Human Resource Management People Operations at Google

Find Them, Grow Them, Keep Them

Google's HR department is unique and innovative (and claims to re-invent the field of HR). It is referred to as People Operations (POPS), to distinguish it from administrative functions. POPS consists of HR professionals, former consultants and analysts. The department takes a data-driven approach. At Google HR treated more like scientific work rather than the traditional HR. Everything can be measured. “Data is central to everything we do — even when we choose a paint color for a conference room wall or plan a lunch menu. Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations, and David Radcliffe, VP of Real Estate and Workplace Services, explain our data-centric approach to creating work environments that help Googlers live longer, healthier and more productive lives” (Google 2014).

POPS focuses on finding the world's most innovative people, creating training programmes and ensuring that employees are satisfied with their work. Google is very international and it prides itself on diversity and inclusion. It aspires to be a “workplace that works for everyone, in every country, and in every culture in which [it] operates” (Google 2014). The main activities at POPS are divided into three broad areas which can be summarised in the phrase: Find them, keep them, grow them. “Find them” deals with recruiting and hiring practices at Google. The main objective is to find people who have a lifelong dedication to learning, inquisitive minds, are passionate about their work and are open to evolution and change. “Grow them” deals with training and other activities, which create and preserve the best in their employees (employees are referred to as Googlers by the company). Lastly, “keep them” deals with Googlers' commitment, satisfaction and retention (Albert 2013).

Find Them

Google is very international and has offices around the world. They take a geocentric approach to hiring staff (finding the best talent is crucial). A closer look, however, reveals that top management positions (such as managing director) in many country locations are held by host-country nationals (e.g. in the United Kingdom, Poland and the United States).

The primary objective of POPS is to hire the right people. The work changes frequently and so do the requirements – few Googlers do what they were originally hired for. The potential Googler must be good at many things, be passionate about the challenges and be open to major changes. Google hires people who are competent in the long term, not just the current time, and a so-called “Noogler” (this is what Google calls new hires) should be “someone who's good for the role, good for Google and good at lots of things” (Google 2014).

Google understands that looking for the best talent is not restricted to age, gender, nationality or even to individual experience, but stems from diversity and individuals' abilities. Hence, it is important for Google to support diversity of norms throughout its offices worldwide and to embrace the local expressions of each location, ensuring there are differences between offices and employees across countries. For example, in Google's global headquarters (also known as the Googleplex) in Mountain View, USA, the company implemented its garage roots into the metal, wood, welding and electronics workshops. In this location the main focus is on changing the world at Google. In Dublin, Ireland (the European headquarters), the company included the culture of the city in its four modern buildings, including music rooms and kitchens which look like a traditional Irish pub. The walls have pictures of Irish folklore, street art graffiti and panoramic photos. The complex also has a Father Ted themed cafeteria (Father Ted is a popular sitcom set in Ireland). Google Ireland employs Googlers from 65 countries. In this location – which serves customers not only in Ireland but across Europe, the Middle East and Africa – a special emphasis is put on recruitment and selection of individuals who speak diverse languages; for example individuals who can speak Swedish, Danish or Finnish are currently in high demand in the Irish Google office. In Tokyo, Japan, the interior has traditional Japanese design components. The cafeteria offers local specialities and tatami-style seating (in order to eat, the Googlers must take off their shoes) and the subsidiary mainly seeks Googlers with diverse backgrounds. Zurich, Switzerland, has a different colour theme on every floor and one of the unique features is the old-style gondola ski lifts, where Googlers can find some privacy. The office is extremely diverse as it brings together 75 nationalities. One of Google Switzerland's integration activities, as is typical for Google around the world, is to hold TGIF (Thank God it's Friday) meetings in a very informal way to discuss all relevant issues with all employees. In Zurich, each meeting has a theme based on a different European, Middle Eastern or African country.

Moreover, Google ensures that it is an attractive location to work and that it not only contributes to philanthropic activities worldwide but in the particular locations where it operates. For example, in the United States the company highlights the fact that it participates in beach clean ups and helps out local schools; in Ireland, the company promotes the Age Engage programme, in which Googlers create digital awareness among older people; in Poland Googlers donate time to painting schools, planting community gardens and cleaning neighbourhood playgrounds; in Japan, after the earthquake of 2011, the company created and implemented Person Finder within two hours; in China it offered financial support for Sichuan, which suffered an earthquake in 2005; in Switzerland Googlers volunteer to work at pet shelters, etc.

Google looks for its employees not only from outside of the organisation but also from within. For example, when Google wanted to introduce a new vertical market based structure in Europe in order to attract more business advertisers, the company internally promoted Jeff Levick (originating from the American office) from its financial services group to vertical markets director for Europe. The promotion was tantamount to a relocation requirement to the United Kingdom, where Levick was responsible for implementing a vertical management structure similar to the US structure (Econsultancy 2005).

Table 22.2

Rank

Business Ranking

Engineering Ranking

1

Google

Siemens

2

L'Oréal Group

IBM

3

PwC (PriceWaterhouseCoopers)

BMW Group

4

EY (Ernst & Young)

Google

5

Microsoft

Microsoft

6

McKinsey & Company

Nestlé

7

Unilever

General Electric

8

KPMG

Bosch

9

Procter & Gamble

Daimler Mercedes-Benz

10

The Boston Consulting Group

EADS (Airbus)

Source: Universum 2014.

The way Google hires its employees had to change, as within a few years the numbers of new hires increased dramatically across the world. In the original hiring process the candidate had to go through as many as 25 interviews, and the entire hiring process could take between 6 and 12 months (Levy 2011). This process not only slowed down the hiring but also harmed Google's reputation among candidates. Hence, a change was necessary. A study was conducted by Google's staffing director Todd Carlisle, who investigated the optimal number of interviews a candidate should go through. The answer was four. Nowadays, the hiring process consists of few steps; usually it starts with a conversation with a recruiter, a phone interview, followed by an onsite interview at one of Google's offices. The hiring decisions are made by the group, as opposed to individuals (which avoids opportunistic behaviour by managers). In 2011, the hiring time was drastically decreased and ranged from between 40 and 60 days (from beginning till the end). In that year, over 75,000 job applications were submitted in a single week, resulting in the hiring of 8,000 Googlers (Levy 2011; Womack 2011; Walker 2012; Sullivan 2013). This enormous amount of applications is a result of Google's strong appeal for highly qualified candidates. In fact, in 2014, Google is seen by students across Europe (and, as other studies show, the world) as the most attractive employer for business students and among the top by engineering students (see Table 22.2). In a survey by another organisation carried out in 2014 in Switzerland, Google is listed as the No. 1 favourite employer for both business and engineering students (Steinhoff 2014, pp. 24-25.).

Grow Them

It is essential for Google to develop employees so they can learn rapidly and stay innovative. To provide time for learning, Google utilizes a 70/20/10 time allocation model. 70% of time is spent on normal work tasks, 20% is for “personal development that will ultimately benefit the company” and 10% of work time is allowed for “innovation, creativity and freedom to think”. This leaves as much as 30% of an employee's time to his or her discretion (Sullivan 2007). At Google development is very important and so is the on-the-job learning. There are various types of training which can occur, e.g. new-hire mentors, “tech talks” or inspiring talks (Sullivan 2007).

A particularly interesting type of training is so-called Googler-to-Googler (g2g). The training programmes put 3,500 employees (most of them are volunteers who use the 20% of their personal development time to do so) from different departments into the role of teachers. The development programmes are not compulsory and are divided into different categories, e.g. for Nooglers (orientation programme), for early career Googlers (e.g. teamwork, presenting and receiving feedback), for mid-career Googlers (e.g. strategic thinking), etc. Google's idea behind such training is firstly to ensure that a culture of learning is promoted by employees themselves rather than imposed on them. Second it puts employees into a teaching mindset (and lets them teach something they are passionate about). The content of the courses is reviewed by managers in order to ensure quality. The employees who take the courses assess the performance of their teacher, which comparable to the performance assessment of the professional teachers (Kessler 2013; Hughes 2014).

The topics for the courses come from learning and development, from employees themselves and from POPS. The course instructors are encouraged to think outside the box; for example, courses vary from engineering for non-engineers to body awareness and fire breathing. The g2g is offered personally or with the use of virtual tools such as Google+ Hangout, which allows Googlers from diverse offices around the globe to be brought into a dynamic and interactive conversation. This ensures that training is available for all Googlers. As a result, 55% of the company's official classes are taught by in-house staff (Albert 2013; Hughes 2014).

Another particularly interesting training program, which aims to develop global mangers at Google, is very unusual to say the least. Google created an associate product managers (APMs) group, which consists of extraordinary students, hired for important positions, without job experience. Google sends the group on a trip around the world to enhance their cultural awareness. APMs visited such locations as a village in India (where many people had never heard of Google, and had neither Internet access nor computers); Japan (where the group was familiarised with the local market, fellow Googlers and local customers); China (the group was faced with the realities of doing business in this country) and Israel (Steers/Sanchez-Runde/Nardon 2010, pp. 24-25).

Keep Them

Google aims to keep employees' passion and motivation high. They do so by making sure that employees' receive quick approval for their ideas (within days not months). Furthermore, Google also ensures that the benefits the employees obtain are very attractive (this is also part of the find them strategy). The average pay at Google is 107,000 USD (above the industry average). The company also offers a wide range of perks, for example the employees get free gourmet meals (3 times a day), receive purchase grants for hybrid cars, have five months of paid maternity leave, have a workout room, massage room and snack rooms with free snack foods, fruit and drinks as well as a laundry room and free on-site medical doctor. It is also important to note that, despite Google's effort to standardise these perks and financial benefits, across all countries, it is not fully possible due to international taxation issues and international laws (Sullivan 2007; Hernandez 2013; Farfan 2014).

Furthermore, Google believes that in order to keep employee motivation high, the voice of all Googlers must be heard (including the newest employees). They hold weekly meetings (every Friday) where all the Googlers from across the company meet and get an opportunity to ask any questions they want. Google prides itself on its transparency. Employees also get an opportunity to work on a range of projects and can completely re-qualify if desired.

The way Googlers are motivated varies slightly between countries, e.g. different famous guest speakers are invited to different locations. For example, in 2007 the headquarters in the USA welcomed such important public figures as Barack Obama (who at the time was presidential hopeful), who shared his innovative agenda and entered into a discussion with Google's employees, or John McCain (another presidential hopeful in 2008 election) who spent a lot of time answering Google employees' questions. The London office was even visited by Queen Elizabeth II, where her Majesty launched the Royal Channel on YouTube (which belongs to Google) and uploaded her first video. Of course, the different offices are also visited by other famous people, for example Lady Gaga and David Beckham in Mountain View, USA. In Zurich, Swiss Googlers got an opportunity to host Alice Cooper (several conference rooms in the Swiss office are named after him), and for this occasion some employees dressed up like his stage persona and performed his songs on stage.

But despite all of Google's efforts, the retention of talent in the company is rather low. This seems paradoxical because Google has regularly been rated as one of the best companies to work for. 84% of employees are satisfied with their work. POPS scientifically measures employee satisfaction and looks for ways in which it can be improved. Yet the median length of time that employees stay with the company at Mountain View California is only a little over a year (according to PayScale ranking). It is, however important to note that the number of employees at Google has risen drastically in recent years; between 2010 and 2013 the number increased from 24,400 to 43,862 (excluding Google's employees at Motorola), meaning that many did not yet have the opportunity to serve a long tenure. Furthermore, Google mainly hires young people, who are described as generation Y. Generation Y is perceived as rather disloyal and young (the median age is just 29), hence they have not worked anywhere for long. Because Google only hires top talents, their employees are very attractive for other companies in this very competitive market. Hence, Googles employees are offered very attractive packages to join competing firms. Lastly, high turnover also comes with the territory for knowledge based industries (e.g. Amazon's medium tenure is one year and Yahoo's median tenure is only 2.4 years) (Bershidsky 2013; Hernandez 2013).

Summary and Outlook

Google is one of the best companies to work for. The company faces many challenges not only in attracting new employees but also in their retention. The fact that Google is a great place to work has been recognised not only in the United States but also across Europe and, for example, in Japan. The company promotes their employees as their greatest asset and attributes part of Google's success to them. Different locations have different tasks, resulting in a different selection of employees. However, in most cases they come from a wide range of countries. In the hiring process POPS focuses on ensuring non-discrimination and emphasises individuals' abilities rather than experiences. Hence, Google aims to ensure the company has the best talent, which is equivalent to a diverse workforce.

Questions

1. What are the challenges Google faces in managing a globally diverse top talent workforce?

2. Can you recommend Google any strategies to ensure top talent retention worldwide?

3. What main international challenges faced by People Operations can you identify?

Hints

1. Look at websites dealing with management of top talent.

2. Check for websites dealing with the turnover rates of knowledge-based industries.

 
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