April was a tough month for technology giants. It began with Facebook being swarmed with allegations of privacy breaches that took its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg all the way to Capitol Hill. Now Google's employees are publicly demanding an immediate end to a controversial artificial intelligence project.
The program, Project Maven, is designed to use Google's AI cloud software to target individuals through military surveillance, but employees argue that the company should in no way be associated in military operations or warfare technologies. In fact, more than 3,000 employees recently sent Google CEO Sundar Pichai a letter stating, "We believe that Google should not be in the business of war." The employees go on further to remind executives that Google's former motto of "Don't Be Evil" is a direct contradiction to this new business initiative.
Caught in between a profitable partnership and an internal crisis, Google is in danger of straying from its original mission. It's natural for organizations of all sizes to grow, shift and evolve over time, but it's important they update their mission statements in line with those changes and properly communicate the new mission to employees, customers and other key stakeholders.
Employees don't want to represent a brand with no vision.
Beyond compensation, culture and benefits, employees want to know they're contributing to a sincere, well-defined mission or vision. They need to know why they are getting out of bed every morning, why they sometimes work late and what their hard work is accomplishing.
The mission and shared goals of the organization should answer those questions. If you, as a leader, cannot articulate your mission in a few simple sentences, there is no way your team can articulate it or fully understand it, either.
In Google's case, it's clear that leadership has failed to communicate their changing company goals and, in turn, has made employees question leadership's ethics and motives. When your team's varied agendas begin diluting and disrupting common goals, that's on leadership.
Clearly defining and communicating your mission.
Google seems to have failed in adequately communicating its evolving mission internally and externally, but there are excellent examples on the correct ways to do it. Netflix, which has notably shifted into a media and technology giant, originated as a DVD rental and sales site that didn't initially act or identify as a world leader in online video streaming.
According to The Balance, in 2011 CEO Reed Hastings stated Netflix's mission included "Becoming the best global entertainment distribution service." Since then, the streaming platform has undergone substantial changes in branding, culture and values.
Evident by their current mission as listed on their Form 10-K, which includes "...continuously improving our members' experience by expanding our streaming content with a focus on a programming mix of content that delights our members," Netflix has evolved. By directly communicating company intentions, Hastings has been able to clearly define and communicate his organization's agenda and motives moving forward.
While in the middle of this internal snafu and PR blemish, this is an excellent opportunity for Google's leadership to take a deep look into the brand's identity and reestablish who they are and who they want to be in the future. And it's a great opportunity for other evolving businesses to do the same.