The Root of the Problem
Competition, poor management and lack of inspiration aren’t the only culprits in the tech talent drain. Times are surely changing, and now being paid too much can drive away top talent. No you didn’t read that wrong. In a recent Bloomberg tech report, overcompensation was cited as one of the reasons Google’s car project lost early stage employees.
The problem stems from a compensation structure devised in 2010, during the project’s early days. Like several tech companies, Google agreed to pay key employees bonuses and equity along with the typical salary. However, a multiplier was also added on top of these awards. This multiplier was based on valuation of the Google Car division rather than the company’s overall performance.
In 2016, several key team members left the car project. Some suspect that the combination of awards and multipliers had peaked enough to make some early employees multi-millionaires.
Staff Chase Innovation Elsewhere
While I don’t think these hefty payouts were the sole reason for staff leaving, it sure didn’t incentivize them to stay. Honestly, I don’t look down on any of these employees for jumping ship.
My theory is that after reaching a certain threshold of financial security, monetary incentives meant less and the chance to pursue innovation elsewhere meant more.
In fact, in 2016 director of hardware development Bryan Salesky left Google and became CEO of Argo AI, which was recently awarded a $1 billion investment by Ford. The Google car project’s co-founder Jiajun Zhu and software lead Dave Ferguson went on to start Nuro.ai, another self-driving car startup to keep an eye on.
New Compensation Structures
While Google’s experiment backfired, I do applaud their attempt to try a different compensation structure.
In August 2015, Google reorganized itself under Alphabet. Under Alphabet, Google became one mega ad business combined with several “moonshots,” or smaller innovative projects such as the Google Car project (now knows as Waymo). However, Alphabet needed a way to tie incentives to the performance of an employee’s own project, rather than Alphabet’s overall ad business. Thus, an equity compensation system based on each project’s valuation was created.
As opportunities to explore VR, drones, and even soft robots increase, more companies may need to devise their own unorthodox compensations structures to incentivize employees within their own exploratory projects. Verily (another Google moonshot) is already using one of these unorthodox compensation structures.
go speed racer
In theory, this type of compensation system makes sense. However, I think in the Google Car project the addition of a multiplier was poorly executed. I also blame poor planning on Google’s part. From the get go, the Google Car project aimed high. The goal was a fully autonomous vehicle. I’m no engineer, but the loop of researching and testing this requires must be the equivalent of a marathon.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Google’s lucrative compensation system set up a comfy exit point miles before the finish line ” quote=”Google’s lucrative compensation system mistakenly set up a comfy exit point miles before the marathon finish line. “]I still hope Google finishes the race with a better version of their current self-driving minivan, but I don’t blame veteran staff for taking their cash and leaving a few miles early.