Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock
Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
One of the best books I have read on company culture and hiring practices with a lot of practical and actionable advice included. I strongly recommend this book for anyone in leadership, management, interviewing and hiring.
This is the 18th book in my 2018 reading list.
My Favorite Quotes
- Google’s operating assumption is “Anything we are doing, we can do better.”
- The most talented and creative people cannot be forced to work.
- Google’s greatest constraint on growth has always been their ability to find great people. People that can solve today’s problems and unknown problems in the future.
Chapter 1: Becoming a Founder
You are a founder.
It is within anyone’s grasp to be the founder and culture creator of their own team.
Take responsibility for your environment.
- Choose to think of yourself as a founder.
- Now act like one.
Chapter 2: Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast
If you give people freedom they will amaze you.
A group’s culture can be studied in three ways:
- By looking at its artifacts such as physical spaces and behaviors.
- By surveying the beliefs and values espoused by group members.
- By digging deeper into the underlying assumptions behind those values.
Three defining aspects of Google culture:
Google’s Mission: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
People want aspirations that have inspiration.
People see their work in one of three ways:
- Just a job (a necessity that is not a major positive)
- A career
- A calling (source of enjoyment and fulfillment)
Voice: give people a real say in how things are done at the company.
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. If you are not nervous, you haven’t given them enough.
Chapter 3: Lake Woebegone, where all the new hires are above average.
Why hiring is the single most important people activity in any organization.
If you recruit like everyone else, place add, sift resumes, interview, then hire, you will get the same results as everyone else which are “average.”
Google spends the majority of their people investment in attracting, assessing and cultivating new hires.
Average level candidates consume massive training resources and are just as likely to perform well below average as above average.
Google’s greatest constraint on growth has always been their ability to find great people.
For years Google paid the lowest salaries in the industry while starting up. Many new hires took a pay cut to work there.
Google had to figure out a new way to hire people to ensure they had better results than other companies.
Sifting the exceptional from the rest requires radically rethinking hiring.
Two big changes you have to make to how you think about hiring:
- Hire slowly.
- Only hire people that are better than you. (In at least one area)
Only 10% of your applicants, at best, will be top performers.
The top performers in most industries are not looking for work.
Google prefers to take a bright, hard working student who graduated at the top of his or her class from a state school over an average or above average Ivy League school.
Hiring the very best people that will be successful within the context of your organization and will make everyone around them successful.
Work rules for hiring:
- Given limited resources invest your HR dollars first in recruiting.
- Hire only the best by taking your time, hiring only people that are better than you in some meaningful way, and not letting managers make hiring decisions for their own teams.
Chapter 4: Searching for the Best
The evolution of Google’s self-replicating talent machine.
1-3 million people apply to Google each year, they hire about 5,000 per year. 1/4% of a percent roughly. Compared to 6% acceptance for Harvard applicants.
CEO Larry Paige is the final reviewer and approver of every applicant.
The early days: hiring astounding people at a snail’s pace.
Google wanted to hire smart generalists rather than experts. People that are clever and curious, not experts.
People that can solve today’s problems and unknown problems that come up in the future.
Google analysis revealed academic performance did not predict job performance.
Being hired could take up to 6 months. 15-25 interviews for every successful candidate. 50-500 hours of employee time invested for each hire. Focus was on avoiding false positives.
A small company cannot afford to hire someone that turns out to be awful. Bad performers and political people have a toxic effect on the entire team.
Referrals were the top source of hires for the first 10 years.
Aided recall exercises to help employees think of people to refer.
Google built their own G-hire software network system to hire and search for candidates. Cheaper than paying recruiters.
Use wayback machine to check old internet archives.
The individual recruiter you select is more crucial than the recruiting company you use.
Job boards generate many applicants but few hires. Easy to spam employers with applications.
First step: Turn every employee into a recruiter by soliciting referrals.
Second step: ask your best networked people to spend even more time sourcing great hires.
Be willing to experiment.
Work rules for finding exceptional candidates;
- Get the best referrals by being excruciatingly specific in describing what you are 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: Don’t Trust Your Gut
Why our instincts keep us from being good interviewers and what you can do to hire better.
Numerous examples sample interview questions listed in chapter 5, not noted here.
US Department of Veterans Affairs website has 100 sample interview questions.
[This is a fantastic resource with free downloads available, I highly recommend it for anyone involved in recruiting, hiring and interviewing]
Google sends follow-up surveys to those interviewed to get feedback on the process and improve how they interview candidates.
Four distinct attributes that predict whether someone is successful at Google:
- General cognitive ability. Smart people that can learn and adapt to situations.
- Leadership. Emergent leadership.
- “Googliness” enjoy fun, intellectual humility.
- Role related knowledge. By far the least important attribute.
Google has a strong bias against people who champion themselves and use “I” more than “we.”
Example Interview Questions:
Tell me about a time your behavior had a positive impact on your team.
What was your primary goal and why?
How did your teammates respond?
Moving forward what is your plan?
Tell me about a time when you effectively managed your team to achieve a goal, what did your approach look like?
What were your targets and how did you meet them as an individual and as a team?
How did you adapt your leadership approach to different individuals?
What was the key takeaway from the specific situation?
Tell me about a time you had difficulty working with someone, a co-worker, a classmate, a client. What made this person difficult to work with for you?
What steps did you take to resolve the problem?
What was the outcome?
What could you have done differently?
Google’s operating assumption is “Anything we are doing, we can do better.”
Google has found that the optimum number of interviews is 4.
Six weeks is the average hiring time for a candidate.
How to hire the best:
4 principles to help even the smallest team do much better at hiring.
- Set a high bar for quality. Before you start, decide what attributes you want and decide as a group what great looks like. Good rule of thumb: hire only people better than you.
- Find your own candidates.
- Assess candidates objectively. Include subordinates and peers in the interviews. Take good notes.
- Give candidates a reason to join.
Fight for quality! Don’t give in. The difference between average and exceptional is profound.
Chapter 6: Let the Inmates Run the Asylum
The most talented and creative people cannot be forced to work.
Work rules for mass empowerment:
- Eliminate status symbols.
- Make decisions based on data, not managers’ opinions.
- Find ways for people to shape their work and the company.
- Expect a lot.
Chapter 7: Why Everyone Hates Performance Management and What We Decided to do About It
Improve performance by focusing on personal growth instead of ratings and rewards.
Avoid defensiveness and promote learning.
Intrinsic motivation is the key to growth.
Extrinsic motivations can start to shut down the willingness and ability to learn.
Google allows employees to self nominate for promotion.
Work rules for performance management:
- Set goals correctly and make them public.
- Gather peer feedback.
- Adopt a calibration process for evaluations.
- Split reward conversations from development conversations.
Chapter 8: The Two Tails
The biggest opportunities lie in your absolute best and worst employees.
Eight common attributes shared by high scoring managers at Google and not shared by low scoring managers.
- Be a good coach.
- Empower the team and do not micromanage.
- Express interest and concern for team member success and personal well being.
- Be very productive and results oriented.
- Be a good communicator, listen, share information.
- Help the team with career development.
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
- Have important technical skills that help advise the team.
Utilize checklists, see The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.
Try to reduce good management to a checklist.
Work rules for managing your two tails (best and worst employees).
- 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: Building a Learning Institution
Your best teachers already work for you, let them teach!
Illustration of Tiger Woods in college practicing hitting balls in the rain for 4 hours in the middle of the night.
Work rules for building a learning institution:
- Engage in deliberate practice. Lessons in small digestible pieces with clear feedback.
- Have your best people teach.
- Invest only in courses you can prove change people’s behavior.
Chapter 10: Pay Unfairly
Why it is okay to pay two people in the same job completely different amounts.
Celebrate accomplishment not compensation.
Make it easy to spread the love.
Reward thoughtful failure.
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: The Best Things in Life are Free
Or almost free.
Companies cannot exist without people.
Google uses their people programs to achieve three goals:
- Make life easier for employees.
- Find ways to say yes.
- The bad stuff in life happens rarely, be there when it does.
Chapter 12: Nudge a Lot
Small signals can cause large changes in behavior. How one email can improve productivity by 25%.
Five actions for a manager to take with a new hire when they start. Reminder email sent the night before they start.
- Have a role and responsibilities discussion.
- Match your “newgler” with a peer buddy.
- Help your “newgler” build a social network
- Setup on-boarding checking once a month for the first six months.
- Encourage open dialogue.
Five actions recommended to new googlers:
- Ask lots of questions.
- Schedule regular one-on-ones with your manager.
- Get to know your team.
- Actively solicit feedback, don’t wait for it.
- Accept the challenge. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail.
The general class of attribute that causes superior performance is pro-activity.
What the two tails do differently.
Work rules for nudging towards 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: It’s Not All Rainbows and Unicorns
Google’s biggest people mistakes and what you can do to avoid them.
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.
Chapter 14: What You Can Do Starting Tomorrow
10 steps to transform your team and your workplace into a high freedom environment.
- 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.
- Manage the rising expectations.
Action Steps Taken After Reading
- Downloaded interview questions from US Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Incorporated many of these questions into interviews.
- Developed an email template for new hires based on the example in chapter 12
- Taking to heart the statement that “The most talented and creative people cannot be forced to work.” Use this understanding to be a better manager and if there are people that need to be forced to work, they may not be the most talented or creative.
- Confirmation of having high standards and holding them even when it is difficult and time consuming to find the right candidates for the team.
- More thoughtful in my interviewing and hiring process.
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Hope you enjoyed this and got value from my notes.
📚Here is my complete list of book summaries.