Ah, to have the resources of a behemoth like Google. Their famed People Innovation Lab is a prime example of something every company that cares about retention, productivity, happiness or any work issue would kill to have.

One of the crown jewels of the Lab is gDNA, Google's longitudinal study on work and life, started in 2014 with the intent to go 100 years strong. It's a study inspired by the 71-Year Framingham Heart Study that seeks to put scientific certainty around how to build great work environments, foster peak performing teams, and maximize happiness and productivity.

Some of the first findings from the research illuminate its potential. Former head of People Operations for Google, Laszlo Bock, told Harvard Business Review in 2014 that only 31 percent of Googlers are able to break from the constant blurring of work and personal lives, making it difficult for them to "disconnect." Bock called these people "Segmentors" and said the other 69 percent (called "Integrators") desperately want to be more like the Segmentors -- able to unplug each night. It's not hard to imagine the benefits to follow from this work.

The gDNA study itself is like an employee survey on steroids. A random sample of the massive Google population fills out in-depth surveys each year that contain scientifically validated questions and measurement scales. Questions are asked about static traits like personality and about traits that change over time like attitudes about culture, work projects, and co-workers. The science and math gets heavy when they then take into account how Googlers fit into the web of relationships all around them and how all the factors studied interact.

Sounds intense, no?

Luckily, Google is a benevolent group also skilled at simplifying things. Bock says you can create your own People Innovation Lab and things like the gDNA study, with dramatically less resources. Want to understand something specific about work (and life) at your company and move it from hunch to fact? Bock says follow these four steps:

1. Define your most pressing people problem.

The definition should include input from employees. It might be retention, efficiency, engagement, etc. I learned in my time in advertising that a crisp problem definition is the first step towards creating positive change. Your output is only as sharp as your input here.

2. Survey employees about how they think they're doing on those most pressing issues, and what they would do to improve.

Be as thoughtful with the questions as you'd like the answers to be. Make every question count and ask questions especially for things you're worried may reveal serious warts.

You're asking your people to take time away from their jobs to fill out the surveys; make it worth their time. The nature of the questions should indicate to the employees that you want the truth and are ready to take action to get better.

3. Openly and honestly share what's been learned.

This is where so many companies fall down. They conduct a big survey, encouraging employees to participate. Then, nothing. No one hears about the survey again. Not just that they don't see action taken from the survey, it's like the survey never happened.

I've seen the output of such studies get held up at the leadership team level because that team doesn't want the results circulating further (often because they don't reflect well on that team). This is absolute poison. Employees will know when a survey is buried and will be far less likely to openly and honestly participate in any such future efforts.

4. Visibly take action on the results.

Run experiments. Implement change and explain why you're making the change, being certain to link the change to what the study revealed. It's one thing to share the results, but employees will still feel their efforts were in vain if they don't see specific action coming out of it.

Not everyone has the wherewithal to advance people science like Google can. But creating your own learning lab can be as simple as caring enough to start one and being smart enough to keep it simple.

Published on: Jun 19, 2019
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