From a moment on the TV series Happy Days in which the character Fonzie jumped over a shark on water skis, and from then on (supposedly) the show bore no similarity to its original form.
1. (idiomatic, of a television program or other narrative) To undergo a storyline development which heralds a fundamental and generally disappointing change in direction.
2. (more generally) To experience a decline in quality, appeal, popularity
I was watching the best business movie of all time, “Barbarians at the Gate,” the other night with some buddies. There is a great scene in the movie where they illustrate the extravagant overspending at RJR Nabisco. The CEO is shown traveling to some event with his wife and dog in the corporate jet. When they get to the event the dog appears to be getting sick. So they send the dog back home ALONE in the corporate jet with only the flight attendant, hoping he will feel better once he gets there.
Now since this happened in the eighties, you might think this kind of wasteful spending is a relic of the past, but not so. This story in TechCrunch – Google Asks “Why Fly Private When You Can Fly Private – Out Of Your Own $82M Airport?” – shows it appears to be alive and well in Silicon Valley. It appears Google needs a new facility to hold all of their aircraft. The company is deploying planes over cities for 3D maps (mostly using contractors), but that doesn’t explain the need to build a 29-acre, $82 million facility on San Jose Airport’s West Side. It is one thing if this is for the personal aircraft of the Google founders and Eric Schmidt, who apparently have eight private jets between them. They are certainly entitled to spend their personal money however they like. But if this is for a corporate fleet, it tells me that they have lost their way.
Why would an Internet company need a fleet of aircraft for their executives? When companies own aircraft, it quickly creates two classes of employees: those who can use the aircraft and those who can’t. Companies don’t work very well when there are classes of employees with extravagant perks. Instead of a culture of “we are all in this together” it quickly becomes a culture of “what do I have to do to get to the next level and get the best perks?”
In later posts I will talk about the five building blocks of a great culture, but one of those is status. Making employees feel as important as possible is key to building a high-performing culture. Does this really mean Google has jumped the shark and is going in the wrong direction? Time will tell. But when classes start developing within the company, it is never good for performance. What do you think?