Much of Google University is shrouded in mystery, but some of that mystique has lifted, as word leaked out during a recent conference about the presence of a relatively unorthodox school within the university — the School of Personal Growth.
“Google has always been a company that want[ed] to do something good for the world,” said Monika Broecker, former head of the School of Personal Growth and founder of the Center for Personal Growth, which brings personal growth programs to companies and individuals. “It was never just focused on business; it was always trying to change the world. [And] so we wanted to develop Googlers as whole human beings on all levels—mental, emotional, physical and beyond the self.”
The School of Personal Growth is one of four schools within Google University. The School of Workplace Essentials focuses mainly on business and professional skills; the School of Leadership Development targets leadership and people management skills; and the School of Google Life and Culture is home to the Noogler orientation for new employees and other programs.
When Broecker came to the iconic tech giant, the School of Personal Growth only had a few courses to its name and she wanted to help develop the curriculum further. She and others began building the business case for why Google should invest in more courses and developed the school’s mission statement: “to bring out the best in Google and Googlers by developing Googlers as whole human beings and helping them reach their full potentials on all levels: mental, emotional, physical and beyond the self.”
“We built a business case to justify what we were trying to do,” Broecker said. “We did a lot of research and we found that while people are very happy at Google, the environment—as in other fast-paced companies—can also be quite stressful.”
This stress can also inhibit an individual’s ability to be creative, and at organizations where the success of the business depends on creativity, that has a bottom line impact.
“If you are under stress, your brain goes into this mode of just repeating the same thing over and over again,” Broecker said. “You are not as creative and innovative.”
The business case for the School of Personal Growth was that Google needed to provide programs that increased the holistic health and well-being of its employees so that they could be more effective, productive and creative than they already were. Broecker developed the curricula based on established practices that had years of research behind them.
Within the mental development curriculum, courses were tailored to improve focus, memory, attention, creativity and flow. In the emotional development arena, employees focused on emotional intelligence, people skills, adaptability and risk-taking. With holistic health and well-being classes, the goal was to improve employees’ health, sustainability and work/life balance. One of the main classes in this curriculum is the The Alexander Technique, which is a mind-body integration technique and one of the most effective self-care methods for chronic pain management. Lastly, the Beyond the Self curriculum targeted intention, purpose, spirituality and holistic thinking and included a class called “The Neuroscience of Empathy.”
With respect to “Search Inside Yourself,” which is a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence course that Google developed with Daniel Goleman, feedback from participants included comments such as “the way I respond to situations under pressure has changed”; “I developed greater compassion and patience with people”; and “I became more focused during work.”
You might be wondering if this type of education only works at Google, which is known for its unique culture, but Broecker believes it can be successful in any organization that cares for the health and well-being of its employees.
To get executive buy-in, though, you have to show data and measure impact, as Broecker did.
“If you want executive management support, you better back it up with data,” Broecker said. “We did a lot of research as to the effectiveness of our programs. One of the questions [we researched] was whether we could show that people who had gone through our programs were happier in Google than people who had not gone through our programs. And we definitely had data that showed that this was the case.”
But is this type of workplace education just a New Age fad or is it the next new trend in the learning space?
“Many people want an integration of their personal life [and] their work life,” Broecker said. “People are really longing for this, and for companies to attract and retain people, it’s critical to offer something that goes beyond the core business.”