Google was the first major global company to base its HR decisions on data and analytics. Since Lazlo Bock took over the HR department in 2006, ‘People Operations’ has turned HR on its head. In the process, it's forced the rest of the world to re-examine their HR decision-making processes.
The People Analytics team drive every personnel decision. They're tasked with outing subjectivity and bringing the same rigour to HR as Google does to engineering, software and finance.
Their data has resulted in famous Google perks such as free food, benefits, and 20% personal project time. These larger-than-life benefits are grounded in hard data – they exist because they pay for themselves when analysed as part of the bigger picture.
And their approach works: one estimate suggests that each Google employee generates around a million dollars in revenue each year.
Here are 5 lessons from People Operations that you can apply to your own workplace. Remember: talent borrows, genius steals. If you can’t steal Google’s staff, you might as well steal their best ideas.
1. Think data over relationships
Google’s unique approach is based on prioritising data over everything. They realised that focus on relationships and personal opinion when it comes to decision-making doesn’t produce the best results. It isn’t based on hard data, and so can’t be measured, improved and optimised (how many rounds of Sunday golf together does it take for Bob to realise that Bill deserves a promotion?) It also exacerbates unconscious biases that undermine their struggle for inclusivity and equality.
By switching your focus from subjective feelings to objective and quantifiable results, you can ensure that you make people decisions based on the needs of your business – not the gut instincts of an interviewer who hasn’t had lunch yet.
2. Make your data clean
When the People Analytics team formed, they had a huge amount of data at their fingertips.
The problem was they couldn’t use it. They had to sort it first – and this was no mean feat. Data scientists estimate that they spend more than half their time simply wrangling their data into respectable shape.
Make sure that the data you’re collecting is ‘clean’: organised, accessible, and stored correctly, and you’ll save yourself a ton of time.
3. Create high-performing groups
Google created a specialist team to analyse the factors that made teams successful. The data showed that teams of all kinds could be great: those with strong leaders or equal distribution of power; those who stuck to the agenda or digressed often; those whose members were best friends or almost strangers.
The key link between successful groups was that each member of the team spoke roughly the same amount (known in psychology as ‘conversational turn-taking’), and that the team paid attention to social cues indicating when someone felt left out (known as ‘social sensitivity’). This fostered a team culture of fairness and enthusiasm for ideas.
Utilise training and your company culture to encourage these ideals in your workplace, and watch your teams flourish.
4. Improve retention with targeted action
Recruitment and training are many companies’ biggest expenses, so using data to improve retention rates is a smart move.
Google crunched the numbers to find out the warning signs that an employee would leave, then focused their resources on improving the factors that led to their resignation.
For example, once employees became mothers, they were twice as likely to leave. Google introduced a star-spangled maternity plan, and the attrition rate dropped by 50%.
When Google wanted to reward its employees, it conducted a survey to find out the best way of doing so - a bonus? New benefits? A salary increase? The latter won, and Google’s employee happiness ranking soared.
By using data to find specific factors affecting attrition, then testing out new ways to solve them, you can ensure you’re making the best use of the resources you have and the benefits you provide.
5. Increase equality through awareness
In 2010, Google’s analytics team realised that women were much less likely to put themselves forward for a promotion – a fact that undermined the equality they’d tried to achieve by allowing anyone to apply for one.
They found academic research that indicated girls are much less likely to volunteer answers to maths problems, even though they have a better accuracy rate than boys. In business, research shows that women are less likely to speak up during meetings, even though their contributions were rated more highly by observers than men’s. Google realised that their problem was part of a larger issue – and so they formulated an experiment to tackle it.
They theorised that simply raising awareness of this tendency could be enough to prompt more women to apply. When the time came for promotion applications, they sent out a mass email reminder alongside a summary of the research they’d found.
Their experiment proved correct. Both the application rate and the promotion rate for women soared.
Simply making people aware of gender imbalances in the workplace can do a huge amount to undo it. Bringing unconscious biases and worries to the fore is the only way to deal with them head on. Google’s re:Work project now runs an unbiasing programme that aims to help you do just that.