Letting go of control


So this session is of interest to me as I think that the days of group wide learning or cohorts of leaders getting development are coming to an end. Needing to engage individuals and getting them driving their own development is really important.

Our speakers are Dr Ciela Hartanov and Aimee O’Malley from Google and so I’m fascinated to hear what they have to say.

There were some really strong themes that came out:

1) our two speakers openly stated that the approaches and techniques used at google work there and may not transfer across to others.
2) that there is a very grown up approach to how people learn
3) learning needs and solutions are driven by connectedness

Going into those in a bit more detail….

1) that Google has set themselves up with some really core concepts that make up their culture and (as you’d expect) translate across other activities such as recruitment. These are:

Mission – everyone has to buy into it
Transparency – everyone gets to see everything 
Voice – everyone gets to have a voice (also links to below)
Open is better than closed – use TGIF days (‘Thank Goodness It’s Friday’ that actually take place on a Thursday because of the time difference across the globe) where senior leaders of the business take to ask questions from anyone. 

The speakers also shared that there is a real importance on small teams and how they help learning happen. Similarly, the reason food is free at Google offices is so that when people are queuing for their food they will talk to each other.  Apparently, according to the research carried out by Google, the optimum number of people in queue to begin talking to each other and therefore learning from each other is 5. 


2) the approach and expectation is that people will find the learning they need when they want it. There is no:
Sign of process for people to engage in internal learning
Mandatory learning or courses that people have to do
Punishment if you don’t do your learning

What their research has found (and this links into point 3 soon to follow) is that people will go where and to whom they feel comfortable when they want to learn. Good example given was at a ‘Learning Summit’ that was held earlier in 2014. 

The question asked to your everyday ‘googler’ what they use for and how they learn. One theme of the responses was that people would access You Tube, TED, blogs, research papers on line to further their leaning in an area. When probing to find out how they use the slick, polished (and expensive) learning management system the answer was……  I don’t. What this is kicking off now is do we (Google) actually need one then?

I will digress for a moment. This is a huge, no massive, no epic point. 

Why should we bother with a structured elearning or LMS? My points, we make it hard for people to use them:

You have to sign in (obstructing a goal, triggers anger) vs ‘Googling it’ no obstacle 
The content is hard to find (obstructing a goal, triggers anger) vs Google will rank and organise the results for you 
You are monitored on your learning activity (psychological obstruction to your independence, triggers anger) vs no monitoring (on the time you spend learning anyway)

What if, instead of investing all that money into a system that no one uses, then investing the energy into ‘engaging’ or ‘forcing’ people to use the system, you put it into other areas, maybe some social tools something collaborative. Just a thought….

3) It is the individual collections and connections that matter. The ladies explained that Google have 6 principles to how they approach learning.

Know the user – really make sure that you do what they are asking for and not the stuff they know what to do or we do by habit. Completing learner interviews to really explore:
– What people need or want to learn
– How people are actually learning

Embrace freedom and flexibility – if you give people freedom they will amaze you. You know what you need to learn and so you have the freedom to go and do what you want and need to do and learn. So, all learning is open to everyone. Don’t restrict it as people are sensible and will only sign up for what they need.

Create personal accountability – as an example, project oxygen; where went out and asked followers what the 8 traits were that people (not managers) wanted from managers. Then developed content around those 8.

Foster the network – Eco system of peer learners, have a g2g network where have googlers teaching stuff to others, have 3,700 googlers, running 10k sessions across 84 offices.  This also increase the chances of relevance.  Here’s a link to an hbr blog about some of the research Google are doing. 

We are curators not teachers – have the anatomy of a good content curator. Sharing content, people reflect, get together to discuss, started face to face and now doing over G+

Learning agility rather then learning ability – learning isn’t a one off event and find multiple ways to make it happen. Learning is; a process, done in real life, personal and social


To sum it all up, I think this all about helping people connect to each other and linking back to the human want to connect. What is innovative is that:

Google are researching how this desire to connect applies in their context (which is in line with the data driven culture) 
Using that research to do common sense learning with a grown up approach and finding that guess what, people will learn for themselves if you let them.

My favourite session by far!


2 responses to “Letting go of control

  1. Pingback: L&D Professionals, I don’t envy you | The Resource Force·

  2. Pingback: What kind of organization do you want to work in? | Whose Education Is It Anyway?·

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