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With new site, Google makes public many of its internal HR tactics

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Google’s human resources practices have been among the most imitated in the corporate world. Perks like free food have proliferated across Silicon Valley. Longer parental leaves are popping up everywhere, four years after Google extended its paid maternity leave from three months to about five. And when the search giant first disclosed its not-so-rosy diversity statistics last year, the tech industry fell in step behind it, opening up about their dismally small numbers of women and minorities, too.

Now, anyone wanting to adopt other Google HR practices has a dedicated place to look. On Thursday, Google is launching what it calls a "curated platform" on the Web for sharing management ideas—both its own and those of other companies. Called re:Work, the new site will feature research-backed examples of how Google approaches things like hiring and anti-bias training, providing free public tools such as slide decks and checklists that the company uses internally. Details about the site were shared first with the Washington Post.

The site will also feature other companies: case studies of employers like Wegmans and JetBlue, a blog about new management trends and academic research where it hopes to start conversations with outsiders, and, eventually, even more guides on topics like hiring and "people analytics" from other companies. (At launch, all but one of the guides are from Google.)

This exercise in transparency is not entirely new for a company that has, as its mission statement, a goal of making the world’s information “universally accessible.” Last fall, the company held an event to swap tactics and ideas on changing the nature of work that brought together academics, major corporate HR chiefs, and leaders from startups and nonprofits.

And earlier this year, Laszlo Bock, the company’s head of “people operations," published a book that went deep into many of Google’s data-driven HR techniques. At the time, he hinted at this new platform, saying the company had plans for a kit to share more about its training and tactics. “We have an explicit strategy of wanting to open-source more of what we do on the inside,” Bock said in an interview with The Washington Post in April.

Google is also far from the only company to release details about its internal practices. In July, Facebook shared its unconscious bias training externally, creating a site that includes videos and slides of the social network’s approach to fighting implicit bias. Some companies, such as ZapposDisney and Ritz-Carlton, have even created businesses around helping to train others in their approach to culture or customer service.

But the breadth and level of detail that Google is publicly putting out there—as well as that it is inviting other companies to share—isn't common. “What’s especially unusual about it is Google is not only sharing what they’ve learned, but actually trying to get other organizations to do it better too,” said Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School who has worked jointly with Google on research in the past.

Take, for instance, the unconscious bias training available on the new site. It goes beyond a video of the training Google had previously shared online—adding slide presentations complete with talking points as well as step-by-step instructions for facilitators, even including a minute-by-minute breakdown of how to lead the workshop.

The re:Work site also lists research papers it recommends reading, describes how company leadership got behind the idea, and shares stories about where Google itself has gone wrong. For example, when it opened a new office in 2013, it named the conference rooms after famous scientists. But employees quickly noticed only a few of the 65 conference rooms had female names, and went about changing them. Now, half the rooms are named after women.

Of course, some could wonder why it's worth taking advice on unconscious bias from a company where just 18 percent of technology jobs are filled by women—or on, say, recruiting from a place that can already be choosier than Harvard or Yale.

Google seems aware of this issue. In an introductory blog post to re:Work, Bock writes that "we don’t want to just talk about Google, because we know we don’t have all the answers and have gotten a lot of stuff wrong along the way." And in an interview in April, he said that while the bias training worked at Google, he recognized it might not fit everywhere. "We want to make sure it’s generalizable," he said. "Otherwise it would be kind of both irresponsible and kind of arrogant."

There are those who see Google's decision to share its bias training (as well as Facebook's) as something that could have a broader impact. "Tech, writ large, has an issue," said Talya Bauer, a Portland State University professor who worked as a visiting scholar at Google during the summer of 2011, in an interview. "This is not something Google can solve. They can’t throw enough at the problem. It’s in our culture. If you send [bias training] out into the world and you get that into the nomenclature, all of a sudden people are thinking about it differently."

So what’s in it for Google? Why is it willing to share details other companies could replicate?

The company hopes it will benefit clients and partners, help Google learn from others, and advance the field so that "a data-driven approach to H.R. can help make work better everywhere," a Google spokesperson said in an email. (Or, as Bock puts it in his Twitter bio: he's "passionate about making work suck less.")

Wharton's Grant, whose book, Give and Take, examines the benefits of helping others, also sees a more tangible payoff for Google: even more talented people. Great employees are attracted to generous employers, and "any small cost of another company copying Google's practices will be far outweighed by the benefit of attracting that kind of employee," Grant said. "It's so consistent with the company’s mission, I would be more surprised if they were unwilling to share this information.”

Read also:

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