Google Gets Gen Y

Dublin twilight

Some of the traits that “make Google unique” — risk, trust, openness —don’t cost money and can easily be applied by other companies, according to Helen Tynan, Director of People Operations at Google’s European HQ.

In her talk, Future Proof Your Workforce at the NCI’s Cornflakes & Commerce series, Tynan spoke of the attitudes and abilities brought to the workforce by the influx of Generation Y (those born since 1982). More adept with technology, more willing to change jobs and more questioning of authority, she said they “don’t remember a time when there wasn’t an internet.”

Google’s European HQ in Dublin is not like a typical Irish company, Tynan said. Among the 2,000 employees, 45 different languages are spoken in what is the biggest company campus outside the U.S. 2011 will be the biggest hiring year for them, she said. “There is no recession on the internet.”

The environment provided to employees is renowned and envied by many. There is free food and refreshment, TGIF at the end of the day every Friday, and a relaxed environment that includes games rooms and a gym.

Engineering staff, in particular, are encouraged to work independently under the company’s famous 20-percent system. “They can’t go stamp collecting or working on their hobbies,” Tynan joked. The project time must be tech related. But these side projects have yielded things like Gmail and other innovations.

But despite the surface differences, there are a number of principles that can be applied to other organizations, Tynan said.

Take A Risk

HR spends a lot of time writing policies trying to anticipate all eventualities and mandating behavior. Tynan gave the example of a call center (not Google’s) where one staff member spent a lot of time making international calls back home. When the manager saw the bill, all international calls were banned. Staff were upset and felt they were being punished, she said.

When Tynan started in Google, she noticed rooms with phones where staff could go to read or to make calls. She asked if the facility was abused. New hires from abroad, especially recent graduates, made more calls home after they were first hired, she was told. But those calls tapered off as they settled in. Tynan said she liked this system of trust. “Trust people and handle the exceptions rather than bring it down to the lowest common denominator,” she said.

Hire Amazing People

Finding the right person can have a huge impact on a team, and it is worth holding out until that person is found, Tynan said.

Ideas Come From Everywhere

No one at Google has a monopoly on good ideas, and ideas are not better just because they are uttered by management, Tynan said. This allows staff to be more creative, and encourages them even further with their work.

Open Is Better Than Closed

Google is very open with information and its plans, Tynan said. “The assumption is, if you work for Google, you can be trusted with this information,” she said. “It’s amazingly refreshing.”

It cuts down on rumor mongering and the company is also rewarded with employees’ trust since it is seen to treat them like adults, Tynan said. Again, the company assumes employees will not leak sensitive information and plans how to handle exceptions rather than shutting down the information flow, she said.

Values

Some times espoused company values “are just corporate speak,” Tynan said. Google tries to ensure it stays true to its values and that they resonate with Googlers. These include mottos such as, “Do the right thing,” and “You can be serious without a suit.”  Tynan said the company’s goal was “to hire very bright people. We just provide the infrastructure and get out of the way,” she said.

View of Dublin courtesy of Etrusia UK on Flickr.

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