Google’s 5 tools to lure and retain the best

Stock options and stocked kitchens aren’t the only reason employee turnover is so low at Google. While the online giant is legendary for its financial and “comfort” perks, you need to look beyond these to see its real retention tools.

Shannon Deegan, Google’s director of People Operations, explained some of these at last month’s Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference in San Diego:

1. Autonomy. All Google employees are told to use 20% of their work time to pursue whatever project interests them, apart from their day-to-day duties. “That’s one day a week that employees can go off and do their own thing,” Deegan said.

2. Creativity. Google workers are encouraged to post their random suggestions for new products, product improvements and anything else on the “Idea Wiki,” an interactive, collaborative in-house message board. Employees then vote on the ideas they think the company should pursue. Employees can then choose to use their “20% time” on this new idea, which was generated from and chosen by rank-and-file employees.

3. Collaboration. Free food, pool tables and beanbag chairs also serve a business goal. “We believe in driving people to have conversations,” said Deegan, whether that’s through chatting with a colleague at lunch, during a game of pool or online.

Interview Bootcamp D

4. Feedback loops. “We spend a lot of time talking to employees … and employees are always feeding us back information,” Deegan said.

The company takes the pulse of employees with an annual Googlegeist survey, which means “the spirit of Google.” The goal: Improve retention and find out “whether we are creating an environment that drives change.”

The results are tabulated based on department and overall. The company then creates employee committees to review the results and create “fix-it” plans to address employee concerns. The company makes a point to tell employees about the changes made in response to their suggestions.

5. Transparency. Every Friday, the company hosts an all-hands staff meeting/happy hour in which anyone (even employees across the globe) can ask questions of the CEO and challenge decisions and assumptions.

Deegan said the company is also open about pushing employees to take risks. But it realizes that many risks won’t pan out. “We celebrate employees’ success, but we celebrate their failures, too,” he said.

Google HR: All business

Google doesn’t keep its HR people in HR silos. It makes sure they’re a core part of business strategy. That’s why only one-third of HR employees at Google have an HR education or background. The company moves business people into HR and vice versa. “Business strategy and HR strategy need to be the same thing,” Deegan said.