Google’s Data-Centric Approach To Human Resources Management (People Operations)

Introduction

In Human Resources, 86% of companies do not have any capabilities in analytics. Of companies that have analytics capabilities in Human Resources, 67% are weak at using the data they have or collect to improve or predict workforce performance. Google; the company that started by offering the internet world a search engine and which has grown to offer many other services to individuals, businesses and the world wide web, on the other hand has massive analytics which they are applying not only operational reporting but also to people. People analytics has put Google at the leading edge of this data-driven approach to addressing human resources challenges.

People Operations; as they refer to Human Resources at Google, strives to find the most innovative people in the world, grow them and keep them by building programs that allow and assist them in their growth.As a company, Google is built on information and to excel at recruitment, the development of talent, or the refinement of their core programs, Google believes that their data-driven approach is reinventing the field of human resources.To Google, data is at the center of all their activities and according to the Senior Vice President  of People Operations at Google, Laszlo Bock, this data-centric approach is helping them to create environments at work that are helping Googlers; the term for employees at Google, to live more productive lives, live longer and healthier. Creativity and collaboration are the key performance drivers at Googlewhere the core of the company’s intellectual capital is made up of hundreds of software engineers.

Read also Google Experiences with People Analytics

This paper seeks to examine how Google’s Data-Centric Approach To Human Resources Management has been applied at the company and what impact it has had on the company’s performance. It looks at how Google leverages their understanding of innovative spaces;working environments, working spaces and working atmosphere, to stimulate, expand, and support knowledge sharing, creativity and performance. The paper also looks at the impact of leadership; managers and bosses, at Google and the impact they have on the performance of their employees.

Practices and Policies in Hiring, Retention and Promotion

Good managers matter to Google and through the use of data, the company has determined the things that make a great manager and based on those findings developed training programs designed to make their bosses better.Under a plan, code-named Project Oxygen statisticians at Google embarked on a mission in 2009 to build better bosses by leveraging the giant data-mining capabilities of the company. The process involved the analysis of performance reviews, top-manager awards nominations, feedback surveys and correlated praise, words, complaints and phrases to come up with the ‘Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers’ (Bryant, 2011). From past reports, feedback surveys and performance reviews, over 10,000 observations about managers across more than 100 variables were collected and analyzed.

According to the senior vice president of People Operations; Laszlo Bock, the study found that a manager’s accessibility to his or her team was more important than his or her technical expertise. More than technical expertise, employees at Google value bosses who show up for one-on-one meetings and make a connection, who do not dictate answers, who took an interest in the careers and lives of the employees (Bryant, 2011). Managers who previously reported as being heavy-handed in their management style and had been denied promotions for that reason underwent one-on-one coaching with internal coaches and six-months later their reports and reviews had improved and a year later the improvement was significant and qualified them for promotions.

Performance reviews at Google are not done annually but quarterly and as soon as they started implementing the findings from Project Oxygen, the employee ratings for their bosses reflected huge positive changes. In addition to this, managers were having a much bigger impact on how the employees felt about Google as acompany and a much positive impact on the overall performance of the employees. The best managers at Google have always had teams that do everything better; they are happier, they perform better and are consequently retained better (Bryant, 2011). This was a crucial piece of information to the company andas a manageable variable, it served as the optimal starting point in the edifying Project Oxygen that set out to make Google’s management more effective.In their culture, these three components: voice, mission, and transparency are responsible for the encouragement needed to get the employees to come up with different and interesting ideas that push boundaries(Bock, 2011).

In the hiring process, there seems to be loopholes in that, managers tend to hire people who are more like themselves which is not always the best hiring decision and to counter this challenge, Google compiles elaborate dossiers from interview processes, which give the candidates the opportunity to reviewed by a group that later makes the decision to hire (Bryant, 2011). This effectively reduces the managers’ power and authority during the hiring process a move that helps the company to hire the right people for the right jobs and that are aligned to the long-term goals of the company rather than the short-term goals of the hiring manager as may be informed by their teams’ needs. In addition to this, data from performance reviews especially from groups have indicated that traps such as cognitive biases and ‘horn/halo’ effects exist and employees need to be aware of these in order to differentiate between one bad encounter and a bad track record of those they are reviewing or one’s own singular personality trait that skew their perception of a situation or a person. The standard recruiting tools for Google include: college recruitment, recruiter training, employee referral and professional networking.

The gDNA project at Google is an engagement survey aimed at understanding work and the effects of the work-life balance. This project studies 4,000 employees at Google and as a longitudinal study has a timeframe of 100 years, with a combination of questions reagrding their work attitudes being asked twice every year (Milne, 2014). The objectives of this study is aimed at figuring out what the gualities or a leader are and what makes a productive team. From the two years the project has been running the data is already indicating that there are kinds of employees, the ‘integrators’ (69%) and the ‘segmentors’ (31%). ‘Integrators’ are the employees who are always switched on and think about work even after work hours, while the ‘segmentors’ are the group of employees who at the end of the day are able to switch off. The study also indicated that most integrators would like to segmentors, these kind of findings offer more ground to help employees become better performers while preserving the integrity of their work-life balance.

Regarding work environments, Google’s aim is to create the happiest and most productive workplace in the world. By creating offices that are fit for both work and play, the company’s justification is that drab cubicles do not inspire creative thinking nor do they help people push the boundaries of what is possible. These type of offices with fun and innovative designs that Google invests in, are also researched and supported by data like all other decisions made by the company. According to data collected, inspiration, collaboration, and productivity are positively impacted by innovative and fun offices that people look forward to going to and enjoy working in them.

The location of Google offices for instance the East Coast headquarters in Chelsea, New York are located in an accessible area where employees can walk or catch a quick subway ride a move that is also data supported and maps showing where employees live.A company’s appearance of an organizational culture conducive to creativity is advanced and reflected in the careful planning, design and choice of the company’s style, layout, and physical location (Kallio, Kallio, & Blomberg, 2015).

Besides Google’s more conventional employee benefits, the company has numerous other benefits. For employees that bike or walk to work, the company has Self-Powered Commuting program that makes donations to the charities of the employees’ choice among other diverse self-organized experiences like the Sci-Fi book club, the library, game room, music room, weekly sessions on the massage chair or lying in a giant hammock. An employee can also choose to work on projects that interest them for 20% of their time while at the company’s Bakery Square campus. By creating these informal environments like the employee cafeteria and other such environments at work where employees can sit and just talk, the company strives to encourage interaction across teams.The success of Google is dependent on innovation and collaboration, therefore the company does every conceivable thing to ensure that talking gets easier and easier. According to Dr. Ben Waber who holds a Ph.D. from MIT and the author of ‘People Analytics’, data has shown that in complex industries like software engineering, serendipitous interaction is the biggest driver of performance (Stewart, 2013).

As part of the perks, free lunch is featured but as one Googler remarked, people at Google do not go to work for the free lunch but they show up because they want to work on interesting problems together with their colleagues.According to Teresa Amabile a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, years of research has proved to her that when people are motivated by work itself, they do their most creative work (Stewart, 2013). As far as the food and snacks category is concerned, healthier options are promoted with candy and sodas being placed in or behind opaque displays with nutritional information and healthier options being placed in or behind transparent glass display.

Google has flexible working hours, does not require people to work from the office, and does not keep track of who is at the office, nor theywork twenty-four hours of the seven-days of the week, and it is unnecessary to act as if one is working or to show that one is working. As long as employees have a work schedule figured out with their team and the team manager, the culture allows employees to have a life away from work and to demonstrate this; offices are shut down over the weekends. According to Dr. Ben Waber, who is the founder of a company dubbed Sociometric Solutionsthat assesses workplace interactions using data, forcing and coercing, spying, and monitoring employees creates a poisonous working atmosphere (Stewart, 2013).

Regarding costs, the company’s position is that, the value of software engineers is enormous and it does not cost the company much to keep them happy and productive. To effectively deal with globalization and growing competition, businesses are in operation today have to be more innovative and creative (Martens, 2008).In the facilitation of creativity, the physical workplace is gaining more credibility and value. To encourage collaboration, physical space is the biggest lever, in Dr. Waber’s view (Stewart, 2013).

Discussion

The three most likely reasons for an employee to leave a company include; a terrible boss, a dislike or lack of respect for co-workers, or a lack of connection with the company’s mission. Direct and clear feedback by a manager to those he supervises is important for any teams to perform and thrive, consequently leading to the optimal performance of a company. Data on a managers performance is not meant so much for showing successful management but should be used by managers to understand what works, where a course correction is needed and what does not work.

The data-centric approach used by Google in human resources management breaks away from conventional human resources approach that uses gut instincts more than hard data. Google are at the leading edge of thought on their reliance on data for decision-making and are successfully applying to the unpredicatable world of human interactions, data-driven approaches to the management of human resources. Google’s Project Oxygen may come across as the re-invention of the wheel but the fact that the data being used by Google is mined internally, ensures that decisions and training based on the internal study’s findins will feel valid to those who work at Google. Generic management models transplanted from elsewhere into a company has a higher rate of rejection and possible failure because they do not take into account how management traits and advice ranks with the employees of a company. Changes in mangement that are not evidence-based is unlikely to be effective as it does not prioritize the issues that matter to a company and are thus unlikely to make a difference at the point of application.

Kallio, Kallio, & Blomberg (2015) who explored the potential positive effects on the emergence of an organizational culture conducive to organizational creativity that emanate from the design of a physical organizational environment. Comparing a case organization before and after a change in its physical environment their study was longitudinal, showing how the emergence of a culture conducive to organizational creativity is impacted by changes in the spatial environment. From the study, they found that physical spaces play a significant although implicit role in the emergence of a culture conducive to organizational creativity. Collectivity, openness, and equality were the three aspects of culture that are likely to be affected by the design of the physical environment of an organization.

Google recognizes that unlike the old factory model where people were just cogs in a machine, looking at human resources more holistically; employees are more productive, loyal, and happier when surrounded by friends in a community setting that looks out for their interests (Stewart, 2013). This realization coupled with the leveraging of creative workspaces give a company the competitive advantage required to improve innovation and performance the highly dynamic marketplace of these times. Well-designed organizational spaces are to be more flexible and responsive than those that are not, since they enhance an employee’s emotional well-being by serving as a source of motivation and inspiration (Kaufman & Sternberg, 2010).

Reporting on a case study conducted on the aspects that determine creativity, Martens (2008) demystifies the complexities of facilitating creative work processes and creativity. He finds that color, layout, light and space in which employees present their work needs definitions that are more refined.

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