Luke, my friend from college, lives in NYC now and I take residence at his place about once a month when I’m in town. He works as a fashion photographer in the city and he’s a managing partner in his company that employs about 8 people out of a 1,200 square foot apartment across the street in Murray Hill. Though our companies produce entirely different products, we enjoy sharing HR tips and phrases that help us run our businesses and keep our crew on task.

Last night over Mexican, he mentioned something, which I loved. He has a policy that his staff Google their questions before asking him for help. I think as a “policy” this could cause some issues, but as a general concept is really interesting. There is clearly a shift away from searching into decision-making engines. I am sure you have been seeing all of the latest advertising for Bing as a decision engine. Apple’s latest commercials for SIRI are also pushing the benefits of answers as compared to search results.

OK, so if you work with me don’t worry: I’m not going to establish this policy at Livio. My door is always open.

However, I do want to establish some sort of “hustle to learn” policy. For incoming employees, we have a lot of video based training to learn the systems, as well as online tutorials from companies like 37Signals for Highrise, and Zendesk for customer service. After the training is complete I think the best policy is to ask coworkers for help if you know they know the answer. The gap is what to do if only one person in the company “might” know the answer. This is where the Googleitfirst policy kicks in.

When these tough questions come in it takes down two people. How many times at your job does this happen daily? One person comes into your office and asks you a question, while they stand there and wait, you’re on Google trying different keywords and specifics to find blog posts from other people having the same problem.

I’m not sure what the right move is here from a Livio policy standpoint, but the next time someone pops into my office with a tough question that I don’t know, I tell them “I don’t know, good question, take a look on Google and let me know if there’s any answers out on the web.”

I do have a few good tips to minimize the amount of tough questions at Livio:

  1. Use Google apps for business (calendar, online mail, contacts) not desktop applications. Fewer variables in are in the IT equation and if something does go wrong, it’s usually system wide. We have a few people still grandfathered in on Mac Mail, but all incoming crew just use Gmail’s interface. If you don’t want to use Google, use something else with a name you can trust when it comes to critical items in the business. Why on earth would any startup (try to) run their own email server?
  2. Trade more features for ease of use when making IT decisions: We chose Highrise over Salesforce or other “more specific” CRM tools for its ease of use. We have to use some manual tricks to adapt the tool for Livio, but there isn’t any IT support required.
  3. Have an IT meeting for 30 minutes every other month and cover new tips for people to work on (tip of the month.) Also go around the room and ask everyone to say one thing they learned using their computer since the last meeting they want to share. At first, my staff was very reluctant and I could tell that they were uninterested, however after a few months, I started getting individual people poking their head in my office asking “Hey Jake, how do you do that quick app switching again on a mac?” In fact, now I’m learning more tips from the crew than the amount of info I’m pushing out.