Why Most Firms Have Given Up on Matching the Talent Features at Google

Second of two parts

“Our firm can never be like Google” is to me a statement indicating surrender, submission, and capitulation.

After completing talent case studies of Google, Facebook, and Apple (all can be found in the ERE.net archives), I became intimately aware that their talent management and recruiting approaches were far different and superior to any of the 200 plus corporations that I have worked with.

However, most of their talent management practices were easily discoverable, and every talent feature that I identified was certainly copyable at other firms. As a result, an unwillingness to even try to catch up and to emulate the talent management practices at these 1 percent firms was stunning to me.

So, I decided to do some analysis and investigation on the resistance reasons that caused so few firms to be willing to even try to copy the practices that worked so well at the 1 percent.

1. It is primarily a power issue that creates the resistance

It took me a while to identify that the root cause behind the resistance of talent leaders to copying emanated from outside of the talent function.

Historically, most executives have been more than willing to fight to close any talent gap between them and the top firms. This was because the differences between firms occurred primarily in the easy-to-change “paycheck areas.”

That means that if you wanted to improve your employer brand or competitiveness in the talent marketplace, you simply put more money into these paycheck-related areas like increased pay, bonuses, and employee benefits or enhanced retirement. Making changes in paycheck areas are expensive but they are easy to do.

However, competing with the top 1 percent is far from easy because it involves changing how you manage employees by providing them with significantly more freedom, power, and control. And that is problematic, because executives at the 99 percent firms, despite all their talk, still relish the control and the power that they hold over those beneath them.

As a result, what I call the “Google model” (which represents the approach used by most of the elite firms) is completely rejected before it is even seriously considered by most 99 percent firms, because it requires executives and managers to shift to an “influence model.”

Under that model, executives and managers must influence, convince, and sell employees rather than order them around. Some even fear the approach because it requires a completely new executive skill set and a great deal of patience.

2. Executives resist a shift of the focus toward employees

For decades, executives and managers were seen as the primary source of direction, strategic product planning, corporate decision-making, new ideas, and even innovation.

However the “Google model” approach used by the top 1 percent of organizations makes a radical change by shifting the focus toward the employees. Rather than expecting ideas to come from executives, everyone in this environment expects them to come from lower-level teams and employees.

At the 1 percent firms, executives have voluntarily and openly relinquished their all-encompassing role because they realized that the real value created by the firm now comes from innovative and collaborative employees. At the remaining 99 percent of firms, the executives still hold onto the assumption that the real value is added by managers and executives.

An additional problem arises because you can’t expect employees to make great decisions and come up with new ideas without all of the relevant information. So the elite firm approach also requires that you provide almost every low-level employee with free access to information that used to be restricted to executives.

So after the refusal for executives to give up power, the second strongest factor causing the capitulation to the elite firms is this apprehension around shifting the focus, the expectations, and the information access that used to be a source of pride among executives to the average employee.

3. It wasn’t the absence of a business case that caused resistance

Because any firm can easily provide some variation of a benefit like “free food,” I explored why talent executives were unwilling to try offering these easy to do type of employee features.

My first thought was that their surrender to the “Foogles of the world” was primarily caused by their previously mentioned inability to make a strong business case. So to my surprise, when I offered to show talent leaders how to make a “Google-like” powerful business case, I consistently found that they not only didn’t want to learn how to make a compelling business case but they weren’t even interested in having a discussion on the topic.

To me, it became clear that even with a compelling business case to support them, most firms still wouldn’t be willing to try to match the top 1 percent.

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4. Only tech firms have to compete for talent with the elite 1%

Another argument against competing with the 1 percent was the frequently heard “but-we’re-not-a-tech-firm” argument.

Many of the top 1 percent are tech firms, but others with powerful “recruiting brands” and talent management approaches including Zappos, Costco, Amazon, and Goldman Sachs are clearly not tech firms. And in any case, all talent leaders should acknowledge that you still must compete with elite tech firms when it comes to recruiting candidates who work in technology, on the web, and in social media.

Recruiting these areas has become critical, no matter what industry your firm is in, because the operations functions of almost every large firm is now dominated by the use of technology and social media.

And even if your firm’s jobs are primarily in marketing, design, advertising, finance, and even HR, your “talent competitors” for those non-tech jobs include firms like Google (where barely half of the hires are software engineers).

Your executives need to learn that they simply can’t ignore the fact that if you give up and allow the best technologists and other key professionals to migrate to the top 1 percent of firms, you are permanently damaging the revenue and innovation results of your firm.

Final Thoughts

Based on my five years of analysis, my overall conclusion is that there is clearly a wide and easy-to-measure “talent management gap” between the top 1 percent and every other corporation on the planet.

This gap will be permanent for at least the next decade, and this permanent gap simply can’t be dissolved when so many talent leaders from both large corporations and small businesses immediately reject as unfair or irrelevant any direct talent management comparison between their firm and Google, Apple, or Facebook (see the comments section following this article on ERE if you want to see examples of immediate rejection).

Unfortunately the reality is that most talent leaders have deemed closing the gap at their firm as a mission impossible.

I find that accepting the “we-can’t-compete role” on the talent side is especially sad, because no one on the product side of the business ever readily cedes a product space to competitor without a fierce battle. In talent management, surrender and submission should not be an option.

The gap may even widen as the use of social media increases around the world because it will become even easier for potential candidates to clearly see the stark differences between the top 1 percent and the remaining 99 percent. And what this means is that there will be a continuation of the current brain drain away from the 99 percent and toward the elite 1 percent.

I also discovered that there is similar and widening gap between recruiting at the 1 percent of large corporations and the even more flexible, open, and exciting opportunities and talent management approaches offered by startup firms. But that’s a topic that I will reserve for a future article.

Did you miss Part 1? Check out The Recruiting Gap: Why 99% Have Given Up Competing With Google.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



3 Comments on “Why Most Firms Have Given Up on Matching the Talent Features at Google

  1. Google didn’t reach celebrity workplace status by copying anyone. Smart employers will compete with Google NOT by copying them–but by finding their own path to engaging talent.

  2. Great article John. Thank you! You hit the nail on the head. You have addressed changes that current leadership is afraid to make. “Oh my gosh, our front line folks will have access to the same information we have access to”. It is tragic that senior leaders often feel they have better ideas than the frontline. This needs to change and recruiting will benefit from it. Thanks again!

  3. I attended a leadership training on the subject of changing the top-down hierarchy, and including employees in decision making. It is very hard to change an organization. A simple look on Glassdoor’s employee ratings will reveal that there are many frustrated employees out there and managers who don’t know how to manage. My question is:
    What would managers do if they did “relinquish” their top down approach to management? Perhaps they are afraid they would be redundant. It seems to me that beyond fair pay, benefits, leave, two key, critical elements to an employee’s “job satisfaction” are: workplace flexibility and respect. You cannot put a price on them.

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