Google turns algorithm on corporate education

Why aren't employees more productive? Why aren't managers more effective? Google is turning its attention -- and data -- to internal education efforts.


Google wants to know how its employees can become more effective.

 ("Join the club," managers at every company in the world say in response.)

GoogleEDU, the company's two-year-old learning and leadership development program, is getting a boost in attention as the company takes its data-driven ways to the classroom.

Can you formalize learning for more consistent return on investment? That's the question Google is working to address as it enrolls some 10,000 employees in classes aligned with the company's overall strategy, dropping and adding classes for effectiveness almost as quickly as it swaps advertisements on its popular services.

Google's not alone in the endeavor -- after all, every major corporation has an education offering in place with the hope of keeping its employees' skills relevant. (ZDNet publisher CBS Interactive has one, too.)

The difference is how they're doing it in Mountain View. 

The Wall Street Journal's Joseph Walker explains:

Google thinks it has found a way to make its learning stick. It has become more exacting about when it offers classes and to whom. It uses employee reviews of managers—similar to the instructor reviews that college students fill out at the end of a semester—to suggest courses to managers. Ever data-obsessed, Google uses statistics gathered from current and former employees to recommend certain courses to managers at different points in their career, say after a move to a new city or joining a new team.

That matters more than ever when there are 8,000 new heads on your payroll, per the company's latest recruitment drive, particularly when they come from companies that aren't as progressive in terms of company culture and heirarchy.

(Think about it: how do you motivate reports that are demonstratably smarter than you? Fear won't do it.)

Some of the classes focus on exerting influence in a company that prioritizes ideas over titles. Others focus on areas of expertise. The end goal: target like crazy, from which you can more easily attribute actionable goals.

Individualized. Customized. It's like a search results page for your own team.

Whether the Google way is indeed better remains to be seen, but it's always good news to see a company try to rethink a corporate crutch.