A case study approach is used in analyzing the sustainability of effective staff training and development in the workplace. Google Inc was chosen as the case study subject because the company had been twice voted as ‘Best Company to Work for in America’ in the years 2007 and 2008 (Great Place to Work 2010).
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1.1. Background of the Organization
In January 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google as a research project for their PhD studies at Stanford University (Google Milestones 2013). At that time, conventional search engines ranked search results by counting the number of search terms on the web page. Page and Brin introduced a search engine with a better mechanism that was based on the analysis of relationships between websites (Page et al 1999). They named the new search engine BackRub. This research project became the foundation of Google Inc. By September 1998, Google was incorporated as a privately-held company.
In June 2000, Google was recognized as the world’s largest search engine. By 2002, Google earned several awards including Best Search Feature and Best Design awards. The company gained success by continuously enhancing its products and services. The company also launched a free email account, called Gmail (Google Milestones 2013).
On August 19, 2004 the company has its initial public offering (IPO). The IPO earned Google USD $1.67 billion, which gave the company a total market capitalization of USD $23 billion (Elgin, 2004).
Google has achieved great success in growing its internet-related products and services. In line with this, it has acquired several small entrepreneurial ventures like Keyhole Inc, YouTube, Double Click, Grand Central, Aardvark and On2 Technologies (Google Milestones 2013). In recent years, Google has become a significant player in the telecom industry with its development of the Android mobile system. The company is also increasing its hardware business through its partnerships with major electronics manufacturers.
1.2. Corporate Mission and Organizational Culture
Google Inc has promoted its corporate mission of ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’ The company seeks to empower individuals by providing its customers with the right products and/or services at the right time and by encouraging its employees to be innovative and productive. The company’s human resource policies are vertically integrated with this vision.
Despite its success, Denning (2011) criticizes Google’s corporate mission. Denning contends that Google’s mission does not truly reflect its core business. The company’s mission statement, which focuses on organizing the world’s information, describes the workings of a library instead of a web-based search engine. Denning cites the failures of Google Health and Google Power Meter, which were tools constructed from a library mindset and were designed to help people assemble information about their health and energy use respectively. Adhering to Google’s mission statement caused these business ventures to fail. However, supporters of Google believe that its mission statement has paved the way for the creation of innovative products and services.
Google is fundamentally built upon a culture of openness and sharing of ideas and opinions. This is primarily influenced by the company’s beginnings as an internet startup company. In line with this principle, the company has encouraged its employees to ask questions directly to top executives about various company issues (Google 2013). Google is a dynamic company wherein everyone’s ideas are respected and heard.
In a comparative analysis of Google vis-a-vis other information technology companies, it was observed that Google has a more employee-friendly working environment. The company also provides flexibility both in terms of working hours and work place in order to foster creativity and the flow of ideas (Business Teacher 2011).
Google’s organizational culture is built upon intrapreneurship. Employees are encouraged to be proactive, self-motivated and action-oriented, with the goal of developing new and innovative products or services They are motivated through the challenge of creating something new rather than waiting for their managers to provide them with next deadline or a prescribed project proposal. The vision of Google is to sustain the same level of devotion and enthusiasm among its employees as Larry Page and Sergey Brin themselves had when they were conceptualizing Google at Stanford University (Hammond 2004).
Google is also well-known for its attractive compensation packages, various on-the-job perks, and luxurious offices. These have been credited as motivating factors that encourage Google’s employees to be dedicated and hardworking. The company also utilizes training and development to maximize employees’ creative potential.
1.3.Human Resources as a Strategic Partner for Business
Google’s human resource development policies help the company to align its workforce with its vision. The company promotes its human resource department as a strategic partner of employees. Google values innovativeness and creativity in its employees. Innovation is very important for the long-term success and future growth of the company. To achieve this, the company encourages new ideas from employees and provides rewards/incentives to motivate them (Forster 2005). Furthermore, the company makes an effort to create a workplace with an atmosphere that is conducive to fostering creativity, imagination, and innovativeness.
The human resource department of an organization has the responsibility of keeping its work force motivated and helping the company to meets its targets. An important strategy in helping to achieve these goals is through the continuous provision of training and development in the work place. In line with this, the human resource department must ensure that resources allocated to the development and training of employees does not affect market dynamics in a negative manner. Human resource managers have to act as service providers to the organization’s workforce by rendering the employees as internal customers (Gupta 2005). Adhering with this line of thinking, Google’s work places provide various amenities to enable them to create and innovate.
At Google, the process of employee development starts from recruitment. As such, it is important for the company to hire the right talent that fits comfortably within Google’s organizational setting. Google prioritizes hiring employees who are willing to work as team players, with an attitude of looking for new solutions, and are capable of leading small creative projects (Horn 2011). Google hires employees who are willing to continuously train and develop themselves both as individuals and as part of larger groups within the company. As an organization, Google can shift the burden of learning to employees because it focuses on hiring individuals who already demonstrate a passion for self-directed learning (Sullivan 2011).
1.4.Training and Development
After hiring the right talent, the company, led by the human resource department, has the responsibility of enhancing and sustaining its talent pool through further training and development. Similar to other information technology companies, Google has one of the youngest work forces with a median age of 27 years (Great Place to Work Institute Inc. 2008). Sustaining such a young work force can be challenging as this age group is usually characterized by a quick change of associations. Google sustains its young work force by providing ample opportunities for learning and development.
Professional development opportunities at Google include trainings for individual and team presentation skills, business writing, content development, delivering feedback, executive speaking, management and leadership. Google also sponsors free foreign language classes (i.e. French, Spanish, Japanese, and Mandarin) for all its employees. Every young product manager is also assigned with career and management coaches/mentors, who teach them various skills and encourage them to establish their own start-up venture. Such mentoring and coaching is believed to have engendered a lot of loyalty among employees (Walker, 2012).
Google also pays particular attention to its engineers by providing them with unique development opportunities. For instance, ‘EngEDU’ is a highly specialized training and development program in which Google engineers conduct internal trainings to other engineers within the company. Additionally, the company has several leadership programs aimed at developing the company’s future leaders.
Google is able sustain its highly talented workforce through its training and development program called ‘GoogleEDU.’ This initiative is aimed at formalizing learning for managers and executives. It relies on data analytics to understand what kind of training is needed by employees. It uses employee reviews of managers in suggesting the right courses for managers. All these training and development efforts are made to sustain the company’s talented workforce, especially in the face of stiff competition from other internet and social media companies.
A 2008 survey conducted by ’Great place to Work‘ revealed that more than 90% of the company’s employees mention that they were provided with adequate training and development to enhance their potential. Moreover, 97% of employees believe that they were provided with all the essential resources to perform their jobs. Google provides its employees a minimum of 120 hours of training and development each year. This figure is almost thrice as much as the IT industry average in North America (Great Place to Work Institute Inc. 2008).
1.5. Google Inc: A Learning Organization
A learning organization is one that seeks to create its own future; that assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members; and one that develops, adapts, and transforms itself in response to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself (Navran Associates Newsletter 1993, p.1).
An important characteristic of learning organizations is that they do not strictly dictate their employees’ functions. Employees are instead provided with adequate flexibility to pursue their interest based on the premise that they are strategically aligned with the organization’s goals. By doing this, employees play an active role in shaping the organization rather than passively following prescribed routines. Employees are encouraged to express ideas and challenge themselves with new targets, which consequently contribute towards an improved work environment. Such active employee participation is a paradigm shift from the traditional authoritarian management, which was deemed less potent at harnessing greater human potential. Learning organizations can ‘create the results they truly desire and where they can learn to learn together for the betterment of the whole’ (Rheem 1995, p.10).
Through its strong commitment towards learning and development, Google has thrived as a learning organization, which provides its employees with a work environment based on openness and creative thinking. As a learning organization, Google embraces the idea that the solutions to the challenges and ongoing business problems reside within its employees. Google taps into the creative base of its workforce by giving them the ‘ability to think critically and creatively, the ability to communicate ideas and concepts, and the ability to cooperate with other human beings in the process of inquiry and action’ (Navran Associates Newsletter 1993, p.1).
Google’s management and leadership style is critical in enforcing such a learning organizational culture. Google values the common wisdom of its employees and considers freedom, flexibility and information sharing as vital for organizational learning and bringing out the best ideas to the table. The company’s former CEO and current Chairperson, Eric Schmidt, mentions that ‘in traditional companies, the big offices, the corner offices, the regal bathrooms, and everybody dressed up in suits cause people to be afraid to speak out. But the best ideas typically don’t come from executives’ (Manyika, 2008).
Google encourages learning and development at all levels of the organization. It follows the ‘70-20-10’ rule, wherein its employees spent 70% of their working hours on core business activities; 20% on assignments related to the core business activities; and 10% on projects that are not directly related to Google’s core business activities. Schmidt himself followed this policy during his tenure as CEO by spending his time in the prescribed manner in three different rooms (Battelle, 2005). This strategy is based on the company’s view that managerial oversight is counter-productive for exploratory research and that ‘new ideas emerge with freedom from thinking about obligations’ (Manyika 2008).
Likewise, Google encourages its core engineers to spend 20% of their time pursuing new projects that interest them in the absence of any formal regular duties. This is referred to as ‘Innovation Time Off’ (Battelle 2005). This strategy proved to be very productive as more than half of new product launches originated from this scheme (Mayer 2012). Furthermore, in its efforts to boost learning and development, Google adheres to a very flat organizational hierarchy, where employees do not obey managers just because of their titles without having them make a convincing case (Walker 2012).
Google’s approach towards fostering a learning and development environment is unique because it not only encourages ambitious ideas but also supports them by limiting bureaucracy and approving viable ideas of employees within days rather than months (Sullivan 2011). Employees at Google enjoy a very informal organizational culture and have access to several on-site amenities such as gyms, massages, pool, volley ball courts, and ping-pong tables, as well as stocked snack rooms and other recreational amenities (Google Culture 2013).
The learning and development efforts of Google and its overall human resource practices have yielded impressive results for the company. One of the most remarkable of these results is in terms of employee productivity. The mean revenue of each Google employee per year is estimated at more than USD$1 million. Google’s productivity metric is an efficient indicator of how the organization leverages its employees (Sullivan 2011).
Hout (1999, p.161) contends that ‘the invisible hand of the marketplace should displace the visible hand of the manager. The markets can determine where one team or initiative or company ends and another begins. Managers interfere at their peril.’ This signifies the importance of a talented, learned and flexible workforce. It is only through commitment to effective development and training that an organization can tap the collective wisdom of its executives and all of its employees in order to yield bright ideas and solutions that can be translated into the company’s success. Moreover, providing proper training and development can help to keep employees motivated and enthusiastic about their work.
Google is a good example of a company that is able to sustain its highly talented work force through its open organizational culture and effective training and development policies (Carlson, 2009). Google’s organizational culture, which has its roots from the internet start-up business model, encourages direct communication between employees and company executives. Google fosters an informal, friendly atmosphere among its employees. The company’s founders promote independent learning and encourage its employees to challenge conventional wisdom. Moreover, its offices are designed to cultivate creativity, innovativeness and imagination (Walker 2012a; Anurag 2009).
Over the years, Google has continuously enhanced its employee training and development programs. These programs are aimed at improving employees’ skills and to help them achieve better work performance. One of the company’s most recent initiatives is GoogleEDU, which is a way of determining what training programs are needed by employees based on data analytics and other statistical measures (Walker 2012b).
In 2011, Google provided classes to a third of its global work force and offered 186 different classes, ranging from presentation skills to marketing and advanced negotiations. The company regularly retools its classes to ensure that employees get the right training. In an effort to make its training and development courses more effective, Google has also offered specific classes based on an employee’s work area and career stage. The company also promotes knowledge sharing among its employees through its coaching and mentoring programs. Moreover, it provides in-house training provided by some of its employees (Walker 2012a). Google also hires external experts for its training programs.
Google uses innovative human resource approaches in achieving its goals. It decentralizes the training, development and learning effort and eschews traditional training methods. The company provides the necessary tools for development but places the responsibility of learning to its employees. In this regard, it hires individuals who demonstrate the ability for self-directed learning (Sullivan 2007).
Google allocates as much as 30% of an employee’s time for learning. Based on a 70-20-10 time allocation model, 10% of work time is allocated for ‘innovation, creativity, and freedom to think; while 20% is for personal development that will ultimately benefit the company’ (Sullivan 2007, p.1).
Google is able to sustain effective staff training and development in the work place through the support of top management combined with the efforts of the human resource department. The company’s open organizational culture allows for the integration of the company’s business goals with human resource practices. Moreover, Google prioritizes the well-being of its employees through the implementation of various training and learning programs, the provision of highly attractive compensation packages, and offering of various on-the-job perks because the company believes that its success is due to its people. Google recognizes that having great employees contribute significantly to the company’s success. Thus, it ensures that its training and development programs are sustainable and effective (Cope 2012).
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