3 Lessons from Google’s HR Policies

Have you ever looked in envy at an article online and seen the incredible, bright, and colourful workspaces Google’s 70,000+ employees enjoy on a daily basis? I have too…Creating innovative workspaces is only scratching the surface when it comes to Google’s revolution of Human Resources, or People Operations, as it now known. We will delve deeper to uncover what Google have done to transform its human resource processes, have one of the highest rates of employee retention in world, and have some of the happiest employees.

 

First, some background; based in Mountain View, California, Google is the largest and most popular search engine in the world. Google was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin with the singular aim to “organise the world’s information and to make it universally accessible and useful”. In the (almost) 20 years since it was founded the tech giant has become synonymous with innovation, and has become known for its unique work culture and human resource policies. It has been named the No.1 “Best Company to Work for” by both Fortune magazine and the Great Place to Work Institute a total of 7 times. Google once again received this accolade for 2017. This is no accident; Google is deliberate in its actions and does not do things by chance. As a data driven company, Google makes calculated decisions for everything it does; including its HR policies.

 

Focus 1: Thirst for Data

 

Google as a company, is part of the knowledge economy. Its human resources; the people who work within the company are the most important determinants of Google’s ongoing success and growth. Like most tech companies, Google’s workforce is comprised mainly of young people, and a large number of Millennials; with an average employee age of 29. This is considerably young when compared to the US workforce’s average age of 42.2. As a result, this youthful workforce is instigating change, as these employees demand a different type of work environment. However, Google’s employees are not the only driving force behind Google’s innovative ‘people processes’. As a tech company, Google uses data to inform all of its decision making, including its HR processes. Essentially, Google uses people analytics to navigate their people management practices. Nothing is done solely on gut feeling, or in accordance with outdated HR policies of the 80’s and 90’s which still plague many companies to this day. Instead, data informs all of their decisions. By adopting this scientific approach to its processes; from improving employee retention, workplace collaboration, diversity, to hiring algorithms which indicate which prospective candidate has the highest probability to succeed at Google. “All people decisions at Google are based on data and analytics”. The goal is to … “bring the same level of rigor to people-decisions that we do to engineering decisions”. Nothing is left to chance.

 

Focus 2: The Happiness Project

 

I have self-assigned the term “Happiness Project” to Google’s attempts to make life easier/better for its employees. Google makes it its mission to remove all barriers so that “Googlers can focus on the things they love both inside of and outside of work”. By putting the health and happiness of their employees first, they get more out of their employees, their employees are happy and contented, while they produce the stellar results that continually propel Google to even greater heights.

 

Google is very aware that having happier employees benefits them greatly too. When compared to other leading multi-nationals; Google’s employees outrank employees from every other company in terms of $value of their productivity and profit generation. The average Google employee generates more than $1.2 million in revenue each year. Yahoo currently produces just $449,000 per employee, and Microsoft $783,000. “This level of productivity has pushed Google stock into the stratosphere, with share prices recently topping $1000—no small feat, given that Google only went public in August 2004 at a price of $85”.

 

Like everything at Google, happiness levels too, are monitored and researched; with data driving new directions and policies. A particular internal group known as PiLab carries out these experiments and plans its human processes in accordance with its findings. This research includes determining the most effective approaches for managing people and maintaining a productive environment (including the type of reward that makes employees the happiest). Google have also notably increased the health of its workers by lowering their calorie intake at work by relying on such scientific data; and an experiment which decreased the size of its canteen plates.

 

This focus on employee happiness and health extends beyond the world of work. Google’s ‘Pay-for-Performance’ compensation package provides considerable compensation for strong performers and coaching and training for underperformers. On the job learning, training sessions from experienced managers, as well as inspirational talks from famous people such as Sen. Hillary Clinton and Lady Gaga help to inspire its workers. Google also provide gourmet meals to all of its employees. All of these perks create a happier, healthier, more engaged workforce with high company morale.

 

Focus 3: Management Style

 

Like its hiring policies and people pleasing perks, the driving force behind Google’s management styles is also no accident. It is driven by extensive research and, yes, you guessed it, data analytics. Google launched ‘Project Oxygen’ in order to assess how its managers were doing, and to suggest future training and coaching when inadequacies were uncovered by the performance management process. Google came to the realisation that if managers are effective they do not need to build a lot of training infrastructure. Project Oxygen, uncovered 8 traits that Google managers, ranked in order of importance must possess:

1. Be a good coach

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage

3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being

4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team

6. Help your employees with career development

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

Another interesting feature of the management culture in Google is that, essentially, the buck stops with a manager. Employees are encouraged to be innovate and try new things; however if they endeavours do not pan out as expected, instead of scapegoating the individual employee; it is instead seen as a failure in management. While many of these skills may seem arbitrary or unimportant, I promise you if your managers leave and work by these rules, you will have happier, more productive, more engaged employees.

 

What to take away?

 

While most companies are not on the same scale of, or have the resources available to them as Google, there are still many lessons that can be learned from Google’s innovative HR process. Perhaps the most important piece of advice would be to look after your people. Happier employees are more likely to go above and beyond, and do the very best for their employer once they feel valued and appreciated.

 

Additionally, it’s time to stop the mindset that other firms (regardless of size) have that Google is not a competitor to companies not working in the IT sector, as that’s simply not true. Like the New York Yankees in baseball or Barcelona in football, Google is a talent magnet. Google attracts and retains the top talents in each industry from IT to marketing, sales, sustainable development, engineering and more. It is this ability to hire and retain the best talent that accounts for Google’s continued success and dominance on the world stage. If you would like to learn more about how to evolve the culture of your organisation, then download this white paper.