A few years ago, I blogged about how Google was getting all sorts of attention and praise for going the extra mile to attract and retain top talent by installing smart toilets in their campus bathrooms (Great Googlely Moogely). Aside from creating disturbing mental images, the article asserted that people were going to work for Google because they’ve got the most modern facilities – meaning bathroom facilities. It was absurd then, and it’s absurd now. Google is a titan – certainly in the stock market and, arguably, in technology. The amount of attention they garner for doing a pretty decent job when it comes to its human capital practices continues to amaze me. For me, it’s sort of like when then President George H.W. Bush was amazed by that new-fangled scanner doo-hickey that rang up his socks in a store all those years ago.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article on The Science of Working Better, writer Christopher Mims touts the head of Google HR, Laszlo Bock, as a soothsayer of people operations. Mr. Bock’s got a book coming out, you see, called Work Rules! in which he extolls the virtues of valuing your people. One demonstration of this is facilitating a less hierarchical and constrained environment that allows more collaboration and contribution. I’m down with that. Similarly, Mr. Bock likes to use data to inform decisions – like changing Google’s maternity leave policy when it was noticed that a high percentage of new moms weren’t coming back to work (because the leave was too short…so they quit). They extended the leave and retain 50% more women after their leave. Data driven decision-making in human capital has been noted as a key trend for at least the last three years. One other area of praise Google receives is for using structured, consistent, job-related interview questionnaires and involving teams to vet candidates against common criteria. Again, I agree with and support this approach, it’s just not new. I personally have been providing client organizations with this capability since the late 1990’s – and many use it despite the article’s statement that it “isn’t the norm at most organizations.”
You might be asking yourself, “What’s up with Jeff? Why is he hating on Google?” Short answer: it’s fun. Better answer: I love Google – I use it every day. If the fact that Google has adopted people practices that make sense draws the eyes and ears of anyone who’s business hasn’t figured this stuff out yet or isn’t doing it consistently, I’m all for it. What I don’t want to happen is that Google-worship actually results in doing nothing because, well, how could my company possibly do the same thing that Google the Great is able to do? Here’s the good news, and my point – what Google gets so much credit for is (for the most part) smart, simple, accessible good business practices. Here are a few that, yes, you too can do:
• Hire right – Define your organization’s key success behaviors (this often is done in the form of values) and insist that everyone – EVERYONE – you hire has each of these in the right measure based on what they’ve demonstrated in the work and life to date.
• Give people a voice – If we really value our people, create an environment in which they not only can speak up, but are encouraged to and required to. This isn’t likely to happen if you have people in management roles seeking to be the individual star or top performer…which means you need to equip people managers with the skills to be local leaders.
• Use data wisely – When I ran a knowledge management company, we helped rescue organizations where their people were drowning in information and starved for knowledge. We have so much information around us and accessible to us that we need to be smart about what data we consider and how we put it to use. Failing to gather and analyze data is a fatal flaw in today’s human capital world where being strategic is an absolute requirement.
• R-E-S-P-E-C-T – Above all else, remember that we no longer live – or should live – in a work world where people are viewed as we used to say in professional services: fungible units. If your people truly are your most important assets (even ones that get in their cars and drive home at night…and may not come back), treat them like that – talk to them, listen to them, enable them
…like Google does – and you can, too.
Jeff Lesher, Principal at entreQuest, blends his deep knowledge of organization design, human capital, and leadership with a pragmatic approach drawn from his own business experience and eQ’s philosophy to help eQ’s clients focus on their core purpose and move people effectively to action.