Becoming the ‘Best Company to Work For’

The practice of Human Resource Management in Africa has evolved a great deal, but even with the recent developments it has a long journey ahead in trying to keep up with the rest of the world. We still have managers who do not recognise, utilise or appreciate the value-creation role HR plays. It is a challenge even for some of the country’s biggest firms who are having problems acquiring and keeping talent because of lack of proper HR strategies.

The Founder and Chief Executive of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, says “Don’t take employees for granted. If you don’t value your team, they won’t value your customers.”
Remember also Stephen Covey, “Always treat your employees as you want them to treat your customers.”

So clearly, people as a talent resource serve a big impact on the business bottomline. Sadly, most firms don’t allocate appropriate resources to brand their companies and create compelling employee experiences in & out of the office. Well, compelling enough for millenials and Gen Z.

But a study into one of the world’s biggest firms proves that even big companies can and should adopt the best HR practices because they are now more than ever struggling to beat the war for talent as a new generation, millennials and Gen Z, take over 50% of the jobs today and 75% by 2025. A generation that brings with it a new perspective of the workplace and expectations from employers. For more on this and more 2017 recruiting trends, check out

One of Google’s Offices

Google has been named the best company to work for by respected publications Fortune and Forbes magazines for several years in a row now. Google is big in terms of all references possible. From the number of employees, profit and customer base to the range of products and services offered. Here are some of the lessons HR Leaders can learn from one of the largest(and best!) employers in the world:

There is something to a name: Do the titles we give our staff offer any form of motivation in any way? Google calls its HR department People Operations (POPS). The managers have titles such as Director of Staffing and Vice President of People Operations. Around the late ’80s when “Personnel” was replaced by “Human Resources”, it was noticeable the way people were no longer viewed in a personal way, instead simply as a faceless human resource to be used and consumed. I believe the names we use greatly affect the motivation levels of people and kudos to those companies in Kenya who have shifted from the term Human Resources and other less inspiring job titles.

Going all the way: Google monitors its employees’ wellbeing to a degree that can seem absurd to those who do not work for the company. Google uses what they call a happiness machine. They conduct a lengthy annual survey of employees by the ‘Googlegeist’. The People Operations department functions more like a rigorous science lab than the pesky hall monitor most of us picture when we think of HR. At the heart of POPS is a sophisticated employee-data tracking programme, an effort to gain empirical certainty about every aspect of Google’s workers’ lives — not just the right level of pay and benefits but also such trivial-sounding details as the optimal size and shape of the cafeteria tables and the length of the lunch lines.

In the past couple of years, Google has even hired social scientists to study the organisation. The scientists — part of a group known as the PiLab, short for People and Innovation Lab — run dozens of experiments on employees in an effort to answer questions about the best way to manage a large firm. How often should you remind people to contribute to their retirement savings, and what tone should you use? Do successful middle managers have certain skills in common — and can you teach those skills to unsuccessful managers? Or, for that matter, do managers even matter — can you organise a company without them? And, say you want to give someone a raise — how should you do it in a way that maximises his happiness? Should you give him a cash bonus? Stock? A raise? More time off?

Data Driven HR: As Deloitte pointed out in it’s recent Global Human Capital Trends Report, “ Data about people at work has become more important than ever, but the focus of people analytics has changed. Formerly a technical discipline owned by data specialists, people analytics is now a business discipline, supporting everything from operations and management to talent acquisition and financial performance. Readiness to capitalize on people analytics remains a challenge, however. Only 8 percent of organizations report they have usable data, while only 9 percent believe they have a good understanding of the talent factors that drive performance.”

Whatever can be measured can be improved. And as one of Facebook’s mantras goes, “Data settles all arguments.” As we mentioned in our earlier article, sadly most decisions made by HR are intuitive and not driven by any logic sometimes. This is what is pushing the need for Ai and data science in HR processes as business leaders continue demanding accountability and better metrics. This is also why we created Jobonics to start with Ai in recruitment to help companies track their hiring efforts and make better decisions backed by data this time.

By treating HR as an engineering function and applying analytic principles to every action and result, Google is able to clearly explain every decision and outcome made in the company and thus, improve.

It all boils down to the rewards: Excellence thrives where it is recognised. New mothers would get five months off at full pay and full benefits, and they were allowed to split up that time however they wished, including taking some of that time off just before their due date. Google’s lavish maternity and paternity leave plans probably do not surprise you.

At times Google’s largesse can sound excessive — noble but wasteful from a bottom-line perspective. Forbes disclosed one previously unannounced Google perk — when an employee dies, the company pays his spouse or domestic partner half of his salary for a decade.

Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that Google doles out such perks just to be nice. POPS rigorously monitors a slew of data about how employees respond to benefits, and it rarely throws money away. The five-month maternity leave plan, for instance, was a winner for the company. After it went into place, Google’s attrition rate for new mothers dropped down to the average rate for the rest of the firm. Most of its workers are engineers, the kind of people who demand data to get them to change their ways. The people analytics department tries to show that even the small caricatures actually make a difference in their lives.

Some of Google’s HR lessons will not apply to all companies but the focus is how much we can learn and apply in Kenya.

Research shows that an upbeat work culture correlates closely with financial performance. The study defines a “great workplace” as one where employees trust the people they work for, have pride in work they do and enjoy the company of people they work with. Since the participating companies tend to be those motivated by a desire to improve and excel on this HR parameter, it would come as no surprise that 73 per cent of the employees had positive perceptions about their workplaces. Friendliness, non-discrimination, pride and trust in management’s competence were found to be the strengths of these organisations.

Millenials are demanding more from employers.

On the other hand, perceptions about favouritism by managers, politicking, inequitable distribution of profits, lack of unique benefits and absence of collaboration in decision making were found to be some of the leading areas for improvement for organisations.

In conclusion, I think it is time that those actually in charge of people in the organisation start focusing on people as an integral asset to the company. In time, Google’s findings — which it often shares with other HR professionals — may improve all our jobs.

“You spend more time working than doing anything else,” says Google’s head of People Operations, Lazlo Bock. “If you work eight or 10 hours a day, it’s more time than you spend sleeping, more time than you spend with your spouse. When you add it up it gets really depressing. You like your job, but for all time it should be — and it could be — something more. So why isn’t it?”

As Jack Welch, chief executive of General Electric summarises so well, “If you pick the right people and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them.”

All the best in the new year!

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