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Fun and creativity: Training the Google way

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Google_trainingTraining at Google is far from conventional a Googler2Googler peer-to-peer programme can involve anything from salsa dancing to presentation tips. Annie Hayes spoke to Stephan Thoma, Google learning and development Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) on what it is to train the Google way.







Google is the number one search engine in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Australia. It is a vast organisation employing some 19,604 full-time employees across the globe and was recently recognised for its excellence in people management.

Microsoft and Google topped the list for this year's best places to work in Europe list compiled by the Great Place to Work Institute and published by the Financial Times, with Google also being named the best workplace in the UK.

Developing staff and creating a culture of innovation are at the centre of much of this success.

Training techniques

"We have an environment that is very supportive of informal learning - people are keen to share knowledge and we facilitate our Googlers in doing that."

Stephan Thoma, Google's Learning and Development EMEA

Google staff are trained through a variety of channels, both top down and bottom up.

Thoma says: "We have an environment that is very supportive of informal learning - people are keen to share knowledge and we facilitate our Googlers in doing that."

The Googler2Googler scheme allows people to teach and educate others on their areas of interest or expertise. "In addition we have regular tech talks aimed towards software engineers and a regular series of external speakers who come and talk on a variety of topics," explains Thoma.

Of course there is a liberal smattering of conventional workshops, courses and modular programmes too and the company is further developing technology enabled approaches to learning and education. Whilst the training is 'fun' and relaxed Thoma says that Googlers are encouraged to take their personal development seriously, as are the managers who are responsible for coaching their staff.

Spotting and nurturing talent

Google is a bedrock for new ideas and it survives on its latest innovation. Key to its success therefore is creating an environment in which staff are supported and given the space to play around with latest thinking. Thoma says: "At Google people are encouraged to take on projects and lead with ideas and initiatives they have - ideas come from all over the company at all levels and are core to our innovation and creativity." It is this very exchange of ideas that Google thrives upon. Through this it has created a strong yet adaptive culture that provides employees with access to incredible people across job titles and positions.

"We recognise that people are more productive when they are working on projects that really excite them. Therefore, engineers at Google are given a lot of flexibility in choosing which projects they join."

"We recognise that people are more productive when they are working on projects that really excite them. Therefore, engineers at Google are given a lot of flexibility in choosing which projects they join. In addition to having input on their main work focus at Google, engineers are also encouraged (but not required) to pursue any other Google-related interest for up to 20% of their normal working hours - whether that be researching a better parking plan or creating a new programming language," continues Thoma.

Creativity and innovation in training

Creativity and innovation are core to what Google does, so it's natural that this is reflected in their approach to training too. "We experiment with different learning approaches and channels, try out a mix of technology solutions to training and of course we get regular feedback from Googlers about what's working and what could be improved," says Thoma. In this way Google strives to create a variety of innovative learning and development activities that work for more people.

The personal and professional development of Googlers is enormously important to the company, from its 'Noogler' workshop experience in Dublin for all new joiners in EMEA, through to ongoing provision of training, educational and career development processes and programmes for all functions and levels in the company. This is balanced with providing the freedom for action for Googlers to make things happen for themselves and drive their own learning agendas with the support of their managers.

It's a formula that has been carefully tailored and packaged for a company – an 'off-the-shelf' solution in a company as unique as Google would fall at the first hurdle and making the training fit to its people and not the other way round is why it continues to work so successfully.

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