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Creating an award winning culture at Google

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Google has topped the ‘Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For’ list for the past six years. Future Talent 2016 speaker and VP of international people operations, Yvonne Agyei, discusses the challenges and rewards of global management.

Google: How did it begin?

Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin began Google in 1995 after graduating from Stanford University; neither had prior work experience. They rented space in their friend, Susan Wojcicki’s garage, asking her to join the business in return. She’s now CEO of YouTube.

They appointed Eric Schmidt as CEO, to provide ‘adult supervision’, in 2001. Page now focuses on Google’s operating side while Brin works on the big ideas such as providing internet on hot air balloons, and self-driving cars – they have a futuristic vision and it’s inspirational. They attend the weekly company meetings too.

What’s your Google story?

I started in 2003 at Google’s Mountain View HQ in California, with sole responsibility for managing the university and outreach programmes. Google wasn’t well known other than being a ‘quirky search engine’, so I had to get out and develop relationships. I visited leading universities across the US and Europe.

Following this, I managed 200 people on Google benefits, delivering healthcare, pensions and other perks to employees. Today, I head the international people operations team from London, overseeing seven project managers based in five countries. We collaborate with the regional and local HR teams, focusing on peoplerelated issues in offices outside of Mountain View. This equates to 40% of the workforce outside the US.

What was it like heading this newly created team?

Running the graduate programme, I realised individual Google offices needed different support from their HR teams; hence setting up the international people operations team. My mission was to recruit internally, as we needed people who understood Google‘s different functions, culture and values. We received 120 applicants for seven positions. It launched on 1 June 2015 and so far it’s been brilliant. I feel fortunate to have been trusted to run with something new.

What challenges have you faced?

I have one employee in San Francisco, two in New York, two in Singapore, one in London and one in Zurich. We coordinate two e-meetings a week via Google Hangouts and meet face-to-face two to three times a year. This can be a challenge, but it’s rewarding to demonstrate how well we can work together across different offices and time zones.

Why invest in company culture?

It’s hard to pinpoint, as there’s no tangible result to measure against; but you know when you walk into an office with great energy. Our 3,000-strong Dublin office, the European HQ, is a great example. There are lots of young people who love being there, and they attract and retain people. If your people feel supported, they build their careers with you.

What is fundamental to developing trust and collaboration?

Minimise hierarchy, understand a fresh graduate can offer something amazing, as can a long-standing, experienced employee. As a leader, be open and transparent, share as much information as possible and trust people to share back. Give your employees a voice to air feedback in a positive environment, without retaliation. We have an ‘opendoor policy’ where employees can talk to anybody they want, no matter their seniority. Ensure each individual knows how they’re contributing to the business.

What are you working on now?

We’re rolling out focus groups in 10 countries to identify which offices have a ‘healthy culture’: the happiest people, high retention, people who work well together, trusted leadership. We’ll meet senior leaders in different functions, see what trends come up, and feed back findings to the HR teams.

Tips for building a great employer brand

• Understand your mission, grasp what your company is about.
• Figure out the roles you want people to play, then structure your recruitment strategy.
• Get your name out there, build relationships, tell people why they should work for you.
• Show candidates what your company does and what it feels like to work there: e.g. film videos of your employees.
• Minimise hierarchy, encourage open communication.
• Give employees a voice in a positive environment, without retaliation.

Sarah Clark

By Sarah Clark

Changeboard

Online features editor at Changeboard

Changeboard

Changeboard

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