We all know the famous Google Policy, allowing all employees to use 20% of their time on a project of their choosing (they call it “innovation time off”). Publicly, Google claims that many of their breakthrough businesses come from this policy. However, a quick glance at their quarterly financial statements reveals that well over 95% of their revenues come from just a few of their businesses and really only one thing: ads. So, what are the real benefits from giving open space to your employees to pursue a project of their choosing?
Another thing we know about Google is their obsession with talent. The company’s competitive advantage is people. Their greatest assets walk out the door every night, and the company desperately hopes that they return the next morning. Yes, the main campus’ Segways, 17 cafeterias, and packed pantries help the cause. But with all the poachers of Google talent out there, appealing to someone’s sweet tooth or fascination with gadgetry is not enough. What if the best talent-retention strategy is to let employees spend time on their own projects, however unrelated they might be to the core business?
Perhaps all the talk of the business strategy behind this corporate policy is just a ruse? Nevertheless, it could be considered clever management. Maybe Google’s managers are as smart as their engineers after all? How do you hire and actually keep the most brilliant people in the world engaged? Let them spend a portion of their time doing exactly what they want. And if the time actually yields something relevant…all the better (but not necessary nor expected!).
The lesson for the rest of us is to understand our (and our team’s) human psychological need to have our minds engaged. Especially in our youthful and creative years, we all need to feel challenged. No ordinary job can fill the void of our imagination, not even a coveted job at Google. Deep down inside, the brightest and most creative minds want to go out and make their own ideas happen. The smartest thing any beyond-start-up company can do is to provide such an opportunity internally and write of the “costs” of such a policy as talent retention.And perhaps the “innovation time off “ will yield something of value to the business. But regardless, the business is better off with the right people in the right mindset.
Behance articles and tips are adapted from the writing and research of Scott Belsky and the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network , the Creative Jobs List, and develops knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.
All information (c) Scott Belsky, Behance LLC