Google's UK marketing chief: focus on people

Graham Bednash: UK consumer marketing director, Google
Graham Bednash: UK consumer marketing director, Google

Graham Bednash, the UK consumer marketing director at Google, on creating a culture that encourages creativity and taking your time when it comes to recruitment

Culture is everything

Last year Google published a detailed study of hundreds of teams to find out what made them successful. It discovered that the best-performing teams had what it called "psychological safety" – people feel they work in a safe space that allows them to take risks. It's so vital to create environments where everyone knows they have a voice. I’ve worked in places that use fear as a motivator, and it’s corrosive. When people bring their most relaxed, creative selves to work, you get the best thinking and the best working environments. At Google, the culture is reinforced in everything we do and people are rewarded and promoted based on how they do their work, just as much as what they achieve. It’s tough to do, but the most successful, enduring companies always focus on people and culture.

If you don't have anything to say, it’s OK to be quiet

I love Susan Cain’s TED Talk, "The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking". Our industry is especially bad at undervaluing what makes introverts tick. We love brainstorms and paying attention to the super-smart, outspoken extroverts. But we often overlook the quiet person in the corner who has the next big thought slowly brewing and taking shape. It’s really OK to be in a meeting and listen more than you talk. It’s better to really listen and understand than talk for the sake of sounding smart. Then when everyone has been listened to, it’s the role of the leader to make a decision.

Keep it simple

In a world that’s changing so fast, the ability to make the complex simple is a very precious skill. Possibly the most precious. When I first got to Google I was struck by how good it is at making the newest, most complicated technology very easy to understand. Simple words. Simple sentences. Nothing left in that’s unnecessary. I guess this comes from the principles of good engineering and design: get rid of everything that has no value to the user.

Creative directors are great strategists

I always love cracking a difficult problem with a creative director. They have a unique ability to unravel complexity and see new, tangible possibilities. They’re able to pivot really fast from a conceptual thought to an execution. Computer engineers are great at this, too; they can think and make simultaneously. This is a great skill to have in a world where speed is such a competitive advantage.

Be fast in everything, except hiring

I learned this rule in my first week at Google. The place moves fast, but hiring is slower. I’d been used to hiring in a hurry, because they sounded smart in the first interview. But, we all know a bad appointment is not great for anyone; it can be a lousy outcome for the person hired as well as the company. Hiring is the most important thing we all do that has a direct impact on the success of the companies we work at. It needs quality time. At Google, we ask people to think about three key things. First, be really clear what great looks like, make sure interviewers write thorough notes and, to ensure objectivity, have an unbiased group of people make the actual hiring decision. Second, it's not about having the right answer to a question, but how people think through how they solve a problem. Third, look for great leadership in everyone, especially for people who encourage others and are comfortable with ambiguity.

Are you a paranoid optimist?

What’s the best way to handle all this change and the sheer speed of it? Thomas Friedman in his great new book ("Thank you for Being Late") has some great solutions. To succeed, he says, we need to think like start-ups. We need to always be "in beta" and never think of ourselves as finished. He suggests a different hiring criteria, too, and recommends seeking out people with "High PQ" - high passion and high curiosity, rather than just focus on high IQ. All the best, most fun people I’ve ever worked with are just like this. They are never nostalgic. They always look forward and are curious about the next thing. They are paranoid optimists. These are the kinds of people you need to hire, hang on to and become lifelong friends with.

Graham Bednash is the UK consumer marketing director at Google

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