This week marks the end of an era, as Laszlo Bock, the SVP of Google’s People Operations, steps down to launch a new startup.
In an email to friends and associates, Bock described how his new stealth mode enterprise hinges on a few of his core principles:
“That every job can have meaning, that if you give people freedom they will amaze you, that applied science (which I dubbed ‘people analytics’ a decade back) can illuminate the truth about what really makes people happy and productive, and that it doesn’t take a ton of effort or investment to make things better … but that you can make work better, everywhere.”
Google won more than 100 awards for its employment practices during Bock’s tenure. And while we are excited to see what’s next for the man they call the King of HR, we thought we’d revisit some of his gems of wisdom from a decade at the helm.
1. Give your work meaning.
Laszlo Bock has always emphasized the importance of company culture underpinning every part of company life. As he writes in his New York Times bestseller Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, “everyone wants their work to have purpose.”
Bock divided Google’s culture into 3 defining principles: finding a compelling mission, being transparent, and giving their people a voice.
“If you want to attract the most talented people on the planet, you need to craft a goal that inspires them.”
2. Trust your people.
As leaders, it’s important to be transparent and encourage people to think and act like owners.
In a hugely popular slide deck based on his bestseller, Bock insists that people will surprise you when you simply trust them to do the right thing.
“MIT’s Richard Locke compared two garment plants in Mexico, one tightly controlled and another that was self-run by workers. Not only were the workers with more freedom more productive, they also earned higher wages and had lower costs.”
3. Hire only people who are better than you. And importantly, “hire by committee.”
“To find the best people, you have to be willing to wait. A bad hire can be toxic. Set the bar high, never compromise on quality and find someone who is better than you in some meaningful way. You’ll end up with a much stronger team.”
Google continues to use the data-driven methods established by Bock, which include using at least 4 interviewers, then taking each score equally and averaging their scores to decide on the hire. Using this average yielded an 86% hiring accuracy rate and avoided confirmation bias to a higher degree.
4. Don’t confuse development with managing performance.
Development is an ongoing conversation, not an annual measurement, and should, therefore, be separated from conversations about rewards.
“Combining the two kills learning,” he writes. “In 1969, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan found that attaching incentives to tasks reduced intrinsic motivation, leading to less time and effort completing them, especially when those incentives were later removed.”
5. Focus on the two tails.
Bock believes the organization should focus on the very, very good and the very, very bad. For the good, learn everything you can from them: “Put your best people under a microscope to find out – and replicate – what makes them succeed.”
For the bad: “If you’re getting hiring right, most of those who struggle do so because you’ve put them in the wrong role, not because they are inept. Help them to learn or to find new roles.” Let people know how they are doing to help them grow.
6. Be frugal and generous.
Bock insists that not everything has to cost money, from a development, learning or inspirational perspective. Bock famously instituted “perks” at a low cost to the company (think laundry, lunches, and shuttles) but at high impact to productivity and making life easier for employees.
“Save your big checks for the times when your people are most in need, the moments of greatest tragedy and joy. Your generosity will have the most impact when someone needs emergency medical attention or when families are welcoming new members.”
7. Pay unfairly.
90% percent or more of the value on your teams comes from the top 10%. As a result, your best people are worth far more than your average people, so pay them accordingly. Make sure they feel it. Even if you don’t have the financial resources to provide huge differences in pay, providing greater differences will mean something. Otherwise, you’re just giving them a reason to quit.
“Small signals can cause large changes in behavior.”
We are all constantly nudged by our environment and nudging those around us. Use that fact to make yourself and your teams happier and more productive: “Arrange your physical space in a way that encourages behaviors you want: If you need people to collaborate and are stuck with cubicles, knock down the walls. Be thoughtful in how you send messages to your teams. Share data about what is going right, such as the number of people volunteering with local charities, to encourage others to get involved. You’ll be surprised by how different the same place can feel.”
9. Manage the rising expectations.
There is tuition value in mistakes, writes Bock, and you need to be prepared to take steps back when new ideas don’t work.
“You’re never going to please everyone, but don’t let that prevent you from trying new things. Tell people around you that you’re going to be experimenting to balance expectations. That will help transform them from critics to supporters, and they’ll extend you the benefit of the doubt if things go awry.”
10. Enjoy! And then go back to No. 1 and start again.
Consistency and constancy are important: this isn’t a one-time effort. Bock emphasizes the need to slowly but surely build both culture and structures through learning and renewal. “What’s beautiful about this approach is that a great environment is a self-reinforcing one: All these efforts support one another and together create an organization that is creative, fun, hardworking, and highly productive. If you believe people are good, then live your beliefs through your work.”