6 Lessons Fraternities Can Learn from Google

Google announced last January that Larry Page would assume CEO of the company he co-founded 12 years earlier. With Page now at the helm, tech and business magazines have been eager to document Google’s strategy under the new leadership. We reviewed a few of the current stories and compiled this list of lessons fraternities can learn from Google’s core philosophy.

1. Have the humility to seek advice from companies (chapters) with proven success.

Shortly after acquiring start-up resources from a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, at the advice of John Doerr, agreed to meet with the CEOs of such companies as Apple (Steve Jobs), Intel, and Amazon:

[Doerr] made Page and Brin an offer: He would set up meetings for them with the most brilliant CEOs in Silicon Valley, so they could get a better sense of what the job entailed. “After that,” he told them, “if you think we should do a search, we will. And if you don’t want to, then I’ll make a decision about that.” Page and Brin took a Magical Mystery Tour of high tech royalty: Apple’s Steve Jobs, Intel’s Andy Grove, Intuit’s Scott Cook, Amazon .com’s Jeff Bezos, and others.

Don’t be afraid to ask what successful chapters do and emulate their strategies. This is precisely what Zeta Kappa Chapter (Fresno State) did at convention several years ago. After watching chapters receive awards all night they said to themselves, we should be up on that stage! So after the ceremony they approached the chapters holding LEAD awards and asked what they did. Several years later, Zeta Kappa Chapter is a multi-time LEAD Chapter of the Year.

2. Set ambitious goals and don’t be afraid of failure.

To Page, the only true failure is not attempting the audacious. “Even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely,” he says. “That’s the thing that people don’t get.”

Double the chapter’s manpower in one year. Next year, raise twice as much money for the chapter’s philanthropy. Earn the top GPA spot AND win intramural champions. As Larry Page said, you may fall short of a goal but catastrophic failure is not likely to result from lofty milestones.

With Page in charge, Google will undoubtedly take on more moon shots.

3. Think like an entrepreneur.

Part of Page’s underlying goal is to return Google to its start-up roots.

Page has one task that may indeed prove to be impossible: making a company of more than 24,000 employees act like a startup.

Page’s ideas may have been fantastic, but his vision always extended to the commercial. “From when I was 12, I knew I was going to start a company,” he says. In 1995, he went to Stanford to pursue his graduate degree. It was not only the best place to study computer science but, because of the Internet boom, was also the world capital of entrepreneurial ambition.

Similarly, chapters could benefit from acting like a colony. New colonies have a clear and ambitious goal: earn a charter. All members are unified around the same vision. There’s no established [perceived] reputation to worry about, so colonies aren’t afraid to exercise an entrepreneurial spirit by recruiting members who were dissatisfied with the campus status quo.

But while it’s easy to scoff at Page’s quirks—his odd obsessions, his unrealistic expectations, his impatience for a future dangling out of immediate reach—sometimes his seemingly crazy ideas wind up creating breakthrough innovations, and skeptical Googlers wind up admitting Page was right, after all.

4. Measure your progress.

Setting ambitious goals isn’t much good without measuring progress. Larry Page is known to obsess over data to assess Google’s performance:

“He’s always measuring everything,” early Googler Megan Smith says. She was once walking with Page down a street in Morocco when he suddenly dragged her into an Internet cafè. Immediately, he began timing how long it took web pages to load into a browser there.

Find yardsticks to measure your chapter’s performance. How do you compare to the other chapters on campus? How do you compare to other Sigma Nu chapters? Look at manpower as a percentage of total campus fraternity membership, money raised per member for philanthropy, community service hours per member, manpower growth, etc. “You can’t achieve what you can’t measure.”

5. Everyone has a role with recruitment (but don’t forget to delegate).

Unusual for CEOs, Larry Page personally signs off on every employee Google hires:

One way Page tries to keep his finger on Google’s pulse is his insistence on signing off on every new hire—so far he’s vetted well over 30,000. For every candidate, he is given a compressed version of the lengthy packet created by the company’s hiring council, generated by custom software that allows Page to quickly scan the salient data.

Every member, even the Commander and the 6th-year senior, should be engaged with the recruitment process. This is not to say, of course, that the Commander should organize recruitment himself; however, everyone should be involved in “potential hires.” As mentioned previously, Page is still determined to return Google to its start up roots, which means avoiding bureaucracy, but he still takes the time to invest in the hiring process.

6. Don’t buy in to trends.

Nowhere in this Wired article does it mention the “current economic climate” that we hear about everywhere else. Google isn’t using the current downturn to rationalize poor performance. They are still committed to setting ambitious goals despite a bad environment.

Similarly, don’t let your chapter rationalize poor performance by citing campus trends. “Numbers were down for every fraternity this year; our poor recruitment was just part of a larger trend.” So what. Defy the trend – double your chapter size (AND with higher quality recruits) while everyone else suffers membership losses.

Read the full Wired magazine article on Google here.

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