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Google CEO Takes on Frustrated Employees

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In a heated internal meeting, Google CEO Sundar Pichai showed a side of his personality that’s rarely seen in his public appearances: he got annoyed with frustrated employees and expressed exasperation with their views. In other words, he finally came off as human.

News of the outburst came via a report on CNBC, which obtained a recording of the meeting.

“Look, I hope all of you are reading the news, externally,” Mr. Pichai shot back when an employee complained about Google’s cost-cutting moves this year in the wake of economic uncertainties. “The fact is, that you know we are being a bit more responsible through one of the toughest macroeconomic conditions underway in the past decade, I think it’s important that as a company, we pull together to get through moments like this.”

“We don’t get to choose the macroeconomic conditions always,” he added when pushed.

“I think you could be a 20-person team or a 100-person team, we are going to be constrained in our growth in a looking-ahead basis,” Pichai said when asked about his goal of updating productivity by 20 percent. “Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen? The answers are going to be different with different teams.”

“Sometimes we have a product launch process, which has probably, over many years, grown more complicated than maybe it needs to be,” he continued. “Can we look at that process and maybe remove two steps and that’ll be an example of making something 20 percent more efficient? I think all of us chipping in and doing that across all levels, I think can help the company. At our scale, there is no way we can solve that unless units of teams of all sizes do better.”

Pichai had announced his plans to streamline Google’s operations and rein in hiring after its Q1 earnings came in under expectations. Among the changes so far, Google canceled plans for the next Pixel-branded Chromebook. Indeed, one employee complained that leaks about that project’s cancelation affected their “ability to focus on work.” To that, Pichai said only that telling the entire Google workforce about one project wasn’t “scalable” and that he would “try and notify the company of the more important updates.”

But Pichai’s most emotional comments were in reply to continued questions about the cost-cutting.

“I remember when Google was small and scrappy,” he said. “Fun didn’t always … we shouldn’t always equate fun with money. I think you can walk into a hard-working startup and people may be having fun and it shouldn’t always equate to money.”

Pichai disagreed with the assertion that Google was engaged in “aggressive cost cutting,” noting that the firm was still focused on long-term bets like quantum computing. But “it’s important to be smart, to be frugal, to be scrappy, to be more efficient,” he said.

“Sundar has been speaking to the company consistently over the last few months about ways we can be more focused,” a Google statement issued in the wake of the CNBC leak reads. “Leaders are working to be responsible and efficient in all that their teams do in a moment of uncertainty, and that they’re ensuring that our people are working on the highest impact/highest priority work.”

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