Damore vs. Google. The Plot Thickens: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

I teach my students that in the U.S., one of the basic tenets of HR is to never retaliate against an employee who has filed a complaint with a federal agency against the employer.

James Damore, the engineer fired by google, is saying that this is exactly what happened in his case and he plans to pursue Google in the California Court.

James Damore was fired for circulating a memo saying that due to biological differences, women are less inclined to tech and leadership roles. Google CEO, Sundar Pichai found that Damore’s comments violated the company’s code of conduct by advancing harmful gender stereotypes at Google. Therefore, Damore was fired.

Damore, however, claims that because he had already filed a complaint against Google for discrimination with the National Labor Relations Board, his firing was in retaliation.

At this point, I am not sure of all the facts. My subjective reading of the situation is that Damore seems to be claiming that some type of reverse discrimination against white males is going on at Google because women and minorities are offered developmental workshops and white males are not.

Is that true? I don’t know.

The plot thickens and I am eager to learn more about exactly what the facts are.

Certainly, this is a very interesting and educational teaching case for HR Professors and Consultants.

Given that I am on a sabbatical in the Fall semester, I will be spending sometime following this case and writing about it.

Stay tuned.

Working at Google is a Privilege and not a Right: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

One of the fundamental points I make to my HR students is this. In the United States, the First Amendment does not apply to the relationship between employees and employers in the private sector.

The first Amendment does protect the public’s right to free speech. Therefore, people in the United States are free to express a diversity of views and opinions on political, economic, social, and other matters.  Every young person joining the workforce should be taught that the freedom to speak one’s mind in the workplace is not unlimited.

Of course, every employer is obligated to comply with Federal, State, and Local laws in the United States. However, within that framework, an employer has the right to enforce standards and rules of conduct it views as consistent with its values and the corporate culture.

A Google employee learned this basic HR lesson the hard way recently when he was fired. This employee had expressed his views that Google’s diversity efforts were destined to fail because these efforts did not take into account the biological differences between men and women. According to this employee, the gender differences made women less suitable for the engineering profession. The memo expressing these opinions was leaked to the press.

The next day, Google fired the employee. The message from the Google CEO is clear. Working at Google is not a right. It is a privilege.

Could this situation have been handled better? Possibly. But how? If a male engineer truly feels that his female colleagues are not as capable, how would that affect the company culture and spirit and the work environment? 

Perhaps the HR experts among the readers can give suggestions for alternative ways to resolve the  tension that could have been adopted by Google management.

Whether one agrees with the firing of the employee at Google or not, from an HR perspective and a legal perspective, Google was perfectly within its rights to do that.

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For details on the story, see the following link from NYT.

Google’s G-Mail and APPs Strategy Gets an A-: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

On August 29, 2006, I stated the following on Google’s APPs strategy and gave advice on what they needed to do.

“Google needs to follow Microsoft’s lead in offering its own premium services for a fee to add another dimension to its ad based revenue model. Google has indicated that it will indeed release a fee-based version of its service aimed at larger companies offering more data storage and technical support. Hey, but what about me Google? I am not a large company but I would like Google’s premium service and I would be willing to pay for it.”

“… So why is it that Google is not offering its premium services to loyal customers that want it? Why should Google’s premium service be only reserved for large enterprises? What would Google have to lose by having a two tiered structure of services like Microsoft does. Premium and Regular. They certainly would have a lot to gain. First, it is potentially another way to generate revenues independent of the ad based model. Second, having satisfied customers with increasing good will for Google is going to add to their future success.”

For the complete article, please see Google Should Diversify Its Strategy

Almost a year after I made the recommendations on strategy, Google indeed expanded its premium services to individuals. I assume that Google’s strategy to offer premium services to individual users must have already been in the works last year when I wrote my post. Either that or someone at Google read my blog and probably thought that it was a pretty reasonable request and easy to comply with.

So to test the new Google service, I paid my 50 bucks a year fee and got a Google Apps Premier Edition account and have been playing with it a bit.

Here are some things I noticed.

1. I was expecting to get 10 Gigabytes of storage in my premium G-mail account. However, when I look at my brand new G-mail Inbox, I am getting the following message.

“You are currently using 0 MB (0%) of your 25600 MB.”

Evidently, Google has increased the storage available to their Premier Edition users to 25 Gigabytes. Great!

2. Overall, I am pretty happy with the Google docs and like the flexibility it gives me to access documents and spreadsheets from any computer with an Internet connection. The collaboration features allowing mutliple authors to edit documents from various places of the world are a boon to international scholars, researchers, professors, students, and others involved in group projects.

3. However, while Google docs can read Word 2003 files, and store them, it does not seem compatible with Word 2007. Evidently, the new .docx formats from Office 2007 cannot be read by Google docs. I have gotten over this problem by using the feature in Word 2007 that allows for saving a Word document in the old .doc format in Word 97-2003. Saving a Word document in this format allows it to be read by Google docs.

4. In order to have secure Google Apps or G-mail sessions one has to be alert and not use HTTP but HTTPS access only via https://mail.google.com/a/. Unfortunately, many organizations have users who are not tech savvy and will not remember to use HTTPS. If security of data and having encrypted e-mail is critical for a company, there may be some reluctance in using Google APPs. Google needs a simple solution to this issue which forces the use of HTTPS for their Premier Edition users automatically.

Of course, having HTTPS and a secure connection on all the time is more expensive in processing power and may slow things down a bit on the Google servers. Perhaps that is a challenge. On the other hand, this is a reasonable expectation on part of the paying customers of the Google Apps Premier Editon.

To their credit, Google management just bought security software maker Postini. It’s clear that Google will be adding more security features to Google APPs Premier Edition making it attractive to both corporate customers and individual users.

Security on the Internet is a very high priority today and users will pay a premium for it. Overall, I would have to give Google APPs strategy a high grade of A-. Not perfect but pretty good and headed in the right direction.

Google Should Diversify Its Strategy: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

Google’s recent announcement to start offering an integrated basket of its existing services (Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, and Google Page Creator) for free is the next logical step in its strategy to challenge Microsoft in its traditional stronghold. With this move, Google is aiming to get small businesses, non profit organizations, and universities as clients.

Microsoft, in anticipation of this long awaited move, has started testing its Internet based service for small businesses called Office Live. Office Live Basics is being offered free by Microsoft and will continue to be free after the Beta period is over. However, Microsoft will start charging $29.95 a month for their premium services found in their “Office Live Collaboration” and “Office Live Essentials” services. These two are only free during the Beta period but not afterwards. Given the fact that Microsoft is entrenched in the desktop office space and its office products are already well integrated may give Microsoft more leverage to successfully offer premium Office Live services and charge for them.

Google needs to follow Microsoft’ s lead in offering its own premium services for a fee to add another dimension to its ad based revenue model. Google has indicated that it will indeed release a fee-based version of its service aimed at larger companies offering more data storage and technical support. Hey, but what about me Google? I am not a large company but I would like Google’s premium service and I would be willing to pay for it.

I have been wondering for a long time why Google does not offer premium services to its individual customers like Microsoft does. As soon as Google bought Blogger, they did away with the Blogger premium package and made it all free for everyone. Poof! No more premium Blogger. We don’t want your money loyal customers! What gives?

I have used the MSN paid premium service based on the MSN premium software which runs on top of my broadband service. It includes MSN mail and a number of other things for $9.95 a month. I am also a user of Google’s free services including Gmail, Picasa, Hello, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Blogger, Writely, …you name it and I have got it. I think Google free services are vastly superior to MSN paid premium services in every way. Gmail beats MSN mail in speed, functionality, and search any day of the week. Other than parental controls which come with the MSN premium software (which not everyone needs or wants), there is really nothing that MSN offers to justify charging $9.95 a month, except nice looking icons and colors.

Of course, Microsoft has known this for a long time which is why we have the introduction of Windows Live and a number of other initiatives being launched. As I have noted before, I am impressed with Microsoft’s recent moves. In particular, their desktop blogging application Windows Live Writer, squarely meets the demands of the blogging market and is in response to customers. So the way I see it, Microsoft is making amends and moving in the right direction. Maybe someday, I can say that my $9.95 a month for MSN premium are well spent. That day is not today. Basically by parting with my money monthly, I am investing in Microsoft’s future. I have my reasons for staying with MSN which I will go into some day. In part, I feel I have to use a product or a service before I can praise it or criticize it.

However, if I was paying $9.95 a month for an integrated package of Google services which included a well developed Writely that interfaced with the Google spreadsheet, a better Blogger, Google Page Creator with the ability to have my own domain name, extra storage for Gmail and all the other Google services, I would feel good. I would feel my money was well spent. So why is it that Google is not offering its premium services to loyal customers that want it? Why should Google’s premium service be only reserved for large enterprises? What would Google have to lose by having a two tiered structure of services like Microsoft does. Premium and Regular. They certainly would have a lot to gain. First, it is potentially another way to generate revenues independent of the ad based model. Second, having satisfied customers with increasing good will for Google is going to add to their future success.

My advice to Google. Start paying attention to your customers (Me!) and listen to what they want and need. Think outside the box.

Microsoft’s Counterpunch to Google: By Dr. Harsh K. Luthar

With the release of Windows Live Writer on August 11, 2006, Microsoft has delivered a winner for bloggers who want to use a desktop client.

I started experimenting with the Live Writer three days ago and was able to set it up easily to work with my WordPress blog. All the Live Writer needs is the user name and password and it automatically recognizes the type of blog you have and configures it self. Although Microsoft hopes that bloggers will use the Live Writer as a client for Windows Live Spaces, Microsoft has gone out of its way to make sure that it is compatible with other weblogs including Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, and WordPress. Frankly, given the history of Microsoft, I am pleasantly surprised and impressed with the Live Writer.

Prior to Live Writer, I was using Writely to blog my posts. Writely is the web based word processor that was bought by Google in March of 2006 and potentially poses a threat to Microsoft Word. However, Writley is very limited in that it can only be configured for one blog at a time. With Live Writer, one can maintain multiple blogs switching easily between them.

When Google bought Blogger in February 2003, it showed incredible foresight into the future of blogging and where the Internet was headed. However, Google appears to have squandered valuable time and the opportunity it had to improve the Blogger. It is only now that Blogger is getting a major upgrade from Google which will give it some of the features that WordPress has had for a while.

Microsoft, with the introduction of the Live Writer has delivered a strong counter punch to Google. First, like many Google products, Microsoft is offering the Live Writer for free. So people are going to try it! Most will like Live Writer because it is very user friendly. Second, for those individuals who were using Writely to blog, the Live Writer is a far superior choice. Third, by assuring that the Live Writer is compatible with Blogger, Typepad, LiveJournal, WordPress, and other formats, Microsoft is creating some good will among users which it needs very badly given its history.

Let’s face it. Whether you love or hate Microsoft, it has a record of coming from behind and catching up and even surpassing competitors. Google, however, is no Netscape. Although Google will remain the search king for the foreseeable future, it needs a very clear focus and a strategy to compete with Microsoft on other Internet fronts. Upgrading Blogger is a good move, although it could have been done much earlier. Google should not let Writely stagnate like that for years and ideally develop it as comprehensive blogging tool. That is where the future of the Internet is going.