InnovationDisruptive MarTechHow Google built the best digital talent (and you can too)

How Google built the best digital talent (and you can too)

Most of us probably think of Google as a business which has everything sorted when it comes to digital.

The following article is the third in a four-part content series produced in collaboration with Squared OnlineThe first part of the series can be found here, and the second part can be found here.

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Most of us probably think of Google as a business which has everything sorted when it comes to digital.

Surely they don’t have to worry about digital transformation, or retaining strong digital talent like the rest of us do, right?

Actually, as Carole Stewart, Google’s Lead L&D Business Partner, assured attendees in a recent webinar, Google has had to go through its own version of digital transformation in order to move with the times. And in doing so, it has come up against the same challenges that those of us in the marketing industry face in terms of trying to build and retain the best digital talent.

“Five years ago, we were a really one-product company,” Stewart said. “In those five years, we’ve moved to multi-platforms; we have lots more competition, and we are working with much more sophisticated and digital-savvy customers.”

Stewart was speaking at a webinar for Squared Online, the digital marketing leadership course developed with Google, on how to build the best digital talent in your organisation. She went on to explain how Google had overcome these challenges, in the process setting an example that businesses of every kind can emulate.

Three pillars for building digital skills

Stewart said that one of the ways she has been building digital skills at Google is by focusing on what she calls ‘social learning’. “Making sure that everybody has a really good platform of product and digital knowledge, and then on top of that, using the tacit knowledge that’s in the organisation to put onto that know-how.”

By focusing on hiring for “learning agility”, said Stewart, and concentrating on “who needs deep expertise, and who needs broad expertise”, you can successfully create a culture of learning in your business.

A webinar slide entitled '3 pillars of our solution'. On the left is a red pillar labelled Increase Frontline Specialism; in the middle is a yellow pillar labelled Set-up EMEA Communities; on the right is a blue pillar labelled Bespoke Capability and Development.

Stewart described how Google developed a ‘three pillars’ solution for effectively deploying digital talent. First, as the amount of platforms and products in Google expanded, they built increasing numbers of specialist teams. But Stewart admitted that this approach didn’t necessarily work well for Google. “That just increased complexity in our own organisation, which at its worst day, was visible to our customers.”

The answer to this was to set up ‘EMEA communities’, to try and bring Google’s expertise as close to its customers as possible. “We were building our operating model to facilitate social or community learning,” explained Stewart.

Finally, Google set out to build “bespoke capability and development” for each individual in the organisation. Using what Stewart called the ‘sheep dip’ approach of putting everyone through the same learning process, regardless of their role of experience, didn’t work well for Google, and the company realised it needed to take a much more tailored approach.

“We were wasting people’s time. For the people who were new to it, it was too sophisticated; for the people who were super experienced, it wasn’t sophisticated enough.”

A webinar slide with the title Phase 1: Who needs to be capable of doing what? The subtitle reads: Create learning paths for R and D, Specialists and Account Directors. Tailored programmes to build capabilities. Underneath is a diagram with three interlocking pyramids: green, blue and yellow. These are labelled with different parts of Google's business, or different business goals, such as Account Directors and Deep Technical Expertise.

This is another key takeaway for businesses who want to improve on their digital talent: be prepared to admit when a process isn’t working, and change things up. Not doing so risks alienating or discouraging the people you already have in your organisation, and the cost will be greater in the long run.

Who needs to know what?

Google’s solution was to determine exactly who in the company needed to be capable of doing what, and build a model of learning and expertise around it. They created ‘learning paths’ for R&D, specialists and account directors, and tailored programmes that would build their capabilities.

Google’s model is specific to Google as a business, but individual companies can work out exactly what kind of specialist knowledge and training is needed at each level of their business, and develop their own structure accordingly.

Stewart also impressed the point that specialised learning needs to involve interaction and more hands-on, practical methods of training – rather than just distributing knowledge en masse.

“In terms of how we get the communities [of specialists] to be excited and to share knowledge, we create this network,” said Stewart. “It’s experiential; it’s certainly not ‘Let me teach you in a classroom’. If it’s knowledge, it can be done online. If it’s experiential and understanding and new, it needs to be more human.”

A webinar slide featuring a cartoon image of two maps side by side. On the left is a picture of a road at street level, with buildings next to it. The caption reads, The 'streetview' of your career journey will only allow you to see the road directly ahead or nearby intersections. The image to the right shows a bird's eye view of some roads with trees and houses. The caption reads, Zoom out! The 'aerial view' of your career journey will give you the perspective to see all potential roads and plan a longer term route.

Having invested so much to build and hire digital talent in your business, how can you make sure you retain it? One of the problems with ‘Generation Y’, the newest generation to enter the workforce, is that they have trouble taking the long view of their career path, said Stewart.

“They can see six to twelve months in terms of their career, which is like the ‘street view’ of their career journey. But what you can do as a business is take them up the next level and get them to zoom out and have a ‘Google Maps’ view of their career: where these specialist digital skills will take them, and how they can keep adding on to that to bring more out in terms of your business.”

Click here to watch the full Squared Online webinar on ‘How to build the best digital talent’, with expert advice from Carole Stewart and CJ Morley, Director of Global Talent and Development at iProspect.


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