PROJECT FREEDOM

A cofounder of Google’s moonshot factory doesn’t like to fire people, so he ‘liberates’ them instead

Obsession
The Office
Obsession
The Office

Sebastian Thrun, a cofounder of Google’s moonshot factory, has been testing a management theory inside his online education startup Udacity: If people aren’t happy, make them leave.

“If you are unhappy, and you and I both recognize that’s the case, I never fire you. I liberate you. Liberation is different from firing,” Thrun tells Quartz. “I tell people, look, you’re not engaged and able to work at your peak performance level and I know that too, and we tried to resolve this and failed. Why don’t you find yourself a new job, and when you’ve found this job, go to the company and announce your departure on your own terms.” (Thrun didn’t say how long they had to find a new job.)

He calls the idea Project Freedom, and says it’s a method that spares an employee’s dignity while giving them time to find a better fit for their skills. But there are also benefits for the employer: Thrun says if companies hired and “liberated” more often, they could take more risks when hiring.

“People come work with me and for me, and trust in me that I make the best use of their time. I’ve seen numerous occasions when it didn’t work, they’re unhappy, they feel micromanaged, and you can tell they’re not spending the time well,” Thrun said. “It’s my moral obligation in that situation, if it can’t be reversed and I can’t resolve it, to literally relieve this person of the burden of having to work for me, and help them find a better home.”

Coming from academia as a Stanford professor, Thrun sees people leave his research lab every year. He sees it as a good thing—a different model for employment where people aren’t expected to stay at a job long term.

“Every year or so we have a public firing of a quarter of our students,” he says. “We call it commencement, we invite parents, we dress up, we give a nice speech, but at the end of the day, it’s a departure.”

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