Talent Retention T-day - What could Google's 20% do for your business?


Google Reader. Google Docs.  Gmail.  If you're on the web much, I'll bet you've used at least one of these products, if not more.  And not a single one of them was in Google's business plan to begin with.

That's right.  Everyone of these products came out of a division of Google called GOOGLE LABS. One of the most drooled over Google perks, at least in my group of friends, is their 20% policy.  It's not about bonuses, or productivity rankings, and it has nothing to do with occupancy.  Google's 20% perk states that an employee is allowed to dedicate 20% of their week,that's a whole day, to a project of their choice.  It doesn't have to be affiliated with their department or even with their direct job at Google, ie- if you're in the department that handles marketing Gmail, but you have an idea for a new service unrelated to Gmail, you get one day a week to work on it. Through this program, Google has gained a huge market share in innovations.  In fact, it is often rumored that every non search related tool, software or program that Google has came out of the 20% lot.

I'll be honest; I'm what is known as a "high-maintenance" employee.  I usually think I'm right, I defy authority as often as I can, and the minute I get an idea in my head I want to execute it.  (This is why I work for myself.  Defying my own authority gives me a fun little complex.)  As an employee, I'm both a boss's dream and nightmare.  If I'm not engaged, I don't produce, but when I'm engaged, boy howdy, I can move mountains.  I had a very smart manager once who unofficially employed the 20% rule with me, and the quality of my work doubled for him.  I had to learn what he wanted me to, which was often many of the not fun things that I still use to this day,  but I was also allowed to create and was given massive latitude on new projects as long as my existing work was getting done.  He got probably twice as much work out of me than he would have if he hadn't given me the support to try other projects that engaged me, and he wouldn't have gotten the boost in his resident retention numbers.  On top of that, he got new ideas and fervent creative energy coursing through his office, infecting the rest of his staff.  I've also had other managers who employed the, "Yes, but..." concept in every idea I put forth,  doing everything they could to block that energy.  Unharnessed, it's a scary thing, but if they had let me focus it in, or given me a reason to, they too would have found the gift.  The minute I feel an energy blockage, I stop producing.  I stop producing and then I get bored.  And folks, when I get bored, I mentally start checking out and packing my bags to leave whether I realize it on the surface or not.

I'm not alone here - Kay and Jordan-Evans's on going study of over 13,000 American workers found that less than half of employees out there feel their organization has earned their loyalty, and younger workers are expected, and are expecting, to have more than 9 jobs by the time they're 32.  9 jobs.  (I had 4 jobs on my resume and my dad was convinced it was a hazard to my employment chances back in the day.  So much for that!)  On top of that, their study found that we've had a shift in expectations as employees and how long we're willing to put up with not having them met.  "If their work isn't challenging, meaningful and focused on growth and development, they won't stay."  And according to the Saratoga Institute, who conducted 60,000 exit interviews with employees over the last 20 years, 80% of employee turn over is directly related to having an unsatisfactory relationship with a boss. 

As managers, this tells us that if we don't give employees a chance to grow, then WE become the reason that they leave.  While a lot of managers I know are happy to try a new idea, just asmany are as likely to shut it down at the doorstep.  It's easy to do things the way we've always done them, and that makes it just as easy to plan employee productivity and to know what to expect out of employee and when to expect it. This is one of the reasons that I love Google's 20% rule.  Not only do they employ the smartest people, but they're able to keep them engaged and producing because they don't put a road block in front of them.  Then, they get the products of these insanely brilliant people (who again, are working for them because they're letting them enjoy what they're working on) and turn around and make BILLIONS of dollars off of these ideas and products.  It's Genius!

Now, I know what you're thinking, because any good onsite manger would think it: "Heather, I'm not giving my people a whole day a week to daydream."  Fair enough.  Give them half a day.  4 hours out of 40.  Most employees spend at least that much time not working each week anyway.    At least this way, you'll get some new ideas, new projects and you might keep them interested enough to actually DO the filing.  Getting a chance to work on what you love is the ultimate carrot for a lot of people.  I learned to read accounting ledgers and to research numbers in AMSI just to get that carrot, and at that time I hated numbers.  Even Robert Shapiro has said that fresh out of law school, he chose his first law firm because they would let him litigate the pro-bono court cases he wanted to with part of his time.  That was the big benifit he wanted.  Besides, as a manager, if you're running the one site in the portfolio that's got high employee retention and all kinds of new ideas spinning out of it... well it goes without saying that you'll look DANG GOOD, and all you will have done is loosen the reins just a little.

Implementation of a program like this on your site could be very simple.  I'd suggest having a staff meeting and asking each staff member to come with a list of 3 to 5 projects or ideas they have to make either the property better or to make it run more efficiently.  With your staff, go over each idea and decide from the bunch which are viable and which need more development.  From that widdling down, let the staff members choose their own monthly special projects.  If it's a team project, that's great as well.  Some projects won't need a month to complete, so it's up to you as a manager to get updates on your team's progress, and if they finish early, then help them find a new short project to do.  You don't need to schedule the project work time, all though you certainly can.  I found that it was nice to have the freedom to work on the projects when things were slow in the office, which wasn't always entirely predictable.

Try it for a financial quarter and see if it doesn't improve the morale, productivity and loyalty of your staff.  Does anyone currently have a program like this that they use on site?  I'd love to hear what you've seen as far as results go!

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