CEO City

Google's Special Class for its Employees

By SiliconIndia   |   Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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Google Inc Chief Executive Larry Page has spent the last 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," says Joseph Walker for Wall Street Journal. Playing a large part in that effort to battle threats from Facebook Inc., Apple Inc. and Inc., is GoogleEDU, the company's two-year-old learning and leadership-development program.

GoogleEDU is formalizing learning at the company in a completely new way, relying on data analytics and other measures to make sure it is teaching employees what they need to know to keep profits humming.

Last year, Google offered more classes to more employees than it has ever before, with about a third of its 33,100-strong global workforce going through the in-house program. It slashed classes that didn't work and retooled others. Karen May, Google's vice president of leadership and talent, who has led the revamping of GoogleEDU said "What's important is that it aligns with our overall business strategy," as reported by WSJ.

Companies have long wanted to boost their employees' performance through training and leadership programs. In 2010, U.S. businesses spent $171.5 billion on learning and development, for which data is available, according to the American Society for Training and Development.

Getting these programs to work, though, is difficult. Management experts say it is all well and good to send employees to classes, but to get the lessons to stick; workers need to apply them to their daily work lives. Employees often take a class and say it is great and go back to their jobs and do the same old thing, according to Professor David Bradford, director of the executive program in leadership at Stanford University.

Google thinks it has discovered a way to make its learning stick. It has become tougher 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 in order to suggest courses to managers. Google uses statistics gathered from current and former employees to propose certain courses to managers at different points in their career, say after a move to a new city or joining a new team.

The overhaul 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 record. As part of revamping GoogleEDU, the company's people team also began thinking about how to better put together 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 resultant from one's ideas and powers of persuasion, not job titles, says Ms. May. Decisions on promotions and raises are often made by consensus among peers and superiors. An employee isn't essentially going to obey a manager just because he or she is a manager. This is totally different from most traditional corporations, which have a top-down, hierarchical approach of management.

Ms. May says, Google offers a special class for new managers and executives where they are taught how to exert influence in more subtle ways. She added that "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 started offering specific classes based on an employee's work area (engineering versus sales) and career stage (junior developer versus senior manager). John Baldoni, president of Baldoni Consulting LLC, a leadership coaching-and-development firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich said "The more targeted it is, the better, because it is specific and actionable." He added that "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 start. 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 appraise the team's goals with the new employee.

Google won't reveal its attrition rate or what impact the revamped GoogleEDU has had on retention or employee spirits. "We do see in our overall satisfaction scores that it does make a difference when we invest in people," says Ms. May.

The company's focus on learning has long been evident to employees, some of whom say they were offered more classes at Google than at any other company at which they've worked.

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, says one former employee who left the company in 2007.

Ms. May concluded "We work really hard to get the right people." She said "We want them to reach their full potential."

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