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Learning & Talent Action Notes: Google's Culture in Times of Disruption - 10/15/20

This week’s Learning and Development action call hosted special guest Andre Martin, VP, People Development at Google. Martin was interviewed by i4cp CEO and co-founder Kevin Oakes. Here are some highlights from the call:

The value of user-generated content and peer-to-peer learning. A program at Google that has been particularly valuable this year has been their G2G initiative. Rather than have only L&D professionals create learning content, G2G involves 10,000+ Googlers in building learning content, coaching, facilitating, etc. The topics are broad and span any area of expertise, and include very timely topics such as first-time parents returning to the workplace. It also involves a heavy degree of curation of learning content, and the learning modalities range significantly as well. Martin noted that people only use a small part of their expertise / abilities in their role. So this gives them a way to showcase more of what they can offer. After all, there is a lot talent in house at Google, so this allows for greater and broader use of it. 

The increasing focus on an internal talent marketplace. As a growth company, Google always has an eye on acquisition, and this naturally impacts the view of talent and its availability. But once scale is reached, as it has been by now at Google, you realize just how much talent you have already in-house. This talent needs to be retained, it needs to be upskilled into adjacent areas, and enabled by an internal talent marketplace to promote talent mobility. Martin said that a key here to increase the overall level of self-awareness of each individual -- you are bigger than the current job you do. You need to lift your head up and ask key questions about your skills, your career path, and your plans and aspirations. It also means clarity is needed around problems the business is trying to solve, the skills needed to solve them, and who has them or could have them? 

The pandemic's impact on Google's talent and L&D content. As we've heard from many organizations, Martin said that COVID-19 has been an accelerant of trends/etc. that have been going on for a long time. What was lacking was a forcing element to force movement on goals they've long had -- e.g., making virtual training and events truly effective and engaging. During the spring of 2020, they were able to skip the need to convince leaders that it could work. The focus now is beyond the initial crisis, on what they can retain from this time going forward. For instance, the onboarding program at Google was long held to be something that could only provide value if conducted in-person at HQ or other big hubs. They obviously had to go completely virtual very quickly in the spring of 2020, and so had to let go of old habits to at least try things to see what works. And the results have been very surprisingly positive. 

Back to the traditional office… what are we learning? First, the traditional workplace is going to be inherently different. Martin said that for many there will be cognitive dissonance about the reality of what work will be like, that it could be more jarring than freeing, because there are a lot of restrictions, distance, reconfigurations, etc. He noted that L&D has a big role here to prepare people for these changes. Google is doing a lot of rethinking of the role and function of the traditional office. Focus needs to be on purpose and modes of work -- what is best done alone, in small groups, and in large groups? This will give options for people to work smarter, to work optimally, to improve productivity while being mindful and also improving the environment. L&D needs to provide a realistic job preview of what to expect at the new office place of the future. 

What are some increased areas of L&D focus at Google? Martin said it is less about the apparatus and more about the content and the timing. What is key is to get great content in the hands of people who need it, before and as they need it. They are building capability with high-fidelity digital learning, because even after some return to the office, it likely will never again be everyone. But they also need to be nimble, connected, and use nudges to really impact behavior change and combat the forgetting curve from formal training. Martin stressed that life is the best learning environment of all, and that they need to help people learn how to learn. We can all agree there has been plenty of learning as we've lived life in 2020. 

In addition to this recording, please see the i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center for new research and next practices to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.

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