Yes, Google Really IS Doing a Century-Long Engagement Study

Article main image
May 13, 2014

As more and more organizations have come to understand the profound bottom-line impact truly engaged employees can have, we’ve seen a nearly equivalent proliferation in the use of lengthy, involved employee engagement surveys to assess the levels of engagement of individuals and teams across an organization.

The overly long and involved employee engagement survey has its own pitfalls, including:

  • The length of time required to complete it;
  • The correspondingly long delay in compiling and analyzing results; and,
  • Employee perceptions of lack of action taken on their recommendations or expressed opinions.

Google’s century-long engagement study

Diving into those challenges would be the content of another blog post entirely.

In typical Google fashion, however, Laszlo Block, Google’s SVP of People Operations, took the engagement survey to a whole new level – a 100 year study. As he explained in a recent Harvard Business Review article:

Our People Innovation Lab developed gDNA, Google’s first major long-term study aimed at understanding work. Under the leadership of PhD Googlers Brian Welle and Jennifer Kurkoski, we’re two years into what we hope will be a century-long study. We’re already getting glimpses of the smart decisions today that can have profound impact on our future selves, and the future of work overall.

This isn’t your typical employee survey. Since we know that the way each employee experiences work is determined by innate characteristics (nature) and his or her surroundings (nurture), the gDNA survey collects information about both.

Here’s how it works: a randomly selected and representative group of over 4,000 Googlers completes two in-depth surveys each year. The survey itself is built on scientifically validated questions and measurement scales. We ask about traits that are static, like personality; characteristics that change, like attitudes about culture, work projects, and co-workers; and how Googlers fit into the web of relationships around all of us. We then consider how all these factors interact, as well as with biographical characteristics like tenure, role and performance. Critically, participation is optional and confidential.

What do we hope to learn? In the short-term, how to improve well being, how to cultivate better leaders, how to keep Googlers engaged for longer periods of time, how happiness impacts work and how work impacts happiness.”

Lessons we can learn (again!) from Google’s approach

Now that’s an engagement study. But more importantly, Google isn’t waiting until the end of the study to find learnings and implement needed change. How can they? It’d be ridiculous to wait 100 years to take action on immediate information and needs.

On a much smaller scale, why do we often wait until the engagement survey is complete, then compiled, then analyzed, before we take action on obvious areas needing attention? We can, instead, listen to employees and immediately respond to feedback that warrants attention now.

If we do, I can guaranteed we will (in the words of Mr. Block) “improve eel being, cultivate better leaders and impact happiness at work.”

What’s your employee engagement process? Must all surveys be compiled, analyzed and synthesized before action is taken or do leaders take appropriate actions as soon as challenges or areas for opportunity are revealed?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.