Karen May (Google) in “The Corner Office”

May, KarenAdam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Karen May, vice president for people development at Google, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant. She says that earlier in her career, she learned to realize “that one of the most valuable things I could do for somebody is tell them exactly what nobody else had told them before.”

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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Bryant: You consulted for many companies before you joined Google full time. What are some common mistakes you’ve noticed in training programs for employees?

May: One thing that doesn’t make sense is to require a lot of training. People learn best when they’re motivated to learn. If people opt in, versus being required to go, you’re more likely to have better outcomes.

You can also influence people to come to training. If a group of people go through some kind of program and they like it, then you ask them to nominate someone who might find the program beneficial. If the invitation comes from a colleague or a manager, you have that kind of peer-to-peer influence that says: “I got something out of this. You might, too.” Then the people who come are motivated. They assume they’re going to get something out of it. You just create a much different vibe than, “I was told I have to show up to this thing.”

Another “don’t” would be thinking that because some training content is interesting, everyone should therefore go through it. If something is interesting under particular conditions, it can lose its magic when applied to everyone.

Bryant: Other pitfalls?

May: Don’t use training to fix performance problems. If you’ve got a performance problem, there is a process to go through to figure out what’s causing it. Maybe the person doesn’t have the knowledge or skill or capability. Or is it motivation, or something about relationships within the work environment? Or lack of clarity about expectations? Training is the right solution only if the person doesn’t have the capability. But what I have seen in other places is sort of a knee-jerk reaction by managers to put someone in a training class if somebody isn’t performing well.

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.
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