With more than 100,000 employees at Google and its parent company, Alphabet, it's hardly surprising that any email from the CEO to Google workers might wind up online.
That's what happened this week, as Sundar Pichai explained how Google will react in the near-term to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Bloomberg obtained a copy of the full Google memo, which you can read here.)
If you're running a business right now, and when you have to communicate en masse to stakeholders about the challenges you're facing, I think you could do a lot worse than to model your message after Pichai's memo to Google employees.
Let's break it down into its parts.
1. The opening
It would be so easy to skip over this, but it's important: the two words Pichai chose to open his 750-word letter about the tough times Google is facing.
Pichai chose, simply: "Hi everyone."
It's friendly, direct and casual. That might work for your company. It might not.
Regardless, choose your greeting with intention. They're the only two words you can guarantee everyone will read, and they set the tone.
The memo runs 11 paragraphs, and Pichai spends the first two of them talking generally about all the bad news. Lines like:
- "We couldn't have imagined then how much could change, and how quickly, for so many people around the world," and
- "We're only a quarter of the way through 2020, and it's already been the most unusual year in memory."
Why open like this? The pandemic is literally the most-covered story in a decade, and it affects every single person. It's not as if anyone reading this doesn't know the details.
I think the reason is simply to start with a calm attempt to acknowledge the breadth and depth of emotions that people are feeling now. You need that before the next part.
3. Positive reinforcement.
Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the 11-paragraph memo are all about the good things Google and its sister companies have already done as a result of Covid-19 in Pichai's telling, both qualitative and quantitative. Things like:
- "We've continued to show up for people in moments big and small..."
- "Committed more than $800 million in grants, loans and ad credits to help small businesses and others affected by COVID-19"
- "Many teams have been focused on helping governments and public health officials slow the spread of the disease."
If you're a Google employee worried about whether you'll have a job in a few months, you might be eager to get to the later parts of the memo.
But I think this is important for two reasons: first, to reflect a sense of continued gratitude and pride, and second -- because you know the memo will be leaked, so the audience for these paragraphs might actually be beyond Google employees.
4. Laying out a plan of action.
After a bit more scene-setting--recognizing that, "Google and Alphabet are not immune to the effects of this global pandemic" and that "the clear lesson from 2008 is that preparing early is key to weathering the storm"--we get to the real substance.
The way forward at Google according to Pichai includes:
- A plan to slow down hiring for the rest of 2020; in fact to "significantly slow down the pace of hiring."
- A plan to continue to invest, but put with a focus on "data centers and machines," while also pulling back on "non business essential marketing and travel."
Reading between the lines here, if I were a Google employee, I might focus on what's not here: no suggestion at all that Pichai thinks current workers will be laid off as a result of the pandemic.
If you're on the outside looking in and hoped to work for Google, it's probably bad news. But if you're part of Pichai's intended audience -- current employees -- it should be somewhat reassuring.
5. Finish strong.
Ending on a positive note is important, and Pichai does tow key things:
- He welcomes responses, asking any employee who has "additional ideas about how we can free up or redeploy resources to make us more efficient and support our priorities" to reply to the email itself.
- He expresses pride and confidence. In fact, if you're stuck at the end of your message to employees, I'd almost just pattern what you have to say after what Pichai wrote:
"Amid this uncertainty, the bright spot for me has been watching everyone pitch in to help your teammates and communities, and to make things better for the people we serve. We'll need that same level of energy, ingenuity and teamwork in the weeks and months ahead. Working together, I'm confident that we'll emerge from this challenge in a strong position."
It's tough being a leader, and never more so than right now. But the way you handle bad news today might have a big effect on just how good the future turns out to be for you and your employees.