Monday, June 01, 2009

I Know What's On Your Mind!!!

News has emerged from Google’s offices that should send a shiver down every employee’s back (and make Human Resources jump with joy). Google, concerned by the recent departures of several top executives, has developed an algorithm to try to identify which employees are likely to quit, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The algorithm would crunch “data from employee reviews and promotion and pay histories in a mathematical formula” and would show which of its employees were the most likely to quit soon. Laszlo Bock, who runs human resources for Google, told the Journal the algorithm helps the company "get inside people's heads even before they know they might leave."

This algorithm has huge potential - a boon of sorts to HR. Imagine its powers. Catch employees going away on holidays too often or falling sick time and again, take his ratings, promotions and pay histories and presto : you know whether he is headed to the hospital or on his way out of your company. HR's job and primary KRA (Key Responsibility Area) will now become what Sherlock Holmes and our very own Byomkesh Bakshi did - track, follow, pursue, shadow and nab the traitors! Loyal employees who are dedicated and trusty have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. But the plotting, calculating, conniving and devious ones - Beware!

How many times have you bumped into your bosses, super-bosses and the Company CEO's and MD's and have been casually asked : So, how are you finding the company? And how many times have you answered with all the earnestness and emphasis in your command : It's going absolutely great, Sir. I totally love my job. Do we really have to follow a Light's Out policy at 8PM and no work on Sundays? I could get so much more done if I were allowed to stay the nights and work on weekends (while your mind is conjuring up pleasant images of your seniors' faces on your favorite dartboard and you hitting bulls eye and yelling - I hate you, your freaking job and your stupid company. If I could, I'd write out my resignation letter and throw it on your face. After I am gone, I hope your work suffers, you get demoted / pink-slipped and you feel cold, alone and uncared for, just as I have). But do you say this? Nope! You play your cards close to your heart, smile broadly, look happy and lie through your nose. Convincingly. Repeatedly.

So will you now get caught by the HR Under-cover Agents if you even just think of lying? Thankfully, the answer, for now, seems to be No. People Management magazine reported that the chances of Google commercially releasing the quitter finder algorithm were dim. A spokesman for Google clarified that, “The development of HR algorithms is not our core business”.

However, fore-warned is fore-armed. You are behind enemy lines and are constantly being watched.

After all, the New HR Mantra is :

Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take

I’ll be watching you.

Every single day / Every word you say / Every game you play /Every night you stay

I’ll be watching you.

Every move you make / Every vow you break / Every smile you fake/Every claim you stake

I’ll be watching you


  1. I think you are looking at it quite negatively. To me it looks like a win-win for both employers and employees.

    They are most likely finding underutilised employees. They are not trying to weed out the non-performers from the looks of it. From the WSJ article

    "The move is one of a series Google has made to prevent its most promising engineers, designers and sales executives from leaving"

    So they are more likely looking at engagement levels and utilization of employees. From the way I look at it, it is actually awesome. If my company can understand that my motivation levels are dropping because I feel underutilised or caught up in a web of bureaucracy and take an action on it without me complaining it is practically awesome.

    Also, most importantly, if google calculates that an employee is going to quite, there are only two outcomes

    1. If the employee is good, they will offer incentives to stay back [without telling him/her ]

    2. If they don't care about the employee, they will do nothing and wait for him/her to quit.

    I don't see how the above two scenarios are bad for an employee. Both work out to the advantage of both the parties. If there ever was a win-win this is it.

  2. @ Boundlessdreamz : This was EXACTLY what I was referring to. Except that I was referring to something else entirely! :). The post did not aim to discuss the pros and cons of the algorithm as much as it aimed to give a funny side to it.

    Having said that, now that you have given the positives of it, my two bits on the cons of the algorithm : I believe that most techie companies (Google included) are more comfortable if and when they can measure everything through algorithms, can quantify and substantiate. No harm here. Only hiccup is not everything can be mechanized else we would not remain human(e) anymore. Things like motivation are behavioural and very individual / personality driven. I will not take it away that if you feed in exit data of all the employees in a computer, you are bound to see a pattern and can develop an algorithm accordingly. However, I believe there is a limit to the use of mathematics and physics in predicting human behaviour. Moreover, its inputs are performance appraisals which are subjective in nature. If done unfairly, its GIGO!

    In fact, if you read deeper into the company, you will find several saying Google provides little formal career planning, and some find the company's human-resources programs too impersonal. Probably, they should write an algo for that as well.

    Moreover, will the output be used sensibly? It may not. What if you have supervisors who rely completely on the output of this God-ly algorithm and not apply their common sense? The outcome could be loss of far more number of good talent.

    And finally, this algorithm talks about knowing that an employee is about to quit. Looking at the importance Google puts on the output of its computer chips, will its attitude towards the given employee not change? Even if he is just contemplating moving out, the change in behaviour (if negative) could actually hasten his exit. It's human nature to.

    There is NO substitute for personal interaction and communication. No amount of relying on machines can reduce its importance or eliminate it completely. We have not yet turned into machines (and thank God for that!).

  3. hahaha!! The song is funny and unfortunately all too true!
    I wonder what Google or for that matter the HR plans to do with this algorithm. I mean, fine, you identify some one who SEEMS to be ready to you call him in and tax him on the subject, do you immediately hand him the pink slip? There could be a variety of reasons he has taken sick leaves or holidays etc which a computer will not be able to analyze! I find it disappointing actually that Google is becoming this nosy, interfering cyber sleuth who was not even hired to solve this particular problem!

  4. Interesting post and I liked the way you posted it in a humorous way!!

    Thanks for dropping by my blog.

  5. PS.
    The font colour in your comments section needs to be darker to make it easier to read.

  6. I would chant the same mantra now ...... It works for me ;-) ....... Another natty post !!!

  7. LOL... well this onez a catch... for sure.

    God knows, how do people get such if the string of parameters were less that now we have this Algo too. :)

    The song suits the situation perfectly well though... hehe... funny post

  8. interesting post! and the song too good!

  9. Nice post, the song fits too :)

    Btw, now if Google launches this algo secretly and say even figures out who quits, I wonder what is really achieved. The high performer remains a high performer and his/her loss is still a loss. HR will still have to booo and drag themselves to find a killer match. Wonder if there could be an algo to figure out what can make people stay and enjoy their work.

  10. Trust Google to come up with something like this .

  11. hahaha...mast post..ur HR is so cruel..:P..duhu..

  12. Whoa! With this in line, I should have been sitting jobless forever!

    Google's out to take over the world I tell you. Next thing you know, they release the algorithm as a backend script running with Chrome and recording the sites that they visit with what frequency, and then spam their mailboxes with related references.

    Oh wait...they're doing that already.

  13. I tried to apply this theory on me and i couldn't have predict me quitting my job before i did. just like A.I call/put stock market auto-generated transaction based on predefined algorithm but every now then new factor comes up which algorithm is not designed for.

    ofcourse if you are HR something is better than nothing.

  14. DD,

    Thought provoking but let me just say that it is not possible to treat humans as mathematical formulae. Each person has own qualities and chances of two being alike are very very remote. It is not difficult for experienced HR person to smell the ones who are likely to leave with little careful study of records of persons and periodic informal chit chat sessions.

    Take care

    PS : I once again posted a light one.

  15. Thanks for letting us know,I was unaware of this espionage by the HR!!

  16. Awesome! Enjoyed your post. Was not aware og Google's work. Thanks. Write more often.

  17. Absolutely fantastic post! Good job!
    Great! Keep up the great posts…..

  18. Haha! Don't be surprised if tomorrow Google actually develops something like this! They can do just about anything!