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谷歌:透明度不斷下降,內部矛盾日趨顯現

這家有著21年歷史的公司體量已經太大,原先的作法已經不再適用。

每天早上,谷歌員工都會收到一封名為“每日知情人”的內部通訊。谷歌頂級律師肯特·沃克在2019年11月14日的通訊上稱,根據谷歌的規定,其員工可訪問幾乎所有內部文件,但這家有著21年歷史的公司已經發展的足夠大,不再適用這一規定。這一觀點在谷歌引發了軒然大波。沃克寫道:“當我們還是一家小公司時,我們是一個團隊,為某一款產品而通力合作,而且所有人都了解業務決策的制定流程。但為一家有著超過10萬名員工的公司解釋所有事情的來龍去脈并非易事。”

很多大型公司都有相關規定,會按照“所需了解”的級別來限制員工訪問敏感信息。但在谷歌的某些部門,員工對沃克觀點的反應十分直接和尖銳。在一個內部信息論壇上,一位雇員將數據規定描述為“谷歌文化的整體崩塌。”一位工程經理圍繞沃克的留言進行了長篇大論的反駁。他將沃克的觀點稱之為“傲慢而且幼稚”。這位經理寫道,“所需了解”規定“在某種程度上是對我們的不信任和不尊重,但信任和尊重是谷歌員工內在工作動力的重要組成部分。”

這類抱怨還轉化成了直接行動。兩位知情人士透露,谷歌的一組程序員打造了一款工具,能夠讓雇員每次打開任何文件時選擇是否通過自動郵件給沃克發送提醒信息。他們看到,沃克堅持要控制其職業生活的方方面面,而這種狂轟濫炸式的通知便是他們的抗議。

谷歌女發言人在一封郵件中寫道:“說到數據安全政策,我們從未打算防止雇員分享技術知識和信息,而且我們也沒有限制任何人表達自己的顧慮或對公司的活動進行辯論。我們有責任保障我們的用戶、企業和客戶信息的安全,因此這些活動在開展時需要遵守公司有關數據安全的規定。”

這些行動只不過是反映公司內部矛盾的最新事件,而這一矛盾已經持續了近兩年的時間。約2萬名雇員在2018年秋天走上街頭,抗議谷歌寬大處理被指控性騷擾的高管;有一小部分人因谷歌為美國軍隊研發產品而辭職。去年年初,谷歌聘請了幫助雇主應對有組織員工行為的咨詢公司IRI Consultants,并于最近解雇了四名違反其敏感數據訪問規定的雇員。

我們難以衡量谷歌雇員反抗的程度,公司曾經試圖將其描述為公司低級別員工的少數錯誤行為。公司的信息板上也并非全都是抗議性質的留言。一名員工在經彭博新聞信息委員會審核的內部信息中寫道:“當我們走進工作場所時,我們希望專注于工作,而不是隔幾天就得應對新一輪的不滿情緒,以及就贊成或反對谷歌的最新項目投票。”

然而,公司似乎陷入了矛盾升級的循環。沃克的內部批評者們稱,谷歌最突出的特色在于其內部極度透明,但沃克于去年11月14日發送的郵件是對該特征的大范圍蠶食。為此,我們采訪了十多名現任和前任雇員,并查看了在彭博新聞上分享的內部信息(前提是不公布發表信息的雇員姓名),結果發現,這一矛盾還凸顯了谷歌領導層與某些雇員之間的不信任感。

在矛盾出現之際,谷歌也出現了其他方面的變化。2019年12月3日,于2015年開始擔任谷歌首席執行官的桑達爾·皮查伊成為了其母公司Alphabet的掌門人。他的升任標志著謝爾蓋·布林和拉里·佩吉活躍時期的結束,這兩位在創建谷歌的時候便打造了公司獨特的文化,當時他們還只是斯坦福的研究生。

皮查伊有時候會支持內部行動主義。他曾在雇員抗議特朗普政府移民政策的集會上講話,也曾就谷歌在性騷擾方面的不良過往記錄向員工道歉。他的高管團隊曾多次與公司軍用產品的批評者們進行會面。一位在谷歌工作的人士表示,一些谷歌經理開始發出信號,他們甚至在員工們被開除之前便已經對內部行動主義失去了耐心。其中一位雇員稱,高管們已經有很多周都未與持不同意見的員工領導團體座談。

盡管沃克在“每日知情人士”中寫道,各大公司都會隨著其發展而發生變化,但他同時還認為,他所描述的這些規定一直都是存在的。他寫道:“自谷歌創立初期就是這個樣子,目前也是。”這一點讓一些在谷歌長期工作的員工感到尤為憤怒。他們在內部信息平臺上說,沃克的評論與他們自己的記憶不符。對于其中的一些人來說,這一事件說明他們對領導力的信任出現了大范圍的崩塌。

谷歌技術項目經理布魯斯·哈尼說:“我希望管理層能夠無話不談,也就是披露真相,除了真相就是真相。但我覺得當前并非如此。”

51歲的哈尼并不符合谷歌管理層內部抗議者的特征描述。他于2005年,也就是在皮查伊加入一年之后,來到了谷歌,部分原因在于他對谷歌“整理全球信息”的使命十分感興趣。由于公司面臨著大量的爭議,他的這一理想進展得十分緩慢。哈尼在一篇線上文章中將谷歌比作流氓機器,“最初的想法是好的,但其精神卻已經腐化,變得十分有害”,類似于電影《2001 太空漫游》里的人工智能電腦Hal 9000。哈尼寫道:“你不會把流氓機器當作家人,相反,你會制定一個計劃,讓機器停止運轉或卸掉出現問題的部件,同時你會嘗試對機器進行重新編程,以服務其最初的目的。”

20年前,也就是谷歌成立之初,公司制定了一個不同尋常的企業舉措。幾乎所有其內部文件都可供廣泛的員工查看。例如,從事谷歌搜索引擎工作的編程人員會研究谷歌地圖的軟件構架,來尋找一些簡練的代碼區塊,從而修復漏洞或復制某個功能。雇員還可以訪問頭腦風暴環節的筆記、坦率的項目評估、計算機設計文件和策略業務規劃。(這種公開性并不適用于敏感數據,例如用戶信息。)

這一理念源于開源軟件開發,也就是更廣泛的編程社區相互合作,打造可供任何人更改和完善的免費代碼。這一理念可帶來技術優勢。去年7月從谷歌辭職的軟件工程師約翰·斯彭說:“這種內部相互關聯的工作方式是谷歌取得今日成就的必要元素之一。”

從2015年開始,谷歌才將其開放度作為一種招聘工具和公共關系策略。谷歌人力關系負責人拉茲羅·波克在當年的采訪中表示:“透明度貫穿我們的一切所作所為。”他指出,員工可以直接訪問軟件文檔,并稱雇員“有義務讓他人知道自身的存在。”

事實證明,谷歌的公開系統對于公司內部的行動主義者來說亦十分有用。他們會在系統中查找具有爭議的產品開發,然后將其發現在同事中公布。這類調查對于抗議五角大樓的項目發揮了異常重要的作用。參與該研究的一些人將其稱之為“內部新聞報道”。

管理層則對其有不同的看法。去年11月,谷歌開除了四名工程師,稱其一直在開展“有關其他雇員材料和成果的系統搜索。其中包括搜尋、評估和交付其工作范圍之外的商業信息”。工程師們則稱自己正在積極開展內部活動,反對谷歌為美國海關和邊境保護局提供服務,并否認違反公司的數據安全規定。

其中一名被解雇的雇員瑞貝卡·瑞福斯表示,她最初登上了谷歌的局域網(一個面向所有員工開放的門戶網站),然后輸入術語:“CBP”和“GCP”(谷歌云平臺)。她說:“就是這么簡單,任何人都很容易碰到這類問題。”

在一封闡述此次解雇事件的內部郵件中,谷歌指控一名雇員在未獲得允許的情況下跟蹤一名同事的待辦事項,搜集有關其個人和職業會面的信息,而且其采用的方式讓目標雇員感到不適。最近遭解雇的其中一名雇員勞倫斯·柏蘭德承認自己曾經訪問了內部待辦事項,但他稱這些事項并非私人事項。他使用這些證據來證實自己的一個疑慮:谷歌一直在審查和“協同暗中監視”行動主義雇員。柏蘭德最初于2005年加入谷歌,他稱自己感覺公司一直在懲罰他,因為他違反了公司的規定,但這個規定在公司稱其違反規定時并不存在。

谷歌拒絕透露四名被解雇雇員的姓名,但公司的一名女發言人表示,跟蹤待辦事項的那位員工訪問了未經授權的信息。

其他雇員稱,他們如今不敢查看來自于其他團隊或部門的某些文件,因為他們擔心隨后會因此而受到責備,但公司稱這個擔憂毫無根據。一些員工認為,這些規定實際上是用來平息針對某些項目的批評聲音,他們稱這一舉措違反了公司的行為準則。這些雇員援引了準則中旨在積極鼓勵不同聲音的條款:“不要存有惡意,如果你發現你認為不恰當的事情,請說出來!”哈尼說,員工們正在“嘗試在內部通報一些問題事件,但在某些情況下,公司并不允許員工利用和發布這些信息。”他說,“恐懼的氣氛”目前籠罩著谷歌。

谷歌自由的職場文化是硅谷就業的金字招牌,但透明度卻不是家家公司都有。蘋果和亞馬遜則要求員工嚴格按照自己的職責行事,以防止敏感項目的細節被泄露給競爭對手。打造手機攝像頭的工程師可能并不清楚操作系統開發部門的工作內容,反之亦然。對于政府承包商,以及自身客戶對靈活性有要求的公司來說,類似的限制也都十分常見。

谷歌的業務運營細節通常對于保密的要求沒有這么高,但這一現象正在發生變化,尤其是谷歌云業務,因為它得說服商業客戶自己能夠保護好敏感數據,并從事不連續的項目。這一點也讓其逐漸向其注重保密的競爭對手靠攏。抗議本身也引發了新的限制,因為高管們已經在尋求削減公司認為被用于不當用途的行動主義者工具。

谷歌的領導者承認,對已經沿用了20多年的文化進行調整是一件很微妙的事情。谷歌前首席執行官兼董事長埃里克·施密德在去年10月斯坦福大學的一場活動中稱:“如今的雇員在公司治理方面越來越活躍。”

哈佛商學院的一位領導和管理學教授艾米·埃德蒙森稱,隨著公司采用更多的傳統企業舉措,面對那些充滿疑慮的雇員,谷歌理想化的歷史增加了其高管的負擔。她說:“如果你要開展一些會被認為是變化的舉措,對其進行解釋真的很重要。”

谷歌前任人力資源總監、職場軟件初創企業Humu現任首席執行官波克認為谷歌在這一方面并未獲得成功。他在給彭博新聞的一封郵件中寫道:“可能Alphabet與過去相比發生了很多變化,但并非所有人都能理解這一點。” (財富中文網)

譯者:馮豐

審校:夏林

Each morning, workers at Google get an internal newsletter called the “Daily Insider.” Kent Walker, Google’s top lawyer, set off a firestorm when he argued in the Nov. 14 edition that the 21-year old company had outgrown its policy of allowing workers to access nearly any internal document. “When we were smaller, we all worked as one team, on one product, and everyone understood how business decisions were made,” Walker wrote. “It’s harder to give a company of over 100,000 people the full context on everything.”

Many large companies have policies restricting access to sensitive information to a “need-to-know” basis. But in some segments of Google’s workforce, the reaction to Walker’s argument was immediate and harsh. On an internal messaging forum, one employee described the data policy as “a total collapse of Google culture.” An engineering manager posted a lengthy attack on Walker’s note, which he called “arrogant and infantilizing.” The need-to-know policy “denies us a form of trust and respect that is again an important part of the intrinsic motivation to work here,” the manager wrote.

The complaining also spilled into direct action. A group of Google programmers created a tool that allowed employees to choose to alert Walker with an automated email every time they opened any document at all, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The deluge of notifications was meant as a protest to what they saw as Walker’s insistence on controlling the minutiae of their professional lives.

“When it comes to data security policies, we’ve never intended to prevent employees from sharing technical learnings and information and we are not limiting anyone’s ability to raise concerns or debate the company’s activities,” said a Google spokeswoman in an email. “We have a responsibility to safeguard our user, business and customer information and these activities need to be done in line with our policies on data security.”

The actions are just the latest chapter in an internal conflict that has been going on for almost two years. About 20,000 employees walked out at 2018 fall over the company’s generous treatment of executives accused of sexual harassment, and a handful quit over Google’s work on products for the U.S. military. Earlier last year, Google hired IRI Consultants, a firm that advises employers on how to combat labor organizing, and it recently fired four employees for violating its policies on accessing sensitive data.

The extent of Google’s employee rebellion is hard to measure—the company has tried to portray it as the work of a handful of malcontents from the company’s junior ranks. Nor are the company’s message boards unilaterally supportive of revolt. “We want to focus on our jobs when we come into the workplace rather than deal with a new cycle of outrage every few days or vote on petitions for or against Google’s latest project,” wrote one employee on an internal message board viewed by Bloomberg News.

Still, the company seems stuck in a cycle of escalation. Walker’s internal critics say his Nov. 14 email is part of a broader erosion of one of Google’s most distinctive traits—its extreme internal transparency. The fight also illustrates the lack of trust between Google’s leadership and some of its employees, according to interviews with over a dozen current and former employees, as well as internal messages shared with Bloomberg News on the condition it not publish the names of employees who participated.

The conflict comes as Google is changing in other ways, too. On Dec. 3, Sundar Pichai, who took over as Google’s chief executive office in 2015, became the head of Alphabet, its parent company. His elevation marks the end of the active involvement of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who established Google’s distinctive culture when they founded the company as Stanford graduate students.

Pichai has at times supported internal activism. He spoke at an employee protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policies and apologized to employees for Google’s track record on sexual harassment. His executives met repeatedly with critics of the company’s military work. Some Google managers began signaling that they’re losing patience with internal activism even before the firings, according to one person who worked with them. Executives have not met with dissenting staff leadership in many weeks, according to one of the employees.

While Walker wrote in the “Daily Insider” that organizations have to change as they grow, he simultaneously argued that the policies he described had always existed. “It was that way since the early days of Google, and it’s that way now,” he wrote. This particularly offended several long-time Googlers, who said on internal message boards that Walker’s comments didn’t square with their own memories. For some of them, the incident illustrated a broader breakdown in their trust of leadership.

“I want to believe that executive management is saying everything—disclosing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” said Bruce Hahne, a Google technical project manager. “I don’t think we are currently under those conditions.”

Hahne, 51, doesn’t meet the Google management’s profile of internal protestors. He joined the company in 2005, a year after Pichai, partly because he was attracted to its mission to organize the world’s information. His disillusionment crept in gradually during the company’s myriad controversies. In an online essay, Hahne compared Google to a “rogue machine” that was “originally created for good but whose psyche has turned corrupt and destructive,” much like Hal 9000 from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. “You don’t treat a rogue machine like family,” wrote Hahne, “instead you come up with a plan, you disable or dismantle the dysfunctional parts of the machine, and you seek to reprogram the machine to serve its original purpose.”

When it was founded two decades ago, Google established an unusual corporate practice. Nearly all of its internal documents were widely available for workers to review. A programmer working on Google search could for instance, dip into the software scaffolding of Google Maps to crib some elegant block of code to fix a bug or replicate a feature. Employees also had access to notes taken during brainstorming sessions, candid project evaluations, computer design documents, and strategic business plans. (The openness doesn’t apply to sensitive data such as user information.)

The idea came from open-source software development, where the broader programming community collaborates to create code by making it freely available to anyone with ideas to alter and improve it. The philosophy came with technical advantages. “That interconnected way of working is an integral part of what got Google to where it is now,” said John Spong, a software engineer who worked at Google until last July.

Google has flaunted its openness as a recruiting tool and public relations tactic as recently as 2015. “As for transparency, it’s part of everything we do,” Laszlo Bock, then the head of Google human relations, said in an interview that year. He cited the immediate access staff have to software documentation, and said employees “have an obligation to make their voices heard.”

Google’s open systems also proved valuable for activists within the company, who have examined its systems for evidence of controversial product developments and then circulated their findings among colleagues. Such investigations have been integral to campaigns against the projects for the Pentagon. Some people involved in this research refer to it as “internal journalism.”

Management would describe it differently. In November, Google fired four engineers who it said had been carrying out “systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work. This includes searching for, accessing, and distributing business information outside the scope of their jobs.” The engineers said they were active in an internal campaign against Google’s work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and denied violating the company’s data security policies.

Rebecca Rivers, one of the fired employees, said she initially logged into Google’s intranet, a web portal open to all staff, and typed the terms: “CBP” and “GCP,” for Google Cloud Platform. “That’s how simple it was,” she said. “Anyone could have stumbled onto it easily,” she said.

In an internal email describing the firings, Google accused one employee of tracking a colleague’s calendar without permission, gathering information about both personal and professional appointments in a way that made the targeted employee feel uncomfortable. Laurence Berland, one of the employees who was fired recently, acknowledged he had accessed internal calendars, but said they were not private. He used them to confirm his suspicions that the company was censoring and “coordinating to spy on” activist employees. Berland, who first joined Google in 2005, added that he felt the company was punishing him for breaking a rule that didn’t exist at the time of the alleged violations.

Google declined to identify the four employees it fired, but a company spokeswoman said the person who tracked calendars accessed unauthorized information.

Other employees say they are now afraid to click on certain documents from other teams or departments because they are worried they could later be disciplined for doing so, a fear the company says is unfounded. Some workers have interpreted the policies as an attempt to stifle criticism of particular projects, which they allege amounts to a violation of the company’s code of conduct. These employees point to a clause in the code that actively encourages dissent: “Don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right—speak up!” Workers are "trying to report internally on problematic situations, and in some cases are not being allowed to make that information useful and accessible,” said Hahne. There is now a “climate of fear” inside Google offices, he said.

Google’s permissive workplace culture became the prime example of Silicon Valley’s brand of employment. But transparency is hardly universal. Apple and Amazon demand that workers operate in rigid silos to keep the details of sensitive projects from leaking to competitors. Engineers building a phone’s camera may have no idea what the people building its operating system are doing, and vice versa. Similar restrictions are common at government contractors and other companies working with clients who demand discretion.

The specifics of Google’s business operations traditionally haven’t required this level of secrecy, but that is changing. Google’s cloud business in particular requires it to convince business clients it can handle sensitive data and work on discrete projects. This has brought it more in line with its secrecy-minded competitors. The protests themselves have also inspired new restrictions, as executives have looked to cut off the tools of the activists it argues are operating in bad faith.

Google’s leaders have acknowledged the delicacy of adjusting a culture that has entrenched itself over two decades. “Employees today are much, much more active in the governance in the company,” Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and chair, said at an event at Stanford University in October.

Amy Edmonson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, said that Google’s idealistic history increases the burden on its executives to bring along reluctant employees as it adopts more conventional corporate practices. “It’s just really important that if you’re going to do something that is perceived as change that you’re going to explain it,” she said.

Bock, the company’s former HR director who is now CEO of Humu, a workplace software startup, suggested that Google hasn’t succeeded here. “Maybe Alphabet is just a different company than it used to be,” he wrote in an email to Bloomberg News. “But not everyone’s gotten the memo.”

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