Google is Looking for Answers in the Wrong Place

In a May 19th article in the WSJ, Scott Morrison wrote, Google Searches for Staffing Answers. The article is about the fact that Google has recently lost a number of top executives and other midlevel employees. Google’s approach to solving this problem is what you would expect, given the nature of their business. They are working on a mathematical formula to predict employees who are likely to quit.

I will be interested to know what Google plans to do when they find these people. No doubt there will be a lot of false positives, i.e., people who they identify as likely to quit, when in fact they have no intention of quitting.  But in any event, once they have a list, what will they do?  Will they give them a raise, a new benefit, a promotion or a new title? Any one of these actions will create more problems for the company than it will solve.

There is plenty of evidence that the number one reason employees quit is because of the way they are treated by their immediate supervisor. That being the case, it appears to me that Google is looking at the wrong people.  They need to come up with a formula that focuses on executives, managers and supervisors who lose employees and teach them how to create an environment where people want to be.

Apparently, there is a perception at Google that some employees are leaving because they feel they can’t have the same impact on the organization now as when the organization was newer and smaller. A larger, profitable organization ought to be designed to accelerate human performance—having many opportunities to increase individual impact as part of its growth strategy. Larger organizations have more human and material resources with which to make an impact. The more complete reason for leaving may be that the direct relationship between actions and impact is no longer clear at the individual level. Early start leaders may have been highly reinforced for novelty and bringing ideas to life—but now, their value lies in sustaining the entity. The excitement may appear to be ‘gone’. Lack of excitement in the workplace is not a function of what people do, it is a vital function of leadership and management.

Look at the difference in work at a start-up and an established company.  In the typical start-up company even the smallest accomplishment is known and celebrated by everyone involved. In a larger company, there are many significant accomplishments, but do they get the same reaction from the executive team, bosses, and fellow employees?  Typically not. In larger companies, do leaders and managers know as much about individual employee’s interests, desires and personal goals as in start-ups? Typically not. 

If they do, do the organization’s leaders and managers spend time figuring out how they can help employees fulfill their interests, desires and personal goals within the mission of the organization? Typically not. Do managers make sure that meaningful positive reinforcers are built into the work for each employee? Typically not.  Does the leadership work to tie corporate results to individual actions in meaningful ways? Typically not.

The most important part of creating a workplace that brings out the best in people is not about beautiful campuses and buildings filled with food and fun as Google has.  These things may be appreciated but are not the essence of a meaningful, satisfying job.  Time and again, people stay in a workplace that recognizes what they do in meaningful ways. Size or age of the organization is not the variable—but rate of reinforcement is.

Until managers and supervisors at Google focus on how to identify, deliver, and maintain meaningful individual positive reinforcers in the daily practices and conditions of work, I predict that the formula they are seeking will not solve their problem and the pursuit of it will end up being a waste of time and money.


Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.