Technology giant Google has recently given us a fascinating glimpse into many of its internal HR tactics. Its new site, Google re:Work, is designed to offer ‘practices, research, and ideas from Google and other organisations to put people first’. It covers a huge amount of content, with guides, best practice, case studies and tools to help companies. It’s very much the brainchild of Laszlo Bock, the company’s Senior Vice President of People Operations, and what’s particularly refreshing is the assertion that Google itself doesn’t have ‘all the answers.’ Instead, it wants to encourage organisations that are ‘using data to make work better’ to contribute to the site.
Amongst all the content on re:Work, there were three areas that Google lists as central to success and which really stand out for me.
1 Put employees first
Laszlo Bock, points out that “too many businesses treat people like replaceable gears”. To combat this, he argues that what’s needed is to put employees first, rather than just playing lip service to the concept. At the core of this thinking are three drivers: listening to employees, engaging with them and making it easy for them to deliver feedback. In my view, this type of dialogue needs to be continuous so companies can better engage with employees. It means having an open door, listening to feedback, acting on it swiftly, and reporting back quickly. This not only nips any concerns in the bud, but also encourages staff to give more feedback by showing that managers are serious about listening to employees and their suggestions.
2 Trust employees and treat them like owners
One of the key beliefs Google follows is to empower teams and individuals. This comes from having good managers. Interestingly they started out by testing the hypothesis (based on a widely held view when Google was first founded) that the quality of a manager doesn’t affect a team’s performance. Yet when they looked at the data from Google’s annual employee survey they found the exact opposite – teams with great managers were happier and more productive.
They then went further, analysing the data to identify the key characteristics that make managers ‘great’. Google researched comments from its annual employee survey, performance evaluations, and Great Manager Award nominations to find eight characteristics that defined highly performing managers. Among these are ‘is a good coach’; ‘is a good communicator’; ‘is productive and results orientated’ and ‘empowering teams and not micromanaging’. As well as trusting your team another key aspect is to encourage managers to share and feedback accomplishments around the business.
Google is known for investing in training its managers, with support and feedback before they take a role and then during the transition. This is seen in its reviews process. Based on the concept of Objectives and Key Results (or OKRs), it brings in peer reviews and feedback from junior as well as senior staff, and focuses on helping drive improvements. According to Bock, employees want to be evaluated because they want to grow and eventually become the best at their job.
3 People Analytics
It’s probably not surprising given that Google is a company built on data, but it puts a big emphasis on people analytics – using a data-driven approach to inform people practices, programmes and processes. For Google, this starts by adopting an analytics mindset, then identifying and defining metrics, and finally collecting feedback from employees.
Google is very precise about the questions it asks and puts a strong emphasis on drafting ‘clear, concise, unambiguous questions’. There’s also a strong emphasis on sharing the data with everyone involved.
While Google obviously has its own in-house tools for integrating and analysing data, other companies should look to use software platforms to achieve similar results. For example, it is important to ensure that data is integrated across the business, and presented holistically, so it encompasses not just employee feedback but also that of customers and potential buyers. Dashboard style reporting where managers see information in a clear and appealing way helps a great deal. However, it needs to be easy to use by managers themselves, rather than having to ask business analysts to set up reports.
Google has really opened its doors with re:Work and given all us a very valuable peek into how one of the world’s most successful companies operates. There’s something there for all of us involved in HR and management to check and learn from.