CIPD 2014: Google, people and data

At the CIPD conference yesterday Google's Aimee O'Malley and Steph Fastre hosted a case study on how Google uses data in the planning of its HR and learning & development.

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At the CIPD conference yesterday Google's Aimee O'Malley and Steph Fastre hosted a case study on how Google uses data in the planning of its HR and learning & development.It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Google's culture to know that data plays a massive part in how the company manages its people. O'Malley (learning & development business partner for Google for Work in EMEA) noted that Google has done research on everything from the optimal length of a cafeteria queue (five minutes) to the effect of transparent vs opaque containers for free M&Ms. In other words, Google's workspace isn't famously quirky because someone with a wacky design taste felt like making it that way – it's been engineered based on data.“All people decisions are supported by science and data”, O'Malley said.O'Malley noted that it's not good enough to simply seek the data – an organisation has to have the right culture to make its people want to provide it. She gave the example of Googlegeist, the company's employee engagement survey, which has gone from low participation of around 30 per cent up to a recent response of 94 per cent thanks to encouragement from upper management.The talk followed on from a case study on IBM's use of HR analytics and big data the day before.O'Malley noted the importance of actually acting on the data, citing the company's 'Project Oxygen'. “This came about because Google is famously anti-managers. Lots of engineers are used to working alone and Larry and Sergei, our founders, thought 'we don't need managers.'”After one failed attempt to get rid of its management layer in engineering, the company was forced to reinstate them but determined to prove how and why managers don't matter using analytics. “They started a multi-year study and found out that... managers do matter, actually. And they found out that they matter a lot. They were the single most important factor in determining an employee's happiness. So then they said, right, we need to figure out why they matter and how they matter.”The company used data from Googlegeist and its manager feedback survey and whittled the data down to the company's eight traits for a good manager. That person, they determined:1) Is a good coach2) Empowers team and does not micromanage3) Expresses interest/concern for team members' success and personal well-being4) Is productive and results-oriented5) Is a good communicator6) Helps with career development7) Has a clear vision strategy for team8) Has technical skills so they can advise the team“These were really compelling to our team, because data is hard to argue with... And what we've done with this sense is baked it into the entire project,” O'Malley said.The session ranged over the need for flexibility in learning, the positive effects the company has had from empowering employees and the power of letting staff direct their own learning. If there was a core message, though, it was that data can be an extremely effective tool in shaping HR and learning.For more news and features about Human Resources click here. You can read more of Re:locate's coverage of CIPD 2014 here.

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