HR Insights from a Google Guru

By Desda Moss Apr 22, 2015
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work_rules.jpgBy Jonathan Flickinger, JD

In Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead (Twelve, 2015), Laszlo Bock, Google’s “People Operations” guru, delivers an exciting new book that displays his thought leadership in the ever-evolving practice of human resources. We’ve seen Google top almost every "Great Place to Work" list in the past decade. This book allows us to dig deeper into why the company earns the title, year after year, guided by the man who diligently guards the company’s legendary culture.

The book touches upon many facets of the traditional human resources function—from recruiting, hiring and performance management, to benefits, compensation, and the many levels of leadership.  All this plays into the unique culture that Google is known for.
 
Bock describes Google as a “high-freedom environment” that spurs creativity. Employees are encouraged to act like "founders," owning their responsibilities and accomplishments, finding meaning in their work, and seeing the value they add to society (or to the "end user" as most Googlers would say). While management is necessary, Bock and Google try to remove the controlling aspects of it, embracing the notion that people are fundamentally good. The science of people is at the core of what Bock and his team focus on.
 
A few highlights from the book: 
 
If you can measure it, you can manage it: Bock and his team champion the use of meaningful analytics. Google’s reliance on data is no surprise. Bock argues that it’s natural for humans to let their instincts get in the way and advises countering that tendency with a data-driven strategy. “Relying on data guards against rumor, bias, and plain old wrongheadedness,” Bock says. This Moneyball-esque approach to hiring relies heavily on front-loading your people investment. Bock argues that if you hire better performers, the need for training and learning and development will be reduced later on. And of course, Bock adheres to his own work rule: “Only hire people who are better than you.” 
 
Focus on the individual, collectively:  Bock is said to have created “the world’s first self-replicating talent machine,” which he details in the book. He stresses the importance of referrals and turning every employee into a recruiter, interviewing candidates by committee, but also having a single, central reviewer who makes the final call. This is Google’s way of ensuring a collective responsibility for each hire. Bock believes the “wisdom of the crowds” leads to better hiring decisions.   
 
Pay fairly--but not evenly: “Celebrate accomplishment, not compensation,” Bock says. Fairness in pay does not mean that everyone at the same job level is paid the same, or even within 20 percent of each other. Rather, Bock asserts, fairness is when pay is commensurate with contribution.
 
At the end of each chapter of Work Rules, Bock offers a list of quick, bullet-point summaries that capture the foundation of Google’s culture and help readers gain a meaningful takeaway.

Jonathan Flickinger, JD, is an HR manager at Swanson Industries, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter at @jdflick13.

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