Alice Breeden – Director People Operations Google.

Alice has been with Google a year – she said there was so much she could talk about.  She offered us a taster of some of the HR programmes, a taste of the culture, how Google expect change to happen and what it is to be successful there.

Alice asked – “What do people think of when thinking of Google – skateboard, flip-flops?”  And she told us – that is what it’s like. In Alice’s office – they have slides, bring your dog to work, children to work.  It’s not just in California.

The leadership decided it would be good if every “googler” was never 100ft away from food on the basis that people’s wellbeing improves when they are well fed,  People think better – and it creates more space and opportunity for informal conversations whilst people are getting and eating their food. Alice sees a lot of studies on how this has improved productivity.

Data is used to help decide where to put the food.  Recent efforts to drive water consumption to make people healthier were based on data – and includes simple things.  Put the drinks at eye level, and sugary drinks at low levels. Crisps are behind door not easily opened, but fruit right in front of you. Optimal plate size – a small but nutritious lunch. Looks fun but is research based. ”We’re a research and engineering company. Research pervades everything”.

All people decisions at Google are based on data and analytics.

They have looked at everything people management through their analytics lense; PM, Recruitment, Promotions – every single bit of the people machine. They had an aspiration to see how many decisions we could take out the human element of getting it wrong.

There are three areas that Alice shared their thinking about – Efficiency, effectiveness and overall experience.

Efficiency Promotions are really important.

”We hire driven people – our culture is transparency, democracy – people want to be promoted”. They wanted to know more about why someone is promotable.
How it works; people self-nominate, their nomination is reviewed by their manager, it cascades up and a packet of information is created. They take over a hotel twice a year and every manager is involved in the whole process. They spend an enormous amount of time and money on this.  Alice explained how they used analytics:

“We created an algorithm and looked at 30% of promotion cases and found 90% accuracy. Tech guys trust data, love it! But – even for them; we don’t want to do this. Very helpful but we are not go to shifting to an algorithm”.  Doing the data analysis enabled google to see what drives the decision that predicts the success. They gained insights to a couple of predictors about what will get people promoted that weren’t understood before. They have improved the amount of time and effort – reduced the time by 30% and created associated cost savings.  However – all were agreed;  People should make decisions about people. Not an algorithm.

Organisational effectiveness. “The quality of the manager I work with defines everything.”

“We asked – what if everyone could have the best manager in the world? What if we worked out what is excellent management and lifted everyone to that level. What could that do for productivity? What makes for an excellent manager at Google?”.  Their findings:

• Be a good coach empower the team and do not micromanage
• Express interest concern for team members’ success and personal wellbeing
• Be very productive, result oriented
• Be a good communicator, listen and share information
• Help team with career development
• Have a clear vision strategy for the team
• Have important e=technical skills that help advice the team

They drew together academic research, asked and collected data about what the managers do to drive revenue, what are they doing in teams to resolve tech issues.

Distilled the qualities, and gathered all HR people together, and talked about what are the things that will get our managers to be exhibiting those behaviours. Manager feedback survey tailored, option to publish your own result. Be transparent, share your feedback. This project has been very successful; it’s our own data, it’s what makes us successful managers at google.

Experience Driving a better experience at work.

Google have a huge goal to ”make work a better place”. Getting information to everyone, everything accessible to everyone.

“In our HR world, we are trying to make work a better place at google and – more broadly. We have a few things in place. gDNA – the first ever longitudinal study of ”googlers “at work. What people enjoy, we use personality profiles, how people feel….

One finding has been about gratitude – those people feeling gratitude are more productive and have a more positive experience of work. Aspiration is to take a longitudinal study over decades. Economic output – underpinning idea is that people are more productive. Impact – “how I think about work” – individual stories to think about life and my work. We launched a site –“making a work a better place”.  We have started to open source our HR policies – a big push on unconscious bias – workshop modules are available. Great managers’ work is on there – the idea is “here’s some stuff we’ve researched, we’ve learned, you can use in your organisation”. A transparency.

People make decisions based on analytics.”


Q Does google have a PM system and how does it operate
A Six monthly PM cycle, buckets where were people are rated, it’s all on line, you seek feedback from anyone you like, including key clients, go through calibrations, through the org, and drive pay for performance, bonus,.
Q Diversity – there’s data and statistics around how diverse teams perform better. It seems like some of the most successful companies don’t completely embrace diversity. How does it work? (Eg if people don’t want to speak up – are reflectors)
A We do have people who don’t want to speak up; we do try and hire a diverse population; we can do more. Work with our managers to ensure that people are included.
Q What are you doing to build capability?
A In hiring, training, coaching for business results, embedded – becoming a new manager, bit part of expectation, also part of PM system. Stories of success are shared.