Yoshka the Google dog and the importance of stories at work

Yoshka the Google dog

What are the stories which have risen into legend at your workplace? Apocryphal or not, that time when the CEO rode around the office on a micropig or Michael from accounts ate 16 doughnuts to get through ‘month end’, these are the moments which can power whole corporate cultures. You may be thinking that these sound like tongue-in-cheek examples, but when you scroll down and see that Google have given a blog to the first company dog, everything will fall into place. Stories set the tone, and expectations. They let people know that, whatever tough workload or project is happening, they’re in the right place – one with a confident vision.

We’ve taken some time to compile four of the top stories told at some of the best performing businesses in the world…


Google’s top dog

Take a bow, Yoshka. The only canine to be credited in Google’s official history, their  first “company” dog, came to work with senior vice president of operations, Urs Hölzle in 1999. Since then, more dogs have been added to the payroll (as referenced in Yoshka’s official blog below…) and whilst they might not be a front line of coding (unless there’s a treat involved) they are a pretty accurate pointer towards the type of culture that you’ll encounter at Google. High-performance, yes, but also with a sense of fun and human spirit that before the 2000’s perhaps wasn’t so prominent amongst tech brands. Google have blazed a trail in a sector where competitiveness is high and employers need to offer the best jobs of people’s lives.

Yoshka speaks…

When I first started at Google, my main job was to lie in the courtyard and wait for the UPS man. My dad and I were pretty much the only ones who showed up before 11AM, so we became the de facto receptionists for a while. I’m always very nice to visitors.

When we moved to Mountain View in the summer of 1999, I switched to full-time. I interviewed a lot of people, but no dogs. Fewer of them were online back then, though of course it’s hard to tell sometimes. Eventually, I returned to part-time consulting and spent a lot of time watching ducks in a pond near our office. Fascinating, but ultimately unfulfilling.

Now my office is on the third floor. I take the elevator these days, since I injured my right leg last year. There are more dogs at Google now, but many of them are very small, like King Charles Spaniels. And Yorkies. When dad parks me outside the Google cafe, I love getting attention from all the passers-by. They even know my name! And there’s barbecue on the patio every day during the summer. Life is good.


Breaking into the canteen to make chips – First Direct

At the Good Day at Work® Conference 2013, we heard from First Direct on the stories they tell that keep their unique culture alive. It’s an unashamedly fun place to work, from snow machines at Christmas to a company-funded system to send gifts to fellow employees. It’s not all larking around though, the bank has consistently been voted top for its customer service and has some of the lowest staff turnover rates for contact centres anywhere in the world. Watch the video below to find out a bit more about which stories make their organisation special.



$2000 to quit – ‘The Offer’ at Zappos


Zappos are relentless and unashamed in the pursuit of customer service excellence, and they want people to know it. So they’ve created a unique way to make sure that new recruits fit that culture – it’s known as ‘The Offer’. After a four-week training programme, new employees are offered the chance to work away with their pay and a cheque for $2000. What sounds like urban legend has been confirmed by the company. Here’s what Zappos have to say;

“Yes, we do offer new hires $2000 to quit. We really want everyone at Zappos to be here because they want to be and because they believe in the culture. If they know they don’t quite mesh with our culture, we don’t want them to feel stuck here, so we give them an option. Less than 2% of all prospective employees end up accepting the offer.”


Chinese food and legendary hackathons at Facebook

Facebook's hackathons

As mentioned in the Google entry above, tech firms propser on their ability to problem-solve and develop ground-breaking products. For Facebook that process doesn’t have to be a hard slog, it can be joyous. The Facebook Hackathons have become legendary events, social as well as productive. The company’s head of engineering explains why…

I joined over five years ago. I told my wife, I’m not coming home, I’ll be staying at work, and she kept prodding me: “You’re staying at work?” It took me 20 minutes to explain to her, we’ll be making cool things, and everyone at the company does this. I went to my first hackathon and fell in love. The next day I was totally beat but couldn’t wait to do the next one. Two weeks later I asked some people, “When’s the next one?” and they said it wasn’t planned. I sent out an email saying, “Hey, I’m going to get some Chinese food and hack all night.” It was super successful, and most of the company was there. The next day Mark Zuckerberg came to my desk and said, “That was awesome.” So over time, it became a thing, where every six to eight weeks I asked if people wanted to hack.