet dining. It’s been lauded for years for its unexpected and sometimes outlandish perks.

But did they really get culture right? Only now are we beginning to find out.

The tech mega giant is in the middle of an internal – and very public – mutiny for paying millions of dollars in exit packages to male executives accused of workplace harassment. More than 20,000 employees walked out from Google locations on Nov. 1 and they are not being silent.

Claire Stapleton, a manager of Google’s YouTube was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “Google’s famous for its culture. But in reality, we’re not even meeting the basics of respect, justice and fairness for every single person here.”

Employees and the public are clearly disenchanted with the organization. And then it took a full week for Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, to issue a memo response to employee that it would be overhauling its sexual harassment policies.

What can we learn from this?
Culture is more than fun, games and pizza parties. Culture is the values, attitudes and beliefs that characterizes your employees and makes up the collective nature of your company. As they say, beauty comes from within. The external appearance of your organization has a lot to do with how you’ve taken care of your insides.

And Google clearly has not been doing that.

Pichai acknowledges this in his Nov. 8 statement to employees: “We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes.”

It took a crisis for Google to take a hard look at its policies and the way that its employees at all levels are carrying out its values. Had the company acted ethically and ensured it was always following its policies, this could have all been avoided. You know what they say about hindsight.

Your culture can be your greatest defense against a crisis.
With the launch of our crisis communications eBook this month, we have been talking a lot about the importance of crisis planning, especially with the speed at which bad news can travel today. But, the true strength of your culture is one of the most important and most overlooked element of crisis preparedness.

Your culture can help protect you if, and only if you’ve created a culture that values quality, fairness,
responsibility, integrity and transparency—and you live it every day, at every level.
Here are five steps to a stronger, more durable culture that can help you withstand a crisis:

1. Know what your brand stands for and what it values.

2. Look at all your policies, codes and commitments to employees, stakeholders, customers and the environment and make sure they align with your values.

3. Update your policies to reflect the culture you want to build.

4. Communicate, communicate and communicate again. Employees need to know what behaviors are acceptable to your organization and which are not. And there needs to be appropriate consequences.

5. Set expectations with leadership that they most set an example of exemplifying the values of your organization – all the time. Consistent action and reinforcement from leadership is not just critical, it is a must when it comes to protecting your brand.

I’ll close by saying that no company is crisis proof. But if you take these steps, you will be better prepared to respond quickly, openly and honestly because you truly have nothing to hide. At the end of the day, Google will survive this, and it will likely become stronger as a result. That doesn’t mean you should be like Google and wait till crisis strikes to start doing the right thing.

Jan Gusich is the founder of akhia communications and specializes in crisis preparedness and reputation management. She has decades of experience helping companies like yours prepare, respond and prevent crisis situations from escalating. She can be contacted at