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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

Work rules by Laszlo Bock

I finished this book in May 2023. I recommend this book 5/10.

Former head of People Operations at Google shares insights on the company's principles and processes about how to hire and get the best out of people.

Get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

  • P13. What's a manager to do without these traditional sticks and carrots? The only thing that's left. "Managers serve the team," according to our executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. Like any place, we, of course, have exceptions and failures, but 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.

  • P28. In Larry's words: "I think about how far we've come as companies from those days, where workers had to protect themselves from the company. 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 food of society. As a world, we're doing a better job of that. My goal is for Google to lead, not follow." That's how a founder thinks.

  • P39. A group of fund-raisers were given the opportunity to meet a scholarship recipient and ask them questions for five minutes. The results: Over the next month, weekly fund-raising increased by more than 400 percent. He found this effect persisted in other jobs as well. Lifeguards who read stories about saving drowning swimmers were 21 percent more active in watching over their swimmers. Students editing letters written by other students spent 20 percent more time on them if they first met the authors. So what is Adam's insight? Having workers meet the people they are helping is the greatest motivator, even if they only meet for five minutes. It imbues one's work with a significance that transcends careerism or money.

  • P95. Examples of interview questions include:

    • Tell me about a time your behavior had a positive impact on your team. (Follow-ups: What was your primary goal and why? How did your teammates respond? Moving forward, what's your plan?)

    • Tell me about a time when you effectively managed your team to achieve a goal. What did your approach look like? (Follow-ups: 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 this specific situation?)

    • Tell me about a time when you had difficulty working with someone (can be a coworker, classmate, or client). What made this person difficult to work with for you? Follow-ups: What steps did you take to resolve the problem? What was the outcome? What could you have done differently?)

  • P97. If you don't want to build all this yourself, it's easy enough to find online examples of structured interview questions that you can adapt and use in your environments. For example, the US Department of Veterans Affairs has a site with almost a hundred sample questions Use them. You'll do better at hiring immediately.

  • P114. So how do you create your own self-replicating staffing machine?

    • 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, alum 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 it clear why the work you are doing matters, and let the candidate experience the astounding people they will get to work with.

  • P120. 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. Think about the meetings that you go to. I'd wager that the most senior person always ends up sitting at the head of the table. Is that because they race from office to office, scurrying to be there first so they can seize the best seat? Watch closely next time. As attendees file in, they leave the head seat vacant. It illustrates the subtle and insidious nature of how we create hierarchy. Without instruction, discussion, or even conscious thought, we make room for our "superiors." I see this even at Google, but with a twist. Some of our most senior leaders are attuned to this dynamic and have tried to break it by sitting at the center of the conference table, along one of the sides. Kent Walker, our general counsel, regularly does so. "In part, it's to create a 'King Arthur's Round Table' dynamic—less hierarchical and more calculated to draw people into a conversation with each other rather than a series of back-and-forth exchanges with me."

  • P125. To be transparent, it's become harder to hold this line as we've gotten bigger. Titles that we used to ban outright, like those containing the words "global" or "strategy," have crept into the company. We had banned "global" because it's both self-evident and self-aggrandizing. Isn't every job global unless it specifically says it isn't? "Strategy" is similarly grandiose. Sun Tzu was a strategist. Alexander the Great was a strategist. Having been a so-called strategy consultant for many years, I can tell you that putting the word "strategy" in a title is a great way to get people to apply for a job, but it does little to change the nature of the work.

  • P134. This is one of the biggest missed opportunities that large organizations have, and it holds just as true for companies made up of hundreds, not thousands. Too often, management makes a decision that applies unilaterally to the entire organization. What if management is wrong? What if someone has a better idea? What if the decision works in one country but not in another? It's crazy to me that companies don't experiment more in this way! Why not carve out ten or fifty, or a hundred people and try something different? Or try something first with a small group? As they used to say, "If you're not careful, you may learn something before you're done."

  • P142. At the same time, the survey reveals we have work to do in some areas of well-being, especially in Googler's ability to detach from work during non-work times. And so we're trying to get better. Our Dublin office responded by creating a program called Dublin Goes Dark, where everyone was encouraged to leave work at 6:00 p.m. and stay offline. They even had drop-off locations to turn in laptops to ensure people weren't sneaking a peek at email before going to bed. The experiment worked. What started as a People Operations-only effort in 2011 became a Dublin-wide event by 2013, with our entire Dublin office of more than two thousand people participating. Helen Tynan, our People Operations leader in Ireland, reported: "I had a stack of laptops in my office, and quite a buzz (lots of giggling) as people dropped them in...Lots of people chatted the next day about what they had done, and how long the evening had seemed with lots of time for doing things.

  • P147. When I worked for a fifty-person company, the greatest thing the chief operating officer, Toby Smith, did to make me feel like an owner was to share an office with me. By watching him each day, I learned about our business and how to connect with people (he always answered the phone with a startlingly warm "How ARE you?"), as well as benefit from his office tips (when you buy dress shoes, buy two identical pairs and rotate them so they don't wear out from daily use). There are free survey tools, including one built into Google Sheets, that let you ask employees how they are feeling and what they'd like to do differently. Using small pilots allows the most vocal employees to grapple with the complexities of a situation. It's easy to complain from the sidelines. Being charged with implementing your ideas is often much harder and can moderate more extreme and unrealistic perspectives. All this adds up to happier people generating better ideas.

  • P149. 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. Pick an area where your people are frustrated, and let them fix it. If there are constraints, limited time, or money, tell them what they are. Be transparent with your people and give them a voice in shaping your team or company. You'll be stunned by what they accomplish.

  • P169. A similar dynamic exists when managers sit down to give employees their annual review and salary increase. The employees focus on the extrinsic reward—a raise, a higher rating—and learning shuts down. I once had a team member—I'll call him Sam—who would obsess each quarter about his rating. If it was higher, he didn't care why he earned the higher rating or what behaviors he should be doing more of. If it were flat or lower, he would argue about why I didn't have all the facts and was wrong in my assessment. And Sam would keep arguing until I was so worked down that I gave up and assigned him a higher rating. I'm ashamed to admit that but know that I'm not alone.

  • P193. Googlegeist dimensions when compared to those managed by the worst manager. Among other things, they were significantly more certain that:

    • Career decisions were made fairly. Performance was fairly assessed, and promotions were well deserved.

    • Their Personal career objectives could be met, and their manager was a helpful advocate and counselor.

    • Work happened efficiently. Decisions were made quickly, resources were allocated well, and diverse perspectives were considered.

    • Team members treated each other non-hierarchically and with respect, relied on data rather than politics to make decisions, and were transparent about their work and beliefs.

    • They appropriately involved in decision-making and empowered to get things done.

    • They had the freedom to manage the balance between work and their personal lives.

  • P195. The research showed eight common attributes shared by high-scoring managers and not exhibited by low-scoring managers:

    • 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.

  • P197. Upward Feedback survey, ask teams to give anonymous feedback on their manager:

    • My manager gives me actionable feedback that helps me improve my performance.

    • My manager does not "micromanage" (i.e., get involved in details that should be handled at other levels.)

    • My manager shows consideration for me as a person.

    • My manager keeps the team focused on our priority results/deliverables.

    • My manager regularly shares relevant information from his/her manager and senior leadership.

    • My manager has had a meaningful discussion with me about my career development in the past six months.

    • My manager communicates clear goals for our team.

    • My manager has the technical expertise (e.g., coding in Tech, accounting in Finance) required to effectively manage me.

    • I would recommend my manager to other Googlers.

  • P251. A Wall of happiness outside the office with the team's shared comments.

  • P295. In the pilot, 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 Noggler's first six months.

    • Encourage open dialogue.

  • P297. Research shows that having a clear understanding of one's job is associated with higher job satisfaction. Here at Google, a study found that new grad hires who didn't understand their job expectations left Google in their first year 5X more often than those who did. What can you do? Set up a meeting with your Noogler during his/her first week. Putting the meeting's agenda in writing is even better (see a template here). A few questions to answer for your Noggler: 1)What are the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), and what should your Noogler's first quarter OKRs be? 2)How does your Noogler's role connect with Google's business goals? The Teams Goals? 3) When will his/hers first performance management conversation be, and how will his/her rating be determined?

  • P298. As an experiment, we added a fifteen-minutes segment to the Noogler orientation for some people that explained the benefits of being proactive and provided five specific actions. Nooglers could take to find things they needed and reiterated how this behavior firs with Google's entrepreneurial mindset—[end of list] Two weeks later, they received a follow-up email reminding them of the five actions:

    • Ask questions, lots of questions!

    • Schedule regular 1:1 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.

  • P340. But 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 trails.

    • Be frugal and generous.

    • Pay unfairly.

    • Nudge.

    • Manage the rising expectations.

    • Enjoy! And then go back to No. 1 and start again.

  • P343. Don't find the best salesperson; find the person who sells best to new accounts of a certain size. Find the person who excels at hitting golf balls at night in the rain. The more specific you can be in slicing expertise, the easier it will be to study your stars and discern why they are more successful than others. And then use them not just as exemplars for others by building checklists around what they do but also as teachers. One of the best ways to learn a skill is to teach it. Enlisting stars as faculty, even if it's just for a thirty-minute coffee talk, will force them to articulate how they do what they do, and this very process helps them grow as well. If you're exposed to one of these people as a coworker, observe them closely, pepper them with questions, and use the opportunity to suck every bit of knowledge out of them.

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