Mining for Quitters

This editorial was originally published on Jun 10, 2009. It is being re-published as Steve is on vacation.

I thought this was pretty interesting, a story about a story about Google trying to figure out which people are likely to quit. Apparently Google is worried about losing talented workers, like  those they’ve taken from Microsoft, Yahoo, and other places. Actually they haven’t taken anyone. They built a company that excited people and anyone that wants to get a job there (and can), should be allowed to go work there.

Some people have decided they don’t want to stay, and quite a few executives, and Google wants to try and see if they can keep them. So they are looking for signs that a person might think about leaving, and then hopefully doing something about it. And in typical Google fashion, they’ve built an application that crunches data to identify those people likely to leave.

I think it’s great, especially in an age where it seems so many companies don’t care if you stay or go. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to convince people to stay, at least they can make an attempt to convince them. Sometimes that’s all takes. Show someone that you care, and that you want to keep them around, and many times they might decide to stay. And perhaps it’s in response to this note that the Justice Department in the US considers any agreement among tech firms illegal. Even if it’s an understanding not to poach each others’ executives.

With any technology, there’s a flip side as well. Who knows if employees at Google will try to “game” the system, fake the data that shows the might leave, and then see if they can get a raise or some other benefit from the company. It might not work for all employees, but it might work for some.

It will be a flawed system, but it’s a good idea. It’s a good use of business intelligence computing to try and protect the company’s most valuable assets: its people.

Steve Jones


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