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I love the first week of January. More than any other time of year, it's when I feel the most rested, refreshed, and ready to tackle big, gnarly challenges. 

If you're feeling the same way, I urge you to read a thought-provoking Medium essay published last week by Ross LaJeunesse, Google's former head of international relations. He explores arguably two of the most complicated questions founders face as they watch their companies grow: Does your business still reflect the values you started with on Day 1? And should it?

Spoiler alert: LaJeunesse, who joined Google in 2008, argues that the company has strayed very far from back when its motto was still "Don't be evil." (In 2015, when Google reorganized under parent company Alphabet, Alphabet assumed a new motto: "Do the right thing." Neither Google nor Alphabet publicly commented on the change.)

While LaJeunesse isn't the only one who's lobbed this particular criticism at Google, he presents a detailed personal account of what he's seen as the slow erosion of that three-word motto--in the company's decision-making and its workplace culture--to prioritize profits over doing the right thing.

The inflection point, he alleges, occurred when founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin took a step back from day-to-day management:

A new CEO was hired to lead Google Cloud and a new CFO was hired from Wall Street, and beating earnings expectations every quarter became the key priority. Every year, thousands of new employees join the company, overwhelming everyone who fought to preserve the company's original values and culture.

LaJeunesse left Google in May 2019. It's worth noting that he's currently running for the U.S. Senate in Maine, so he has a reason to want to raise his profile right now. Still, his post strikes me as a timely nudge to think about your company's future by revisiting its past. 

If you believe that Google strayed from its motto when Page and Brin started to withdraw, it would be easy to conclude that company values remain in place only so long as the founders are in charge. Of course, plenty of successful counterexamples have grown while maintaining--or even strengthening--their internal values. Patagonia is an obvious one: The company has had eight CEOs since founder Yvon Chouinard stepped down, and under current CEO Rose Marcario, it's become only more vocal in embracing environmental ethics--and more financially successful because of it.

I'd love to hear from you on this issue: What's the key to staying true to your company's values? And how do you make sure they survive you?

Published on: Jan 7, 2020