You Have To Acknowledge Problems
Insights From 'What You Can Learn From Sundar Pichai'
Sundar Pichai faced one of his biggest challenges as Google CEO in August 2017.
This was one of the many times when he was pulled up for simultaneously, A. Not doing enough and B. Doing too much.
Here’s what happened. A Google engineer named James Damore, circulated an internal memo that suggested biological differences that made women less suitable than men for tech jobs.
A note of this nature, in a tech company. Unimaginable.
And some would say, unforgivable. Pichai certainly thought so.
When the controversy exploded internally and on social media, he was in Europe on work, about to start a family vacation. He dashed off an email to Google employees, denouncing Damore’s views while supporting employees’ freedom of speech. He informed them that he was cutting short his holiday to return to Mountain View immediately.
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Oh, and he also fired Damore.
Pichai was almost immediately public enemy no. 1 - for both the free speech brigade who supported Damore’s right to express his opinion, and pro-diversity groups, who shone a light on Google’s not-quite-inclusive workplace. But here’s why Pichai ticked off all the boxes in perfect crisis response.
Right off the bat, he acknowledged that there was a problem, even when some of his team would have preferred that he wait till the dust settled a bit. Then, he reassured employees worried about different aspects of the problem. He showed up.
And he signaled his willingness to discuss the memo and its aftermath, by calling for an all-employees’ meeting. The lesson here is simple:
You can’t begin to solve problems until you acknowledge them, however disagreeable they may be. So, if something is wrong, first, accept the fact.
You send a very important message to the other person that way.
“I hear you. I know you’re troubled.”
Then, start looking for solutions.