Google Inc. chief executive Larry Page has spent the past year trying to bring a renewed sense of urgency and focus to the search company, in what he calls putting “more wood behind fewer arrows.” Playing a big part in that effort to battle threats from Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., is GoogleEDU, the company’s two-year-old learning and leadership-development program.
GoogleEDU is formalizing learning at the company in an entirely new way, relying on data analytics and other measures to ensure it is teaching employees what they need to know.
Last year, Google offered more classes to more employees than it ever has before, with about a third of its 33,100-strong global workforce going through the in-house program. It cut classes that didn’t work and retooled others. “What’s important is that it aligns with our overall business strategy,” says Karen May, Google’s vice president of leadership and talent, who has led the revamping of GoogleEDU.
Companies have long sought to boost their employees’ performance through training and leadership programs. U.S. businesses spent $171.5 billion on learning and development in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the American Society for Training and Development. General Electric Co., for example, spends $1 billion annually on training and education programs for its employees, according to its website.
Getting these programs to work, though, is tricky. Management experts say it is all well and good to send employees to classes, but to get the lessons to stick, employees need to apply them to their daily work lives. Employees often take a class and “say, ‘Gee, this is great,’ and go back to their jobs and do the same old thing,” says Prof. David Bradford, director of the executive program in leadership at Stanford University.
Google thinks it has found a way to make its learning stick. It has become more exacting about when it offers classes and to whom. It uses employee reviews of managers — similar to the instructor reviews that college students fill out at the end of a semester — to suggest courses to managers. Ever data-obsessed, Google uses statistics gathered from current and former employees to recommend certain courses to managers at different points in their career, say after a move to a new city or joining a new team.
The revamp of Google’s training programs is particularly critical now. The company, with $38 billion in annual revenue, hired 8,000 employees last year, the biggest annual head-count increase in its history. As part of revamping GoogleEDU, the company’s people team (they don’t call it human resources in Silicon Valley) also began thinking about how to better integrate the influx of new employees, made up of managers as well as rank-and-file staff.
Experienced managers who join Google from other companies can find it difficult to operate in a culture where power over subordinates is derived from one’s ideas and powers of persuasion, not job titles, says May. Decisions on promotions and raises are often made by consensus among peers and superiors. An employee isn’t necessarily going to obey a manager just because he or she is a manager. This is radically different from most traditional corporations, which have a top-down, hierarchical style of management.
“There’s a lot more persuasion involved because Googlers are really smart,” says Scott Lederer, a former Google user-experience designer who left the company in 2011. “They are not going to do something for you just because of your title. You really have to make your case.”
Thus Google offers a special class for new managers and executives where they are taught how to exert influence in more subtle ways, says May. “One of the practicalities of a less hierarchical company is that you aren’t necessarily going to have the position power to decree something or dictate something.”
Google has also begun offering specific classes based on an employee’s work area (engineering versus sales) and career stage (junior developer versus senior manager). “The more targeted it is, the better, because it is specific and actionable,” says John Baldoni, president of Baldoni Consulting LLC, a leadership coaching-and-development firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich. “The downside of leadership development is that it is too often amorphous and doesn’t speak to people in the language that they need at a specific time.”
Rather than train a new manager in how the Google performance evaluation process works as soon as they are hired, they’ll instead receive the training just before performance reviews begin. If a manager is taking on a new team member who is transferring from a Google office in a different location, he or she will receive an email as a reminder that new employees have said it is helpful when managers introduce them to others in the office or review the team’s goals with the new employee.
“More individualized, customized recommendations are part of how, as we grow, we’re trying to individualize and personalize the learning experience here,” May says.
Google won’t reveal its attrition rate or what impact the revamped GoogleEDU has had on retention or employee morale. “We do see in our overall satisfaction scores that it does make a difference when we invest in people,” says May.
The company’s focus on learning has long been apparent to employees, some of whom say they were offered more classes at Google than at any other company at which they’ve worked. Jason Morrow, who left Google in 2010, says that continuing education is “baked into the culture” of the company.
Even before the formation of GoogleEDU in 2010, Google would assign promising young product managers career and management coaches who would teach them how to negotiate better salaries, improve their presentation skills, or talk through the reasons why someone should or shouldn’t leave to found a start-up, remembers one former employee who left the company in 2007. He says that such programs “engendered a lot of loyalty” among employees.
“We work really hard to get the right people,” says May. “We want them to reach their full potential.”
Elearning! and Government Elearning! magazines announced today the Best of Elearning! Awards 2013 honorees. Readers and professionals from both the private and public sector cast 3,862 nominations for the best-in-class solutions across 25 product categories. Winners of each category will be revealed at the Enterprise Learning! Conference & Expo on August 26, 2013, which is co-located with the California HR Conference. The Best of Elearning! Awards program formalizes the “word-of-mouth” referrals practiced in our industry. MORE...
--The Top 100 Learning Organizations from Public and Private Sectors Convene to... »
Recent Aberdeen Group research on video learning showed that top-performing... »
A new CareerBuilder survey — conducted online by Harris Interactive from February 11... »
The International Association for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM) has... »
NGrain is now delivering its Virtual Damage Repair and Tracking software to Lockheed... »
The City of Denton, (Tex.) has selected ITinvolve to help manage its IT assets.... »
Andy Wooler has been appointed as a senior learning technology consultant to... »
Webanywhere Inc., a developer of Web-based business elearning solutions based on the... »
If your organization has not embraced virtual learning, you are behind the curve. No... »
Organizations need to define, attract, and develop critical talent. This paper... »
The UN Department of Field Support (UNDFS) manages personnel, finance, logistics,... »
Nottingham Trent University (NTU) wanted to change the way its systems training was... »
Desire2Learn’s new Learning Suite is designed to help address relatively stagnant... »
Havok has integrated its Vision Engine framework with Scalable Display Technologies,... »
Assessments are generally thought of as a method to evaluate the effectiveness... »
Many organizations want to utilize the workplace analytics to target talent... »