Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Google 80/20 Innovation Model

What makes Google very  attractive place to work is because of the company's ability to bring out the best in its people.  This post is found in web and I am going to reiterate it here for purpose of good archive.  Read on!

Management Friday: Google’s 80/20 Innovation Model

This week I visited the “Googleplex,” Google’s 12,000 person Palo Alto campus. The trip gave me a lot of food for thought on innovation, work/life balance, recruiting, and employee retention. I’ll be posting on the work/life balance questions raised by my visit over the weekend; today I’m writing about Google’s 80/20 “innovation time off” (ITO) model, and how those of us in non-tech industries might apply the concept.

The ITO policy encourages Google employees to spend 80% of their time on core projects, and roughly 20% (or one day per week) on “innovation” activities that speak to their personal interests and passions. These activities may benefit the company’s bottom line – as in the case of Gmail, Google News, AdSense and Orkut. But more importantly they keep employees challenged and engaged in ways that aid retention and keep staff learning and growing.

A side note about why I think the 80/20 rule is especially interesting for working mothers. One of the reasons so many working mothers are unhappy with their jobs is the seemingly meaningless, frustrating, rote work that takes us away from our kids with little greater benefit.

Imagine a scenario where you could spend 20% of your time on projects that you think could benefit your company or world, and that you “own.” That could stimulate you to think differently and passionately about the other 80% of your work, leading to a more fulfilling professional experience. More fulfilling is good – it keeps mothers in the workplace. (I’ve written more about the importance of innovation in tough times here.)

Of course, this model works well for developers, engineers and other creative types. What about for the rest of us? Is there an 80/20 innovation model that could help your administrative assistant do his or her job better? Help middle managers make the leap more effectively to senior staff? Energize senior staff by offering mentoring and stewardship opportunities around such projects?

I say yes. I’ve talked before about how innovation is the key for companies surviving this economic downturn. I believe that more formal innovation policies and pipelines are critical not just for the high-tech and creative industries, but also for those of us in more traditional financial, non-profit, and management settings. Here are some thoughts on implementing an innovation policy in your workplace:

1. Create a formal process for project selection, monitoring, and evaluation. At Google they track innovation time and know exactly which projects are being pursued. Employees who want to take advantage of innovation time off should submit a brief proposal and timeline, and be able to articulate how they will measure success.

2. Don’t worry about failure. In some ways innovation, like so many other things, is a numbers game. You throw up 50 projects, and maybe one or two stick. Most will fail, but you can’t know which will work unless you try. Failure is a critical p[art of true innovation.

3. Start small. Successful pilot projects help to leverage support and build awareness. Encourage your employees to create scalable projects that can be launched with relatively little investment.

4. Let your staff shine. Champion good ideas by facilitating and advocating, but let your employee present directly to senior management. Managers benefit when CEOs see that they have recruited intelligent and insightful staff.

5. Manage expectations. Not every project can be seen to fruition – in fact 95% of projects generated by your innovation policy won’t go anywhere. You don’t want disappointed, disillusioned employees, so manage their expectations.

Interesting links on the 80/20 Innovation Time Off model:

* Scott Berkun talks about how and why the 80/20 model works.
* Scott Belsky talks about why the model is a good idea, even if 95% of Google revenues come from non-innovation business.
* Ron Wilson at Electronics Strategy, Design, News talks about why innovation has to go beyond the technical now more than ever.
* The HR Capitalist talks about recent developments at Google that are squeezing the innovation model.

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