The Google CEO defended the firing process in a heated town hall Monday


Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet

Louis Gene | AFP | Getty Images

Just days after Google announced the biggest round of layoffs in the company’s 25-year history, executives defended the job cuts at a town hall meeting Monday and took questions from the workforce.

Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai led a company-wide meeting and told employees that executives would take a pay cut. He asked employees to stay motivated as Google faces increased competition in areas such as artificial intelligence, while also trying to explain why laid-off employees were being kicked out of the internal system without warning.

“I understand you’re worried about what’s next for your business,” Pichai said. “I’m also very saddened by the loss of some really good colleagues within the company. For those of you outside the US, the delay in communicating and making decisions about roles in your region is certainly a cause for concern.”

CNBC listened to audio of the meeting after the company announced on Friday that it was cutting 12,000 jobs, or about 6% of its full-time workforce. As employees prepare for potential layoffs, they want answers about the criteria used to determine who stays and who goes. Some of the laid-off employees were long-serving and recently promoted.

Pichai opened Monday’s town hall meeting by acknowledging the Lunar New Year mass shooting that killed 11 people and injured at least nine others in Southern California on Saturday night.

“Many of us are still dealing with the violence and tragic loss of life in Los Angeles over the weekend,” Pichai said. “I know more details are yet to emerge, but this has hit our Asian-American community deeply, especially during the Lunar New Year and we are all thinking of them.

“We have more than 30 thousand managers”

After shifting the conversation to job cuts, Pichai offered some explanation about how he and the executive team made their decisions.

Pichai said he consulted with founders and controlling shareholders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, as well as the board of directors.

Pichai said 2021 was “one of the strongest years we’ve had in the history of the company,” with 41% revenue growth. Google has expanded its headcount to match that expansion, and Pichai said the company expects growth to continue.

“In this context, we have taken a number of decisions that may be correct if the trends continue,” he said. “You have to remember that if the trend continues and we don’t hire to keep up with that pace, we’re going to be left behind as a company in a lot of areas.”

Google and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat answered several questions about the recent layoffs at a town hall Monday.

The executives said that 750 senior leaders participated in the process, and it took several weeks to determine who would be fired.

“We have over 30,000 managers at Google, and consulting all of them would have made this an open process, where it would have taken additional weeks or even months to reach a decision,” he said. meeting “We wanted to be sure sooner.”

As for the layoff criteria, Cicconi said executives are looking at areas where the work is essential, but the company has too many people and places where the work itself is not critical. Cicconi said the company considers “performance metrics such as time in the role, sales quotas and performance history where the skill set, experience or relationships are relevant and important.”

Pichai said there would be a reduction in executive compensation, but provided limited details. All senior vice presidents “will see a very significant reduction in their annual bonuses” this year, he said.

“The older you are, the more your compensation is tied to performance,” he said. “If performance is not high, you can reduce your capital grants.”

Before the job cuts, Google had decided to pay 80% of bonuses this month and the rest in March or April. In previous years, the full bonus was paid in January.

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian offered some perspective on the areas being cut. Google’s cloud division has been one of the fastest-growing areas for hiring as the company tries to catch up. Amazon and Microsoft.

“Our engineering hiring is more targeted in areas where we need to fill out our product portfolio,” Kurian said. “We are adding sales and customer engineers in very specific countries and industries.”

Starting in July, Kurian said, the goal of the cloud division is to focus on work “in response to generative AI in our portfolio.”

As in other comprehensive meetings, Google executives took questions from the company’s internal forum called Dory. Employees can post questions there, and when their colleagues upvote them, they move up.

Some of the top questions for Monday’s meeting were about the layoff process and communication. One comment said workers are “playing a game of ping-and-hope-to-hear to figure out who the losers are. Can you talk about a communication strategy?”

Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of devices and services, said the company “doesn’t intentionally share out of respect for people’s privacy.”

“We know it can be frustrating for people who are still here,” Osterloh said. “But it’s very difficult to lose your job without any options and it’s very personal and a lot of people don’t want their names on the list. It’s been distributed to everyone.”

We’re looking at artificial intelligence

Another commenter wrote about Dory: “We cut access to 12k employees without letting them transfer information or even say goodbye to their colleagues. This is what we do to people who get laid off.”

Then came the question: “What is the message to the rest of us?”

Royal Hansen, Google’s vice president of security, chimed in to describe “an extraordinary set of risks that, frankly, we don’t have a very good track record of managing.” He said there were “trade-offs”.

“When you think about our users and how critical they are in people’s lives — all the products and services, the sensitive data they trust us with — even though it’s a very low possibility, we had to plan. the possibility that something could go terribly wrong,” Hansen said.

Brian Glaser, vice president and chief talent and learning officer, said, “We all know that no one is immune to change in our business,” said Brian Glaser, who has been with the company for more than 15 years, when asked how the layoffs are being handled. career.”

Pichai reminded employees that the company has important work ahead of it, especially with rapid advances in artificial intelligence. Last month, Google employees asked executives at a general meeting whether the ChatGPT AI chatbot represented a “missed opportunity” for Google.

“Given the rapid advances in artificial intelligence, this will be an important year that will impact the company,” Pichai said on Monday.

“There’s a paradigm shift in AI, and I think the concentration of talent that we have and the work that we’re going to do here is going to be a big draw, and I hope it continues to be that way.” “We’ve got to keep winning it.”

He closed the town hall by bringing the discussion back to the topic at hand.

Apparently, Pichai said, “how much you all care about your colleagues and your company.” He added: “I know it’s going to take some time to process this moment and what you’ve heard today.”

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