Learning From Google: 15 Ways To Drive Employee Engagement

Portions of this post were taken from two Forbes articles on Cracking Google and Beyond Perks:

With more than two million applicants a year, it seems like everyone wants to work at Google. Perhaps it’s because the search giant has been crowned the “Happiest Company in America.”  In past years, has ranked Google No. 1 after more than 100,000 worker-generated reviews from more than 10,000 companies. Scores were based on such factors as work-life balance, relationships with bosses and co-workers, compensation, growth opportunities, a company’s culture and the opportunity for employees to exert control over the daily work flow.

Getting a job at Google is equivalent to running the gauntlet. It is nearly ten times harder to get a job at Google than it is to get into Harvard. Interested in navigating the application process and landing a job at Google? Here’s an inside look courtesy of


15 Ways Google Drives Employee Engagement

You don’t become the happiest company by chance. It’s a product of thoughtful design and ultimately culture. Let’s explore 15 reasons why:

1. Dollars and Sense – With billions of dollars in revenue every year, Google pays some some the highest average salaries in the tech industry. Takeaway: If you don’t want monkeys, don’t pay peanuts.

2. For-Purpose – Google has always pursued a noble cause. The company conducts business with a simple motto,”Don’t be evil.” Its mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.  Here is Founder Larry Page talking about both purpose and the theory of abundance, “We have somewhat of a social mission, and most other companies do not. I think that’s why people like working for us, and using our services…Companies’ goals should be to make their employees so wealthy that they do not need to work, but choose to because they believe in the company … Hopefully, I believe in a world of abundance, and in that world, many of our employees don’t have to work, they’re pretty wealthy, they could probably go years without working. Why are they working? They’re working because they like doing something, they believe in what they’re doing.” Takeaway: Purpose is becoming a main differentiator in business. By 2020, there will be little or no distinction between for-profit and non-profit businesses. Companies will only be seen as for-purpose or not-for-purpose.

3. Caring – No stone is left unturned in their quest to provide a welcoming work environment for employees. Actions speak louder than mere words. Why is caring so important to the company? According to Google’s Chief People Officer Laszlo Bock, “It turns out that the reason we’re doing these things for employees is not because it’s important to the business, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. When it comes down to it, it’s better to work for a company who cares about you than a company who doesn’t.  And from a company standpoint, that makes it better to care than not to care.” Takeaway: People in life don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. To paraphrase the founder of SAS’ Dr. Jim Goodnight, “If you care and treat people like they matter, they will.”

4. Creative Outlet – Google allows its employees the option to use up to 20% of their work week at Google to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs (i.e. Gmail) started out as pet projects in the 20% time program. Last year Quartz reported that 20% time had been abolished, but Google responded saying it’s very much alive and kicking. Takeaway: Autonomy and ownership are powerful drivers of engagement.

5. A Voice – The Google-O-Meter gives all employees a voice on employee suggestions and potential cultural changes . According to a post by Diana Ransom: “Google’s Chief Culture Officer Stacy Sullivan implemented the company’s charting tool, the Google-O-Meter, to gauge the popularity of employee suggestions, such as housing more doctors on site or bringing overseas employees to headquarters for a visit. ‘It wasn’t something that we would just go and implement for them,’ she says. ‘Their suggestions had to be reflective of things about the culture that [many] people wanted to change.” Takeaway: Be transparent and give your employees a voice.

6. Benefits Beyond the Grave. There is a Google Perk that extends into the afterlife. Should a U.S. Googler pass away while working for Google, their surviving spouse or domestic partner will receive a check for 50% of their salary every year for the next decade. Even more surprising, a Google spokesperson confirms that there’s “no tenure requirement” for this benefit, meaning most of their nearly 40,000 employees qualify. Takeaway: Smart companies are invested into their employees and their lives beyond the workplace.

7. Modern Family – Google gives employees in same-sex relationships extra cash to cover their partners’ health benefits. Currently, when receiving partner health care coverage, same-sex domestic partners are subject to an extra tax that straight, married couples don’t have to pay. Google is shouldering the burden of paying this tax by compensating partnered LGBT employees for the amount of the tax, which comes to a bit more than $1,000 each year. This benefit will also cover any dependents of the partner in the same-sex couple. Takeaway: Be ready to adapt to today’s modern family. You need to be proactive with your policies for issues such as eldercare, paternal leave, infertility, and adoption.

8. Bathrooms – Googlers have access to some of the most high-tech toilets around. These Japanese imports offer washing and drying of your nether regions as well as the mysterious “wand cleaning.” Both the wash water and the seat itself can be warmed or cooled depending on your preference. Takeaway: Find ways to make your workplace stand out from a sea of sameness.

Here’s Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter at Google talking about the toilets:

9. Kingpin – Google has a bowling alley for employees. Takeaway: The company knows how to roll.
10. Training & Development – Google’s “CareerGuru” program matches Google executives with Google employees to provide confidential, one-on-one career coaching  and guidance around the subjects of work-life balance, personal and professional development, communication styles and conflict resolution, among others. Takeaway: Invest in your people and develop a culture of mentoring.

11. Wellness – The Googleplex has some interesting lap pools. The outdoor mini-pools are like water treadmills: a strong current allows the Googler to swim and swim and go nowhere. Luckily, lifeguards are always on duty in case someone gets in over their head. Takeaway: Without health, we have nothing. A healthy employee is a basic starting point for a happy one.

12. Team Building – Google’s Conference Bike is used as a team-building exercise for new employees. It has four wheels and five riders who work together to move it around. Takeaway: Find interesting ways to bring teams together. A team that plays together, stays together.

13. Collaborative Space – According to Jonathan Strickland, “Google’s corridors are designed and set up for impromptu information sharing. Offices don’t resemble a typical corporate environment. Google arranges the workstations so that groups of three to four employees who work together sit in the same area. During the design phase, architect Clive Wilkinson faced a challenging problem: how do you group people together and still give them an environment in which they can concentrate on work without distractions? And how do you do it without turning Google into a labyrinth of cubicles? Wilkinson decided to use glass walls to divide the space into clusters. This design cuts down on much of the ambient noise inside the office. It also allows sunlight to filter in through the entire office. Each glass enclosure has a tent-like roof made of acrylic-coated polyester which contains the room’s lighting and sprinkler systems. Google executives want employees to be able to bounce ideas off each other. It’s the c­ompany’s hope that by encouraging interaction, workers will have greater job satisfaction and may even create the next big Google product.” Takeaway: Space Matters. You physical space should reinforce the culture in your company, not dictate it by default.

Google Campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

14. Food & Beverage – One of the most oft-cited perks of working at Google is the food. Google feeds its employees well. If you work at the Googleplex, you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner free of charge. There are several cafés located throughout the campus, and employees can eat at any of them. The main café is Charlie’s Place, which takes its name from Google’s first lead chef, Charlie Ayers. Before creating meals for Googlers, Ayers was the chef for the Grateful Dead. Although Ayers left Google in 2005, the café still bears his name. The café has several stations, each offering different kinds of cuisine. Options range from vegetarian dishes to sushi to ethnic foods from around the world. Google’s culture promotes the use of fresh, organic foods and healthy meals. But when everything is free and you can eat whenever you want, it’s easy to go overboard. That’s where the Google 15 comes in. It refers to the 15 pounds many new Google employees put on once they start taking advantage of all the meals and snacks. Takeaway: Food is a communal activity. Perhaps the way to an employee’s heart through their stomach.

15. Openness and Transparency – One of things shaping culture at the search leader are “TGIF” meetings. They tend to happen most Fridays, said Craig Silverstein, who joined the founders as Google’s first employee in 1998. TGIF, where any Googler is free to ask the founders any company-related question, became a fixture of the culture. Takeaway: Be open by default. In the words of Louis Brandeis, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

More Than Just Perks

Anthology has been tracking the most admired companies by passive job-seekers in 2015-16, and every month Google has maintained its no. 1 spot. They recently asked 200 of their users the top three reasons for admiring Google. Out of five choices, perks were the least important. Here are the top four responses from passive job seekers at companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Snapchat, Amazon, Apple, and many others:

1. 71% said Positive Culture

2. 62.5 said Smart People

3. 58.5% said Cool Product

4. 57% said Success In The Market

5. 36.5% cited the generous benefits and perks employees

Words like meritocracy, inclusiveness, transparency, diversity, and empowerment are more than buzzwords at Google. They are part of the fabric that creates a positive culture. An environment of caring where your employer gives more than expected and allows you to do your best work toward a noble purpose. That’s a positive culture.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Many of these 15 ways to drive employee engagement were featured in the book, Green Goldfish. Here’s a slideshare on the concept:

Do you have a signature onboarding element like the Green Carpet?

onboardingLess than 25% of organizations conduct formal onboarding. Onboarding refers to the process through which new employees become socialized and acquire necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors. This process helps them adapt to the company and allows new employees to become effective members of the team. Onboarding is one of the first types of Green Goldfish.

Why is Onboarding Key? 

Onboarding is key because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Research by HCI shows that employees make the critical decision to stay or leave within the first six months. New employees that participate in an onboarding program show improved  “retention, engagement, and productivity.” Companies that make an effort to help socialize new employees enjoy positive benefits including higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment and reduction in stress.

Yet, culturally onboarding new hires can be a real challenge. While sleek videos, laminated pocket cards and lobby placards may help employees memorize the company values, the actual understanding how to “live” the company values can be a whole other story.  Culture is only as cohesive as the people willing to live out the shared values.

Attitudes begin to form at the initial point of contact with an organization. There is no better place to start than when you are welcoming new employees to your company. Smart companies take advantage of these early days in order to ensure a strong, productive, and dedicated workforce.

Enter Greene Resources

greene resources

Gary GreeneI had the opportunity to be introduced to Gary Greene last year. Gary is the founder of Greene Resources [see video of Gary]. The 14 year old Raleigh based company is an award-winning employment solutions company. Greene partners with world class companies such as SAS, CREE and RTI.

From Day One, Gary put culture at the heart of Greene Resources. He literally has a school of Green(e) Goldfish in each of the 15 categories. Here is just a small sampling:

green resources kermitTeam Building – The team goes bowling, plays skeeball and competes in the annual Greene Olympics.

Recognition – The company gives out customized “Kermit” awards to employees who create a “Wow” experience. Greene hosts “appreciation” events.

Pay it Forward –  They give back to the community through numerous programs such as Habitat for Humanity.

Training & Development – Employee training gets offered through the Greene University program.

The one area that Greene Resources excels in is onboarding. The organization goes above and beyond to acclimate new hires. During the first weekly staff meeting, two interesting things happen. First, team members are asked trivia questions about the new hires. It’s a fun way for the existing team to show an interest in new team members.

greene resources green carpet high fivesThe second involves the green carpet. At the end of the meeting, existing team members exit to the hallway. A green carpet is rolled out to the new team members desk. The new team member then walks the green carpet while receiving hallway high fives along the way.

TAKEAWAY: In the words of George Bradt, managing director at PrimeGenesis, “The way you manage the transition of somebody into your culture speaks volumes about the culture to the person coming in, because you’re making those first early impressions and they know what’s expected of them”  What’s your signature onboarding practice? What’s Your Green Goldfish?

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra for good measure) – Gary Greene is fond of a children’s book called The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth.

The Three QuestionsHe says it defines Greene Resources’ culture best. The book’s three questions are:

1. What is the best time to do things?

2. Who is the most important one?

3. What is the right thing to do?

The book concludes: “There is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most right thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.  For these are the answers to what is most important in this world. This is why we are here.”

According to Gary, “At Greene Resources, we strive to live out the answers to these three questions every day.”

Culture is a commitment, not a campaign. Green Goldfish Webinar on 9/18 @hrdotcom

green goldfish webinar

I wanted to extend an invite to a complimentary webinar this week (Register here). I am privileged to be taking part in a two-day conference hosted by on Integrated Talent Management. I will be presenting The Green Goldfish: The Top 9 Ways to Reinforce Organizational Culture. Here is an outline of the webinar:

The average distance between the human brain and heart is nine inches.

what's your green goldfish coverAccording to the recent book, What’s Your Green Goldfish – Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Drive Employee Engagement and Reinforce Culture, companies need to go above and beyond to capture the hearts of their employees. Establishing a culture that delivers high employee engagement, and in return, a successful business.

The single biggest mistake today companies make today is not recognizing the impact of increased engagement and the importance of culture as a competitive differentiator. The Green Goldfish Principle is based on the simple premise that employees are the key drivers of customer experience and that “Happy Engaged Employees Create Happy Enthused Customers.”

This presentation will examine the nine ways to reinforce your organizations culture based upon the Green Goldfish Principle. A green goldfish represents the little extras; signature added value that drives both satisfaction and engagement. The presentation is based on the findings of the Green Goldfish Project, an effort which crowdsourced 1,001 examples of signature added value. Green Goldfish implemented one by one can collectively make a big difference.

The nine ways to be discussed with best in class examples include onboarding, workspace design, transparency, team building, recognition, training and empowerment.

Who should attend: This workshop is geared for human resources professionals that are looking signature ways to retain and ultimately attract top talent.

Why? Because according to the CLC, engaged organizations grew profits as much as three times faster than their competitors.

The two day Integrated Talent Management conference features other distinguished speakers including Dan Schawbel, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Steve Huey, Walter Houck, Claire Dunne, Todd Brockdorf and J. Matthew Becker.

You can register on for free by clicking here. I hope you can join. Feel free to invite a friend or 3,000.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here’s a preview of the book on Slideshare:

The first step to employee engagement is getting off on the right foot with Onboarding

This is a draft excerpt from the upcoming book, What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Create Employee Loyalty and Reinforce Culture.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

first step

Attitudes begin to form at the initial point of contact with an organization. There is no better place to start applying G.L.U.E. than when you are welcoming new employees to your company. Smart companies take advantage of these early days in order to ensure a strong, productive, and dedicated workforce.

The way you manage the transition of somebody into your culture speaks volumes about the culture to the person coming in, because you’re making those first early impressions and they know what’s expected of them” says George Bradt, managing director at PrimeGenesis in an interview with

First Step

onboardingThis first step or transition process is called onboarding. According to Wikipedia, here’s the definition:

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders. Tactics used in this process include formal meetings, lectures, videos, printed materials, or computer-based orientations to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations.

Unfortunately less than 25% of organizations have a formal onboarding process. According to onboarding expert Bradt,

Most organizations haven’t thought things through in advance. On their first day, they are welcomed by such confidence‐building remarks as: Oh, you’re here… we’d better find you an office.

Why Onboarding? 

Research shows that employees make the critical decision to stay or leave within the first six months and that having the newest talent participate in an onboarding program can “maximize retention, engagement, and productivity.” (Source: HCI White Paper, 2008) Socialization efforts lead to positive outcomes for new employees, including higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment and reduction in stress.

Yet, culturally onboarding new hires can be a real challenge. While sleek videos, laminated pocket cards and lobby placards may help employees memorize the company values, the actual understanding how to “live” the company values can be a whole other story.  Your culture is only as cohesive as the people willing to live out the shared values. Takeaway: Actions speak louder than words.

Having a diverse range of ways to welcome a new hire is critical to establishing a healthy employer-employee relationship. Here are a baker’s dozen of companies that purposefully go the extra mile to engage new team members:

Welcome Wagon

At JM Smucker (#575) new hires get a gift basket sent to their homes. (Source: Business Insider)

Intel’s (#534) new hires have dedicated greeters and gifts waiting for them when they arrive on their first days as a part of their hands-on new employee orientation. (Source: Business Insider)

Online glasses manufacturer Warby Parker (#171) gives a welcome package to new employees which includes a founder’s favorite pretzels and a gift certificate to a Thai restaurant, since the founders lived off Thai food during their startup phase.

Buddies and Sponsors

Capital One (#361) runs a Buddy Assimilation Program. The program matches veterans with newcomers. “Buddies” like show the newbies around, have lunch with them and act as a resource.  After a month of training, new employees work “in the nest” for two weeks, fielding incoming calls with plenty of support. Hands go up whenever a trainee has a question, and a roving supervisor runs over to help. Once on their own, employees work within teams. But they’re never far from a helping hand as team leaders and “floor walkers” decked in bright red and yellow vests are always available to answer questions. (Source: Tampa Bay Tribune)

Every associate at ladder(less) W. L. Gore & Associates (#539) has a sponsor who coaches, mentors, and commits to helping that person succeed at the company. (Source: Business Insider)

Understanding the Business

USAA (#456) figuratively runs a Boot Camp. The insurance provider for military members and their families has an interesting onboarding process for new employees. Training includes trying on military fatigues, eating MRE’s  (ready to eat meals) and reading letters from family members. (Source: Jeanne Bliss)

Exposure makes a difference in performance. According to Fast Company, that’s the finding of Adam Grant, a Wharton professor who studied the training given to 71 new call center employees of a Midwestern software firm:

One group of trainees was chosen to meet an “internal customer”– an employee of another department whose salary depends on the sales that the new hires make–during their initial training. In combination with some inspirational words from the CEO, this contact with a real live beneficiary significantly improved both sales and revenue during the employees’ first seven weeks. The difference? A not-insignificant 20% improvement in revenue per shift. Leadership messages from the CEO about purpose, vision, mission, and meaning, however, had no such effect on their own.

Writing the ship

According to Harvard Professor and noted author Teresa Amabile, the ability to track small wins can help to motivate big accomplishments. Rituals like writing in a diary can be a strong influencer. The number one driver for inner worklife is making progress on meaningful work. Reflection can become an important part of the process.

New hires at custom t-shirt company CustomInk (#514) receive a blank journal. They are encouraged to record any interesting things they learn about the company in their notebook during their orientation or any questions they would like to ask.  New hires are also asked to record instances where they’ve seen CustomInk’s values in action.  At the 30 day mark, new hires convene to share what they’ve noted in their journals.  Making new hires accountable for noticing how their colleagues and managers live those values every day helps brings those behaviors to life.  (Source: Great Places to Work)


New employees at Snagajob (#703), are asked to share their unique talents and experiences in a brief questionnaire and the answers are shared among employees over the company’s employee-only online network. When new hires are introduced at weekly company-wide meetings, employees are quizzed about the responses and get token rewards such as candy for each correct answer. “It’s a fun way to hold our employees accountable for learning about our new snaggers,” says Betsy Kersey, whose title at Snagajob is Director of People. (Source:


TD Bank (#489) worked with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management to develop the Rotman Back to Work program for women who have been out of the workforce for over eight years — and operates the in-house “Back to Business” rotational work program for women returning to work.


When employees join Davies PR (#723), they are given a 3-month, 6-month, 9-month and annual review to ensure they get a “Best Start” at Davies. After one year at the company, employees receive annual 360 degree reviews in which they are assessed by their co-workers. (Source: PR News Online)

Technology Spurring Dialogue

Companies are using new tools and procedures to assimilate its latest hires. Veson Nautical (#827), a Boston-based software developer for risk management for the maritime industry, just instituted a new program in January called “FastStart,” an online tool from consulting firm BlessingWhite that aligns work styles and priorities between new employees and managers.

“The manager ranks the skills important and less important to the job, and the employee does the same,” says Sarah Taffee, director of human resources and organization effectiveness at Veson Nautical. “The employee has the opportunity to compare their own answers with their manager’s answers, and then the system guides them through how to have an open discussion about those things.” (Source:

Finding Your Way & Lost in Space (#825) gives entry level employees three months to explore all the different departments of the company and you train them so that they know your products and services backward and forward—and then you allow the employee to choose what department they feel is the best fit for them. (Source:

There is one program at Brazilian manufacturer Semco (#787) that allows people to act like entrepreneurs at the company.  Called “Lost in Space”, it assumes that young recruits don’t know what they want to do with their lives. The program lets them roam the company for a year. They do what they want to do, move when they want to move, go where their interests take them; work for one, two, or six different units. At the end of the year, anyone they’ve worked for can offer them a job, or they can seek an opening in an area that interests them. If neither happens… we thank them for the year. (Source: Ricardo Semler The Seven Day Weekend)

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here’s a four minute video from Wells Fargo on onboarding:

All of the examples in this post were taken from the  Green Goldfish Project. The Project is a quest to find 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe for employees. Green goldfish are the little signature extras given to employees. They help differentiate a company, reinforce culture, increase retention and drive positive WoM. The book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” will be published on March 29, 2013.