Google Exceeded Planned Spending on Personnel

Often people have trouble understanding Dr. Deming’s disapproval of arbitrary numerical targets. What he was trying to prevent is what many see every day, such as managing to quarterly earnings targets. There are several problems with numerical goals but in here lets focus on one. The change from managing for what is best for the business to managing to hit a target. Google Profit Trails Analyst Estimates; Shares Slide:

The company hired more people than expected last quarter, Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said on a conference call. Google added 1,548 jobs, mostly in sales, marketing and engineering, bringing its total to 13,786. “We overspent against our own plan on headcount,” he said. “We decided it was not a mistake. The kind of people we brought in were so good that we’re glad we did this.”

Great statement. And if more people could manage that way, one of the problems with numerical goals would be eliminated. But with so many organizations tying huge bonuses to meeting arbitrary numerical targets you will have a great deal of difficulty getting managers to hire 3 extra people this quarter, who will help the business, but will ruin their chance at a bonus. Or even if they just take a hit on their performance appraisal compared to the other managers that meet the headcount target – even if it meant turning away talent the organization could have benefited from greatly – and then the manager that missed their target loses out in the next promotion opportunity.

I am happy to own a tiny portion of Google and glad they are making decisions like this. Now just because I think there is a good case to be made for exceeding the targets that doesn’t mean that hiring more people is necessarily good. It is perfectly possible Google is hiring too many people and making a bad prediction about how these people will benefit Google in the long run. I am just saying I strongly support not tying yourself to short term numerical targets, if you predict a better decision requires taking actions that will cause the target to be missed.

Google increased profit by 28%, from the second quarter last year, to $925 million (and down from $1.0 billion in the first quarter of 2007). Lest you think personnel can’t really cost Google that much can it, just the stock based compensation in the second quarter reduced earning by $242 million in the quarter (an “expense” that wasn’t reported just a few years ago). Google had 13,786 full-time employees as of June 30, 2007 (up 1,548 in the quarter) – so that is over $17,500 per full time employee. If anyone at Google wants to talk I am open to considering an employment offer.

3 thoughts on “Google Exceeded Planned Spending on Personnel

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