Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
August 5, 2016
This installment of Kathy’s CliffNotes is on the book: Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock who is the head of Google's innovative People Operations. This book is an inquiry into the philosophy of work, and a blueprint for attracting the most spectacular talent to your business and ensuring that they succeed. This is a really great read in full if you have time. If you don’t have time to read the full book, I hope you enjoy this beautiful 9 page summary....that comes with a BONUS adorable cat picture (who wouldn't love that??).
From the visionary head of Google's innovative People Operations comes a groundbreaking inquiry into the philosophy of work-and a blueprint for attracting the most spectacular talent to your business and ensuring that they succeed.
"We spend more time working than doing anything else in life. It's not right that the experience of work should be so demotivating and dehumanizing." So says Laszlo Bock, head of People Operations at the company that transformed how the world interacts with knowledge.
This insight is the heart of WORK RULES!, a compelling and surprisingly playful manifesto that offers lessons including: Give your work meaning. Trust your people. Hire only people who are better than you. Don’t confuse development with managing performance. Focus on the two tails. Be frugal and generous. Pay unfairly. Nudge. Manage the rising expectations. Enjoy! And then go back to No. 1 and start again.
Topline Chapter Summaries:
Chapter 1 WORK RULES…FOR BECOMING A FOUNDER Choose to think of yourself as a founder. Now act like one.
Chapter 2 WORK RULES…FOR BUILDING A GREAT CULTURE Think of your work as a calling, with a mission that matters. Give people slightly more trust, freedom, and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t given them enough.
Chapter 3 WORK RULES…FOR HIRING (THE SHORT VERSION) Given limited resources, invest your HR dollars first in recruiting. Hire only the best by taking your time, hiring only people who are better than you in some meaningful way, and not letting managers make hiring decisions for their own teams.
Chapter 4 WORK RULES…FOR FINDING EXCEPTIONAL CANDIDATES Get the best referrals by being excruciatingly specific in describing what you’re looking for. Make recruiting part of everyone’s job. Don’t be afraid to try crazy things to get the attention of the best people.
Chapter 5 WORK RULES…FOR SELECTING NEW EMPLOYEES Set a high bar for quality. Find your own candidates. Assess candidates objectively. Give candidates a reason to join.
Chapter 6 WORK RULES…FOR MASS EMPOWERMENT Eliminate status symbols. Make decisions based on data, not based on managers’ opinions. Find ways for people to shape their work and the company.
Chapter 7 WORK RULES…FOR PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT Set goals correctly. Gather peer feedback. Use a calibration process to finalize ratings. Split rewards conversations from development conversations.
Chapter 8 WORK RULES…FOR MANAGING YOUR TWO TAILS Help those in need. Put your best people under a microscope. Use surveys and checklists to find the truth and nudge people to improve. Set a personal example by sharing and acting on your own feedback.
Chapter 9 WORK RULES…FOR BUILDING A LEARNING INSTITUTION Engage in deliberate practice: Break lessons down into small, digestible pieces with clear feedback and do them again and again. Have your best people teach. Invest only in courses that you can prove change people’s behavior.
Chapter 10 WORK RULES…FOR PAYING UNFAIRLY Swallow hard and pay unfairly. Have wide variations in pay that reflect the power law distribution of performance. Celebrate accomplishment, not compensation. Make it easy to spread the love. Reward thoughtful failure.
Chapter 11 WORK RULES…FOR EFFICIENCY, COMMUNITY, AND INNOVATION Make life easier for employees. Find ways to say yes. The bad stuff in life happens rarely… be there for your people when it does.
Chapter 12 WORK RULES…FOR NUDGING TOWARD HEALTH, WEALTH, AND HAPPINESS Recognize the difference between what is and what ought to be. Run lots of small experiments. Nudge, don’t shove.
Chapter 13 WORK RULES…FOR SCREWING UP Admit your mistake. Be transparent about it. Take counsel from all directions. Fix whatever broke. Find the moral in the mistake, and teach it.
“When employees trust the leadership, they become brand ambassadors and in turn cause progressive change in their families, society, and environment. The return on investment to business is automatic, with greater productivity, business growth, and inspired customers.”
And leaders who build the right kind of environments will be magnets for the most talented people on the planet.
the default leadership style at Google is one where a manager focuses not on punishments or rewards but on clearing roadblocks and inspiring her team.
My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society.
“emergent leadership.” This is a form of leadership that ignores formal designations—at Google there is rarely a formal leader of any effort.
In your company, there is certainly a best salesperson in terms of total sales. By turning to that person to teach others rather than bringing in someone from the outside, you not only have a teacher who is better than your other salespeople, but also someone who understands the specific context of your company and customers. Remember that Groysberg found that exceptional success rarely follows an individual from company to company.
WORK RULES…FOR BUILDING A LEARNING INSTITUTION Engage in deliberate practice: Break lessons down into small, digestible pieces with clear feedback and do them again and again. Have your best people teach. Invest only in courses that you can prove change people’s behavior.
Reviews / Calibration
Implemented a 20-70-10 performance ranking system, where GE employees were sorted into three groups: the top 20 percent, the middle 70 percent, and the bottom 10 percent. The top workers were lionized and rewarded with choice assignments, leadership training programs, and stock. The bottom 10 percent were fired.
Make decisions based on data, not based on managers’ opinions When you present people with reality, they want to get better. The truth is that people usually live up to your expectations, whether those expectations are high or low.
“Traditional performance management systems make a big mistake. They combine two things that should be completely separate: performance evaluation and people development. Evaluation is necessary to distribute finite resources, like salary increases or bonus dollars. Development is just as necessary so people grow and improve.” If you want people to grow, don’t have those two conversations at the same time. Make development a constant back-and-forth between you and your team members, rather than a year-end surprise.
To conduct annual reviews, Googlers and their managers select a list of peer reviewers that includes not just peers, but also people junior to them. We asked for one single thing the person should do more of, and one thing they could do differently to have more impact. We asked them to list specific projects, their roles, and what they accomplished. Peer reviewers were then asked to rate (using a slider on the screen) how well they knew that particular project and how large the individual’s impact was, and to add any comments
Human performance in organizations follows a power law distribution for most jobs.
Poor performance is rarely because the person is incompetent or a bad person. It’s typically a result of a gap in skill (which is either fixable or not) or will (where the person is not motivated to do the work). In the latter case, it could be a personal issue or a useful sign that there is something bigger wrong with the team that needs to be addressed
Rewarding smart failure was vital to support a culture of risk-taking.
When you do reward people, make sure to sprinkle in experiences, not just cash. Few people look back on their lives as a series of paychecks. They remember the conversations, lunches, and events with colleagues and friends. Celebrate success with actions, not dollars.
WORK RULES…FOR PAYING UNFAIRLY Swallow hard and pay unfairly. Have wide variations in pay that reflect the power law distribution of performance. Celebrate accomplishment, not compensation. Make it easy to spread the love. Reward thoughtful failure.
Formal debrief after every process such as bonus planning, where we ask, “What should we do differently? What did we learn? What were we told to do that we will choose to ignore and not do
People are happy when you give them what they ask for. People are delighted when you anticipate what they didn’t think to ask for.
Most companies, including Google until a few years ago, celebrate promotions but do nothing to reach out to the people who just missed the cut. Which is madness. It takes an hour or two to spot the folks you think will be upset and talk to them about how to continue growing. It’s the way you would want to be treated. It’s more procedurally just
Rewards / Targets
Google is one of the few companies of our size to grant stock to all employees.
“If you set a crazy, ambitious goal and miss it, you’ll still achieve something remarkable.” So at the beginning of each year everyone’s OKRs are visible to everyone else in the company on our internal website, right next to their phone number and office location. It’s important that there’s a way to find out what other people and teams are doing, and motivating to see how you fit into theBottom of Form broader picture of what Google is trying to achieve.
Pay unfairly. Celebrate accomplishment, not compensation. Make it easy to spread the love. Reward thoughtful failure.
We’ve learned a bit about how to celebrate success without breeding jealousy. We’ve applied insights from others and proven that what people think will bring them joy may not always be what does.
Pay unfairly: Your best people are better than you think, and worth more than you pay them
The allocation of extreme awards must be just. If you can’t explain to employees the basis for such a wide range of awards, and can’t give them specific ways to improve their own performance to these superb levels, you will breed a culture of jealousy and resentment. Maybe that’s why most companies don’t bother. It’s hard work to have pay ranges where someone can make two or even ten times more than someone else.
As Napoleon is purported to have written, though in a more sinister vein: “I have made the most wonderful discovery. I have discovered men will risk their lives, even die, for ribbons!” Simple, public recognition is one of the most effective and most underutilized management tools.
“High-freedom” approach where employees are given great latitude
Here is a sample of the decisions managers at Google cannot make unilaterally: Whom to hire Whom to fire How someone’s performance is rated How much of a salary increase, bonus, or stock grant to give someone Who is selected to win an award for great management Whom to promote When code is of sufficient quality to be incorporated into our software code base The final design of a product and when to launch it. If you’re solving for what is most fair across the entire organization, which in turn helps employees have greater trust in the company and makes rewards more meaningful, managers must give up this power and allow outcomes to be calibrated across groups.
The research showed eight common attributes shared by high-scoring managers and not exhibited by low-scoring managers: The 8 Project Oxygen Attributes Be a good coach. Empower the team and do not micromanage. Express interest/concern for team members’ success and personal well-being. Be very productive/results-oriented. Be a good communicator—listen and share information. Help the team with career development. Have a clear vision/strategy for the team. Have important technical skills that help advise the team
The best way to improve is by talking to those providing feedback and asking them exactly what they hope you would do differently.
Have the people who are best at each attribute train everyone else. We ask our Great Manager Award recipients to train others as a condition of winning the award.
WORK RULES…FOR MANAGING YOUR TWO TAILS Help those in need. Put your best people under a microscope. Use surveys and checklists to find the truth and nudge people to improve. Set a personal example by sharing and acting on your own feedback.
In the minutes before every client meeting, he would take me aside and ask me questions: “What are your goals for this meeting?” “How do you think each client will respond?” “How do you plan to introduce a difficult topic?” We’d conduct the meeting, and on the drive back to our office he would again ask questions that forced me to learn: “How did your approach work out?” “What did you learn?” “What do you want to try differently next time?”
Managers received just-in-time emails the Sunday before a new hire started. Like the Project Oxygen checklist, which showcased the eight behaviors of successful managers, the five actions were almost embarrassing in their simplicity: Have a role-and-responsibilities discussion. Match your Noogler with a peer buddy. Help your Noogler build a social network. Set up onboarding check-ins once a month for your Noogler’s first six months. Encourage open dialogue. And as with Project Oxygen, we saw a substantial improvement. Nooglers whose managers took action on this email became fully effective 25 percent faster than their peers, saving a full month of learning time.
As a manager, your job is to help your people find that meaning in their work.
Make developmental conversations safe and productive by having them all the time, just like my manager used to do when we’d leave every meeting. Always start with an attitude of “How can I help you be more successful?”
Culture / Community
WORK RULES…FOR BUILDING A GREAT CULTURE Think of your work as a calling, with a mission that matters. Give people slightly more trust, freedom, and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t given them enough.
Employees calling meetings simply to share what they were working on turned into the hundreds of Tech Talks we host each month.
Franken-teams, combining “thinkers and doers” as well as disparate experts on single teams.
being part of an environment where you and those around you will thrive starts with your taking responsibility for that environment.
This kind of mission [statement] gives individuals’ work meaning, because it is a moral rather than a business goal. The most powerful movements in history have had moral motivations
Having workers meet the people they are helping is the greatest motivator, even if they only meet for a few minutes. It imbues one’s work with a significance that transcends careerism or money. Especially those most remote from the front office, finding ways to enable access to your customers so employees can witness the human effect of their labors is important.
If you believe people are good, you must be unafraid to share information with them Transparency is the second cornerstone of our culture. “Default to open” is a phrase sometimes heard in the open-source technology community.
At our weekly TGIF all-hands meeting, Larry and Sergey host the entire company (thousands join in person and by video, and tens of thousands watch the rebroadcast online) for updates from the prior week, product demonstrations, welcoming of new hires, and most important, thirty minutes of fielding questions from anyone in the company, on any topic. The Q&A is the part that matters most
Large organizations often have groups doing redundant work without knowing it, wasting resources. Information sharing allows everyone to understand the differences in goals across different groups, avoiding internal rivalry.
Openness demonstrates to your employees that you believe they are trustworthy and have good judgment. And giving them more context about what is happening (and how and why) will enable them to do their jobs
You start a company or team, you know exactly what you are looking for in a new
Our operating assumption is that anything we’re doing, we can do better.
One of the challenges we face at Google is that we want people to feel, think, and act like owners rather than employees. But human beings are wired to defer to authority, seek hierarchy, and focus on their local interest. If you want a nonhierarchical environment, you need visible reminders of your values. Otherwise, your human nature inevitably reasserts itself. Symbols and stories matter.
Find ways to say yes. Employees will reward you by making your workplace more vibrant, fun, and productive.
We provide five months of maternity leave in the United States at a time when three months was more typical. But we made a more profound change as well. We decided that new parents would receive their full salary, bonus, and stock vesting
I learned that the attrition rate for women after childbirth was twice our average attrition rate. Many moms coming back to work after twelve weeks felt stressed, tired, and sometimes guilty. After making the change in leave, the difference in attrition rates vanished. And moms told us that they were often using the extra two months to transition slowly back to work, making them more effective and happier when the leave ended. When we eventually did the math, it turned out this program cost nothing. The cost of having a mom out of the office for an extra couple of months was more than offset by the value of retaining her expertise and avoiding the cost of finding and training a new hire.
WORK RULES…FOR EFFICIENCY, COMMUNITY, AND INNOVATION Make life easier for employees. Find ways to say yes. The bad stuff in life happens rarely… be there for your people when it does
What did work was creating a quarterly survey of just two questions: “In the last quarter, this person helped me when I reached out to him/her”; and “In the last quarter, this person involved me when I could have been helpful to, or was impacted by, his/her team’s work.” Every member of the team rated each other member, and the anonymous ranking and results were shared with everyone. People knew where they fell in the ranking, but didn’t know where anyone else fell. The two most obstreperous people, of course, ranked near the bottom, and were dismayed by it. Without any further intervention, they worked to improve the quality of their collaboration.
Research on how people join teams and companies shows that some employees don’t sit idly by, waiting for someone to “onboard them.” Rather, they onboard themselves by reaching out to coworkers, seeking out resources, asking questions, and setting up lunches to build their networks. People who demonstrate this scrappy, proactive behavior become fully effective faster and perform better on tests of acculturation.
Ask questions, lots of questions! Schedule regular 1:1s with your manager. Get to know your team. Actively solicit feedback—don’t wait for it! Accept the challenge (i.e., take risks and don’t be afraid to fail… other Googlers will support you).
If you want to become a high-freedom environment, here are the ten steps that will transform your team or workplace: Give your work meaning. Trust your people. Hire only people who are better than you. Don’t confuse development with managing performance. Focus on the two tails. Be frugal and generous. Pay unfairly. Nudge. Manage the rising expectations. Enjoy! And then go back to No. 1 and start again.
Hire someone just as motivated, clever, interesting, and passionate as you are about the new venture.
We wanted to hire “smart generalists” rather than experts. The firms were mystified that we’d prefer hiring someone who was clever and curious over someone who actually knew what he was doing.
Bad performers and political people have a toxic effect on an entire team and require substantial management time to coach or exit. Google was growing too quickly and had too much at stake to risk that. So we kept roles open until we found exactly the right candidate.
“Only hire people who are better than you.” How we do this at Google by looking for a wide range of attributes, among the most important of which are humility and conscientiousness. IQ alone doesn’t make someone creative or a team player. Google has one final reviewer of every—yes, every—candidate: our CEO, Larry
Google developed a white-glove service for referrals, where referred candidates get a call within forty-eight hours and the referring Googler is provided weekly updates on the status of their candidates. Googlers and candidates were happier with the process.
The very best people aren’t out there looking for work.Bottom of Form They are happy and being amply rewarded where they are todayBottom of Form. Get the best referrals by being excruciatingly specific in describing what you’re looking for. Make recruiting part of everyone’s job. Don’t be afraid to try crazy things to get the attention of the best people.
The best predictor of how someone will perform in a job is a work sample test (29 percent). This entails giving candidates a sample piece of work, similar to that which they would do in the job, and assessing their performance at it. The second-best predictors of performance are tests of general cognitive ability (26 percent). In contrast to case interviews and brainteasers, these are actual tests with defined right and wrong answers, similar to what you might find on an IQ test. They are predictive because general cognitive ability includes the capacity to learn, and the combination of raw intelligence and learning ability will make most people successful in most jobs. Tied with tests of general cognitive ability are structured interviews (26 percent), where candidates are asked a consistent set of questions with clear criteria to assess the quality of responses. US Department of Veterans Affairs has a site with almost a hundred sample questions at www.va.gov/pbi/questions.asp. Use them. You’ll do better at hiring immediately.
General Cognitive Ability. this is about understanding how candidates have solved hard problems in real life and how they learn, not checking GPAs and SATs.
“Googleyness.” attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn’t?), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it’s hard to learn if you can’t admit that you might be wrong), and evidence that you’ve taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.
Four interviews were enough to predict whether or not we should hire someone with 86 percent confidence.
Our recruiters are able to route candidates across the entire company, which requires both visibility into all the jobs and an understanding of what they are. And if there’s no job available at the moment, the recruiters make a note to follow up with strong candidates for future opportunities.
We find that the best candidates leave subordinates feeling inspired or excited to learn from them.
Set a high bar for quality. Before you start recruiting, decide what attributes you want and define as a group what great looks like. A good rule of thumb is to hire only people who are better than you. Do not compromise. Ever. Find your own candidates. LinkedIn, Google+, alumni databases, and professional associations make it easy. Assess candidates objectively. Include subordinates and peers in the interviews, make sure interviewers write good notes, and have an unbiased group of people make the actual hiring decision. Periodically return to those notes and compare them to how the new employee is doing, to refine your assessment capability. Give candidates a reason to join. Make clear why the work you are doing matters, and let the candidate experience the astounding people they will get to work with.
Hire by committee, set objective standards in advance, never compromise, and periodically check if your new hires are better than your old ones.
WORK RULES…FOR MASS EMPOWERMENT Eliminate status symbols. Make decisions based on data, not based on managers’ opinions. Find ways for people to shape their work and the company. Expect a lot.
Performance improved only when companies implemented programs to empower employees (for example, by taking decision-making authority away from managers and giving it to individuals or teams), provided learning opportunities that were outside what people needed to do their jobs, increased their reliance on teamwork (by giving teams more autonomy and allowing them to self-organize), or a combination of these
“When you’re a grad student,” Larry observed, “you can work on whatever you want. And the projects that were really good got a lot of people really wanting to work on them. We’ve taken that learning to Google, and it’s been really, really helpful. If you’re changing the world, you’re working on important things. You’re excited to get up in the morning. You want to be working on meaningful, impactful projects, and that’s the thing there is really a shortage of in the world.
Googlers are the first to try new products and provide feedback.
What managers miss is that every time they give up a little control, it creates a wonderful opportunity for their team to step up, while giving the manager herself more time for new challenges.
Workplaces that permit employees more freedom tap into that natural intrinsic motivation, which in turn helps employees feel even more autonomous and capable.
Giving employees the opportunity to teach gives them purpose. Even if they don’t find meaning in their regular jobs, passing on knowledge is both inspiring and inspirational.
Make this plea to your boss: Give me a chance. Help me understand what your goals are, and let me figure out how to achieve them.
We suffer about one major leak each year. Each time, there’s an investigation, and each time, whether it was deliberate or accidental, well intentioned or not, the person is fired. We don’t name the person, but we let everyone in the company know what was leaked and what the consequence was.
“A crisis is an opportunity to have impact. Drop everything and deal with the crisis.”
Innovation thrives on creativity and experimentation, but it also requires thoughtful pruning.
It is those moments of crisis that determine the future.
WORK RULES…FOR SCREWING UP Admit your mistake. Be transparent about it. Take counsel from all directions. Fix whatever broke. Find the moral in the mistake, and teach