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A Win-Win Situation


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

Making sense of employee data to benefit both workers and the organization

By Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

With its more than 40,000 employees, Google was ranked as the top company in Fortune's annual Best Companies to Work For in 2013, the fourth time it has achieved that honor.

Google is known as a workplace where employees are engaged, feel appreciated, and collaborate with colleagues, and which provides a vast array of perks and benefits.

Its lofty position as a great place to work didn’t just happen; it is due in large part to using data to assess workplace interactions and develop an organizational culture where employees feel they have meaningful work and see a solid future.

Some of the practices that have made Google an organization with happy and productive employees will be shared by Brian Welle, a director of Google’s People Analytics, during SIOP’s 9th Annual Leading Edge Consortium, “Building Future Leaders: Innovations and Trends in Talent Management,” to be held October 18-19 at the Omni Hotel in Richmond, VA.

Welle will join Moheet Nagrath, leadership strategist at Leadership Architecture Worldwide and former chief human resources officer at Procter & Gamble, as keynote speakers of the event. The consortium will feature top leadership and talent management experts who will share proven strategies as well as lessons learned from talent programs that didn’t work quite as well as expected.

“This consortium is targeted at practitioners, especially senior-level people who are responsible for leadership and talent programs for their company or consulting firm,” said LEC chair Jeff McHenry, Principal, Rainier Leadership Solutions in Seattle, WA.

Practitioners are looking for fresh ideas to bring back to their organizations and those attending will hear a lot of new ideas, including those that Brian Welle will present, they can customize and adapt in their own organizations. Everyone will leave with 2-3 great ideas hey can use,” he said.

Welle’s talk is entitled “Deriving Insights From Data: An Analytics-Driven Approach to Talent Management.”

“People Analytics is the function at Google that has empowered our researchers to take a life-cycle view of employee performance, satisfaction, health, well-being, and development. In this talk I will describe how this function works and how we use research, data, and analytics to guide the course of employees' journeys while they are employed at Google,” he said.

“I-O psychologists possess the research insight and analytical skills that make them valuable HR partners and to help guide critical decisions about employees,” he added. Welle believes I-Os can contribute to the entirety of employees’ experience, including the process by which they are hired, how they are on-boarded, how their career progresses, and their experiences with formal and informal systems—from management to benefits to compensation and finally to their exit from the organization.

“We call it a life-cycle view and it is exciting to be able to contribute in this way. It’s a holistic approach,” he said.

He will also address the different kinds of research and data used in the employee life-cycle process. Though "big data" seems all the rage at the moment, Google sees data falling on a spectrum from targeted to expansive; the cut point distinguishing "big" from the rest is still a matter of debate in HR, but it is one that Google is helping define.

It all starts by focusing on a research question followed by a research/analytical strategy. Welle will discuss examples of key research including socialization/on-boarding, financial health, selection, and career development.

One research function is the on-boarding process, which Welle described as “critical” to introducing new employees to the Google culture, especially when the company adds some 5,000 workers on a base of fewer than 30,000, as it did in 2011.

“It may seem like an extreme example, because most companies are not hiring 5,000 new people each year. But the principles of good on-boarding are the same whether hiring a few or many. The lessons we learned can be generalized to other organizations, so we want to share what we have learned with the idea it will help others, not only in on-boarding but in other career steps as well,” he said.

Another exciting step is having Google employees take on the responsibility of managing their own careers. “The belief that Googlers own their career development has been part of Google’s philosophy since day one. We were therefore excited to introduce our employees to the notion of ‘job crafting,’ which has been the subject of quite a bit of recent research. With academic partners at Yale and Wharton, we rolled out a controlled field experiment to test the effects of job crafting on career outcomes. In a workshop, we asked employees to think about their skills and what they like to do, deconstruct their current jobs into discrete tasks, and then we encouraged them to develop plans to maximize the fit between their motivations, skills, and job tasks.” Welle said.

As a result of this evaluation, both the employees themselves and their managers noted increased satisfaction and productivity 6 months following the workshop, relative to employees in a control condition. Moreover, their development plans led to more internal mobility, with nearly one-third of participants finding new opportunities within a year of the workshop. This exploration is a benefit, says Welle, “Careers are journeys with skill development and internal job mobility being critical steps along the way.”

Welle believes that as data become more accessible, analytics is embraced as a valued HR tool, and I-O psychologists given freer reign to experiment and explore, more and more companies will adopt this holistic view of talent management. “We are seeing more examples of companies and consulting firms collecting data from multiple points and sources, connecting them, and using advanced analyses to provide a total experience for employees,” Welle pointed out.

Although Google gathers a lot of data from employees, the company is sensitive to privacy issues. “We don’t want employees to feel we are infringing on their privacy,” Welle said.

“One of Google’s core values is transparency. We do research with our employees not on our employees,” he said. Opinion survey results are shared with all employees which helps develop trust and which may account for the high participation rate--90% response for opinion surveys, more than 85% response for the manager assessment survey.

For Welle, the payoff is using analytics that will help provide a pathway that will help provide a pathway that will keep Google’s workforce motivated and fulfilled.

Based upon Google’s Best Place to Work ranking, that approach seems to be paying huge dividends.

To hear more from Brian Welle and other leaders in the talent management field,
register to attend SIOP’s 9th Annual Leading Edge Consortium, “Building
Future Leaders: Innovations and Trends in Talent Management