Google tries number-crunching employees

Google's been hemorrhaging good employees lately, losing not only Google.org's leader Dr. Larry Brilliant but several others, including key advertising chief Tim Armstrong, who decamped for AOL. To staunch the flow, Google's turning to what it knows best: numbers. But could its choice of cure be exactly what creative, key employees say ails the company?

The Wall St. Journal reports that Google has designed a multi-faceted mathematical formula for identifying which of its 20,000 employees is most likely to quit. The idea is to identify those most vulnerable and intervene before they get to the point of quitting. While Google declined to share the formula's details, it did say the inputs include information from surveys and peer reviews, and that it has already "identified employees who felt underused, a key complaint among those who contemplate leaving."

Still, it seems that other less measurable indicators are more important to those who leave Google. For example, designer Doug Bowman said the company's overreliance on data vs. design led to his decision to leave. In a blog post at the time, Bowman said Google was actually testing 41 shades between two colors of blue because it couldn't decide which one to use:

When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Google's HR chief Laszlo Bock declined to say how many Googlers had quit the firm, saying only, "We haven't seen the most critical people leave." But could that change now that even the most talented Google employees will be reduced to a series of numbers in a mathematical formula?

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