Talent at Google – learning on the loo and so much more

Wed 30 Apr 2014

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MOL associate tutor Mary Fraser writes:

‘If you give people freedom, they will amaze you’ sums up Google’s talent philosophy, according to Stephan Thoma, Global Learning & Development Director. The quote, from Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google Inc., served as a fitting opening for the keynote at a recent CIPD conference.

Google’s unique approach is fascinating. ‘Staff members (Googlers) will learn for themselves’, Thoma maintained, presenting two main priorities for him and his team:

First, new members of staff (‘Newglers’) are fully supported through a six-month on-boarding programme, with an ‘eco-system’ of peer learners providing on-going learning support.

The g2g programme (Googler to Googler) is about sharing that learning. This presents Stephan’s team with priority Number Two – ensure there is the technology to ensure people can learn and share their learning. Simple, isn’t it?

The signs of a creative workplace can be seen first-hand at the Google offices. Bright colours, wacky furniture, a meeting pod made out of a Swiss cable car, a crazy golf course on the roof of the Canadian office - these are just some of the many creative touches. And there is method behind the wackiness. For example, the idea for Gmail arose out of a conversation over table football. Bright colours and informal meeting spaces promote creativity – that’s the Google mantra. The provision of good food in the cafeteria late into the night helps support the all night creative workathons common to the industry.

Learning is something that happens all the time at Google, even on the loo! There are learning e-posters in the toilet cubicles which are changed monthly, a scheme that is run by ‘Googlers’.

Each staff member has a 20% allowance to work on projects of their own which spin off products and ideas for Google – or not, as the case may be. The employee engagement survey (‘Googlegeist’) gives formal, upward employee feedback is almost in real time.

Of course, there are the detractors who suggest that such a gimmicky approach doesn’t translate into performance, that employees need to be managed more closely and that the Google example is a chaotic approach to people management. But, gimmick or genius, it works for Google.

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