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Michael Yue: How great culture starts with you

When thinking about your career, think about your purpose and your values. And what you want to stand for. Because if you truly understand yourself, you will have an amazing career, and then get really good at something

You may have heard of "you own your own career development". What exactly does this mean? Michael will draw from his experiences in Tech and share a simple framework to help you excel in your career while also building a great culture of innovation around you.

Michael leads the financial services practice in Google and is responsible for guiding top financial institutions in developing new integrated advertising strategies and digital business models. Prior to that he led the performance branding vertical in Google Canada which covered a wide range of industries. Prior to joining Google, Michael began his career at Hewlett-Packard and took HP’s largest enterprise product division leading it to record profits, revenues and market share.


If I reflect back in my career, there’s a couple of key things I want to share with you today about your path, your journey. Reflecting about how we really believe that great culture starts with you and all the tiny little things that we can actually do to make the work environment around us amazing. To feel all of those great experiences, to share them with all the people around you as well.

So let’s start with you.

If there’s something I want you to take away from today, really should be this:

First is Purpose, I want you to think about your purpose, your passion and your values. Because by understanding yourself the best, you can actually drive an amazing career around that.

The second is Practice. This really is about the pursuit of excellence and how you become better at these amazing things that you want to do.

The third one is People. We all interact with people, we have great friendships, we’re developing great mentors. This is really how you treat those people around you.

So let’s dive a little bit deeper around PURPOSE and values.

"Take a little bit more time to think for yourself"

How many of you have taken the time to do this maybe more than once a year. Around new year, we see lots of new year resolutions, but I encourage you to actually take more time to think about this because as we grow throughout our career, our needs and things change. So always take a little bit more time for yourself. A lot of us are focusing our career on building amazing skills. What I mean by skills - remember the first interview that you went through? They probably asked some behavioural questions around “Give me a time when you demonstrated great communication” or “when you had to deal with conflict”. These are all skills that are really important as you grow your career and build experiences around them. You have time. I picked 62 as an average age of retirement. Minus out your current age, it still leaves a lot of time to think about your career and plan it.

This is one of our key values at Google. “Don’t be evil”. Very simple, right? If you think something is not going to be right and doesn’t feel right, just don’t do it. And I think it’s a really cool guiding principle. We just put it very simply.

"As you interact with people, at work or outside of work or different community functions, be transparent and be open and great things will happen along the way"

The second thing I really learnt is around transparency and openness. When I first joined Google, I was actually surprised at how much we shared with all our employees. Our founders, our CFO, make the time to share some of the amazing projects that Google is working on through a live conference every single week. This is not an update to say, “Hey, you need to do more” or “Hey, these are our revenue things for the quarter”. These are just some of the cool things that we’re working on at Google and share that very openly with the group and very surprisingly, no leaks. If you can build a culture around that, I think that’s pretty amazing as well. As you interact with people, at work or outside of work or different community functions, be transparent and be open and great things will happen along the way as well.

I’m going to talk the career ladder. Most of us, when we first start working, focus on skills and experiences. We then move into doubling down our strengths. So now you have a pretty wide experience set to draw from, and you realise it’s going to be certain things that are really amazing to you and you really love doing, whether that be presenting or whether that be financial modelling, these are great skills so double down and make sure you’re famous for them.

"The small little things that you can
do to build a great culture around you."

Finally, as you progress through your career, I want you to pay it forward. Think about all those opportunities where someone helped you and what you can do to replicate that within your organisation and within your career. I still remember, one of the most important things that I learnt as an intern. I had just slaved away, working all night, and I sent out the final email at about 1am to my boss. When I came into the office, I was a little bit grumpy - am I going to be appreciated for doing all of this stuff? My boss actually walked up to me, “Mike, I know you sent this email really late last night, I just want to say thank you for the effort”. That taught me an important lesson about just the power of a “thank you”. A “thank you” is free guys, it doesn’t cost anything so make sure you’re taking that time as well. I learnt to pay that forward as well, any time people are working late or working really hard around us, just say thank you. The small little things that you can do to build a great culture around you.

Now we’ll get to PRACTICE, our pursuit of excellence.

"The pursuit of excellence: Give Feedback, think
beyond the next step, and embrace failure"

So you build great skills, you’re doubling down on your strengths, and now you want to be an expert, and this takes a lot of time. There are 3 principles I really focus on, the first one is giving feedback. How many of you have been asked for feedback over the last year? “Hey Mike, tell me what you think about this.”, “Do you think there’s anything I could be doing better?” and how many of you actually say, “Oh, it’s good don’t worry about it.” That’s the easy answer. At Google and in our team especially, what we’re trying to do is force people to think more about constructive feedback and create an environment where feedback is a gift. You shouldn’t be scared to give feedback to your superiors, to your peers, to those just starting as well. So really think about that, the next time someone asks you for feedback, how do you constructively give them something? Do you know why we do this? We want to make each other better. If we give the easy answer, we’re never actually going to get better.

We talked a little bit about journey, think about journey and think about what that looks like, not the next step. One of the most important things a recruiter told me as I was joining Google was how long I spent at HP. I spent about 7 years there, went through many different functions and they said to me that that showed them that I recognise that I can make amazing skills within the company. You don’t have to jump to another company to do this. Sometimes you do, most of the time you don’t. You’ll be surprised that you company actually wants to keep you, so start that dialogue and think about the journey not only in your career, but outside your career as well.

Finally, embrace failure. We will all make mistakes. We will all fail at something and I would guarantee. I would actually say that you probably haven’t grown if you haven’t failed at something. The trick is actually to fail fast and forward. What have you learnt from it, what do you take into your future roles, your future career and how you share those experiences with people as well. For those of you who haven’t read this book, it’s a very interesting book. There’s a principle behind the 10,000 hour rule. You have to do something for 10,000 hours to be good at something. But what does 10,000 hours really mean? How many days is 10,000 hours? It’s about 416 days, so just over a year. But imagine doing something for just over a year for 24 hours a day. So now think about your skill development, think about things that you’re doing within the organisation. It probably takes 2 years, maybe 3 years for you to be excellent at something. Granted there’s skill, there’s talent, but bottom line is it takes time, so be patient and think about the journey and not just what’s next.

"I don’t want to go and fix something by 10%,
I want to actually go and try to change 10 times of that"

I’ll touch on how Google likes to think about solving big problems, we call them Google moonshots. It really comes from our Google X division which is incubating a lot of new stuff for us. The whole principle behind this is that it’s not about incrementality, I don’t want to go and fix something by 10%, I want to actually go and try to change 10 times of that. The perfect example of this is a car engine. If you want better fuel economy for 10%, you will probably tweak things here and there just a little bit, maybe you add in a new special oil and you get better fuel efficiency. But if you want to create an engine that is truly 10 times better, there’s probably no road map for that. You have to investigate new products - what are some of the breakthrough technology to really drive that change.

So as you think about your goals and some of you will leave here and become amazing entrepreneurs and truly change the world, think about how you set your goals as well. If you set a goal that is 10 times and you fail but you progress enough, that’s still a win. And we fail fast and we fail forward and we continue to learn from that, so I ask you to think about that. If you want to learn more about Google X, go to the website called Really, the 3 things we look at is really around what is a huge problem, what radical solution might be out there and some cool breakthrough technology that we feel is the sweet spot.

The last project I’ll talk about is project loon. Its internet weather balloons that we’re putting up into the atmosphere and with wind information, have these balloons travel around the world and bring internet access to regions that might not traditionally have internet access. I think that we’re very lucky here in Singapore where we have fibre connection and fast internet but really if you think about it in a global context, there’re only about 2.5 billion people that have access to the internet. There’s probably another 4.5 billion people or so (maybe 5 billion), that still don’t have internet. Think about all the information you have at your fingertips on your smartphone. There’s a lot of people who still don’t have that and we hope that this, in some way, will help bring internet access and share some of that information to regions that don’t have it today. One of the coolest projects, I think. This is my favourite project at Google.

I’ll close on this last pillar, now I want you to think about PEOPLE.

The people around you – that are influencers. When you retire and if you’re fortunate enough to be able to call those people that have really influenced you in your career, there’s probably just a handful. There’s probably 5, 7 of them that have really, really helped you in your career. Think about that and try to find who those people are as you go about working with people.

The second is two-way relationships. Don’t just take things for granted, don’t just ask people for things, but how you reciprocate and how do you bring people that complement your skills. Maybe someone is a much better seller or presenter and you’re way better at financial analysis and planning. How do you surround yourself with these people that have complementary skills and build two way relationships?

"Look to all levels for your mentors"

The third is mentors. We talk about mentors and how every great leader has mentors behind them. There’s a very interesting philosophy from this book, Lean In. (The author) says look to all levels: those that are more senior, those that are in your working group. She firmly believes that you shouldn’t have to ask someone to be your mentor. If you’re building the right relationship with them, they will naturally become your mentor. Think about it that way as you go and build your relationships with people out there today.

I’ll give you a small example here at Google, about how each can make a huge difference in the world. Someone on my team decided that she wanted to go and measure how happy people were in our company. So she created a very simple interface that really have 4 questions daily, that were very simple to click and answer - “Have you made a difference today?”, “Will I grow as a person today?” Very simple, basic questions right? It’s pretty amazing because we can map this information out over a period of a year and we can very quickly see that when there’s great food coming out in the cafeteria, people are much happier, or Mondays people are way happier than on Thursdays and they get happy again on Friday.

But what does this do? This helps us have information to go and figure how we communicate with our employees better, how we communicate with our team members. This is so successful that they’re rolling this out globally across other teams at Google and you know what? It’s started by 1 person asking a very simple question - “How do I measure happiness?” This was her 20% project and she’s been able to have a huge impact on culture throughout the organisation as well. A very cool example of measuring happiness. We talked a little about this, answering big questions in a tiny little way.

So I’ll close on this and I opened on this as well. Each of you will leave here today, go back to your jobs, start new jobs, start new companies. Think about your purpose and your values and what you want to stand for because if you truly understand yourself, you will have an amazing career, and then get really good at something. Practise makes perfect in your pursuit of excellence. Think about the people around you. I’m a strong believer of relationships. Each of you should go out there and build great relationships with those around you and you’ll have a great time doing it. That’s it.

Great culture really starts with you today. Thank you.

March 16, 2015