I’ve recently finished reading this book by SVP of People Operations at Google Laszlo Bock. It covers a lot of interesting areas including hiring, performance management, etc.

I made a bunch of notes while reading – you can find them below.


Notes from Work Rules

Here’s a link to the book

Laszlo Bock (Google’s HR guy)

(*) Potential software platforms

Digital copy of this at : https://goo.gl/IhfHlN

Misc

  • “The core of this book is the belief that you can choose the type of organisation you want to create”
  • Much faith is put in The Checklist Manifesto

New starters

  • Group cohorts of all new starters across all parts of the organisation into one group that can make contacts that will last as long as they work there
  • One day one a googler gets access to:
    • The codebase, roadmap and release dates for every project (*)
    • The week-notes and OKRs (objectives) for every team (*)
  • For new starters on day one have:
    • Kit, pass, etc
    • Time for a detailed role and responsibilities discussion from their manager and a peer from another team doing the same role
    • Schedule future 1:1s with their manager
    • Assign a peer buddy
    • Recommend some role-based internal social networks
    • Ask them to solicit feedback from their peers – don’t wait for it to be given

Values and culture

  • Talk about values often
  • Google has a Chief Culture Officer and many “culture clubs”
  • Transparency means taking time to explain why decisions were made – encourage people to ask
  • Google suggests:
    • Videoing your SMT meetings and making them available to anyone in the organisation (*)
    • Inviting junior employees to attend all levels of leadership meetings and asking them to be responsible for spreading the word of what was discussed and the decisions made
    • Deliberately seeding employee discussion events with difficult questions in the audience
    • At a minimum have an internal public suggestion system people vote on (*)
  • Getting employees to voice their opinions is key to driving high quality decisions across any organisation
  • People in Google who use “I” rather than “we” frequently are looked on poorly
  • Everyone at Google can choose their own job title once hired and change it any time they want (peer pressure prevents foolish things)
  • Googler’s nominate, crowd-prioritise and volunteer to fix internal process problems under the banner “Bureaucracy Busters” (*)
  • Promote random lunches (*)
  • Perception of fairness is extremely important. You don’t need to pay everyone the same but it must be transparent that the people who are paid more is because they deliver more – show the data.
  • The Optimise Your Life programme uses a number of nudge techniques to improve Googler’s lives
  • “Fun” is the most common words googler’s use to describe their culture. What describes ours? Google’s include:
    • Mission, transparency and voice
    • Focus on the user and everything else will follow
    • Pick one thing and do that really really well
    • Fast is better than slow
    • Don’t politik – use data
    • The need for information crosses all borders
    • There’s always more information
    • You don’t need to be at a desk to do your job
    • You can be serious without a suit
    • Great just isn’t good enough

Hiring

    • Hire more slowly and only hire the very best people
    • Only hire people better than you
    • People view their work as a “job”, a “career” or a “calling” – aim to hire as many of the latter as possible
    • Any engineering manager must be at least as capable an engineer as their team
    • Individual managers must give up control when it comes to hiring – hiring is best done by groups (not fixed groups but ones drawn from people across the organisation).
    • Hire people who are passionate about the thing you do
    • When reviewing applicants only look at what they’ve delivered and how they contributed to that delivery
    • Develop a central applicant tracking system – analyse the data (*)
    • Better to miss the chance of hiring a good person than to hire a bad one – bad performers can bring down an entire team
    • Google’s in-house recruitment team finds the majority of their new hires every year through things like internal recommendations (*)
    • See Google’s Careers website. Most sites just have generic role descriptions and give little information about what the person doing the role would actually do (i.e. they’re written by HR and not by the hiring team) (*)
    • Applications can contact people who already work at a relevant area of Google to find out what it’s actually like to work there
    • After role specific measurable tests general tests of cognitive ability are the best hiring indicators
    • Google has an internal hiring tool called qDroid that contains sample interview questions, tips for interviewing, etc for many different roles (*)
    • Give the candidate the ability to provide feedback at all points (including if they fail to be hired) – make the feedback available to everyone (anonymised) (*)
    • Look for people who are curious, continuous learners
    • Every question asked in every interview and along with every answer and the opinion of all present on that answer is stored for future analysis in a central interview recording system. Among other things this help analysis of whether the interviews are good. (*)
    • See picture of Google interview process on p105
    • Google’s recruiters can route a candidate to any role in the company – not just the one they were being specifically being interviewed for – because they have a detailed view of all open roles
    • In Google’s multiple interview the candidate will meet managers, peers and subordinates. Feedback from potential subordinates is especially prized.
    • Analysis of feedback from all parties involved in the interview is done by a 3rd party with no vested interest
    • All recommended new hires at Google have a file that is passed to top level management for approval before hiring is finished. SMT spend a few hours every week reviewing potential news – it’s viewed as one of the most important things they can do with their time.
    • All staff on average spend 1-2 hours a week involved in the hiring process

Leadership

  • Take power from leaders – hire the best people and then trust them to do the right thing
  • Few google teams have a visible leadership person
  • Managers should never be a protective layer that protects the people doing the actual work from poorly informed people higher up the org chart
  • Leaders are strongly discouraged from dominating meetings
  • Employees are discouraged from running meetings just to inform leaders.
  • There’s only five visible ranks in Google – individual contributor, manager, director, vice president and founder
  • All other hierarchies are self organising and can be changed by the teams in question at any time without asking for permission
  • Detailed reasons for all promotions are shared with everyone at the time (data as well as opinions)
  • Google gave a team of analysts from Engineering anonymised performance and pay data for a large block of the company and asked them to devise a fairly allocated bonus system
  • Some external speakers are asked to sit in on SMT meetings as one-off advisors
  • Each week every directorate sends a report to the founders – many areas offer the chance to write that report to anyone in that area giving them an opportunity to do the research to find out the status of everything in that area and increase their visibility

Ability

  • The best people in an organisation are 100 to 1000 times better than the average not the 3 to 5 most people estimate
  • Do everything you can to work out who the exceptional people are in your organisation
  • Everyone assessed to be in the bottom 5% of performance is told that they are in that group (privately) and give specific coaching to improve
  • Manager ratings are a combination of their performance management feedback and the team’s Googlegeist results (*)
  • Project Oxygen was created to find the traits of a good manager – it found:
    • Have a clear strategy for the team
    • Empower the team and trust them to get on with it
    • Coaching
    • Express concern for work / personal well-being for team members
    • Staying focused on team delivery performance
    • Share information
    • Help with career development
    • Have the delivery-specific (often technical) skills to help the team
  • Training exists for each of these points (except the last one). Managers aren’t obliged to give results of their training to their teams but there is a Googlegeist question to see if people tend to do so.
  • Ask people’s peers for suggestions for their development

Performance management

  • In many organisations performance management has become a process that is done for its own sake with no measurable data on its usefulness. Employees, managers and HR all hate it and yet it continues.
  • If people achieve all their goals then they’re not nearly aggressive enough
  • The objectives of everyone in the company are available to everyone else in the company. Searching can be done to find people with things in common or that match patterns (e.g. for mentoring). (*)
  • Working out performance grading levels is very hard
  • The most important thing is to be transparently fair
  • Calibration is the key to performance assessment
  • Conversations about feedback on previous performance and objective setting / performance improvement strategies should always be separate
  • Pay discussions in Google happen a month after performance discussions
  • Everyone in Google gets written feedback from all their peers. They also suggest how well they thought the person did.
  • All feedback is provided by another online system (*)
  • Detailed performance and development guides exist for managers
  • People nominate themselves for promotion rather than being picked
  • Promotions in grade rarely lead directly to changes in role
  • If you put yourself forward for promotion but are not successful you get detailed feedback to why, based mostly on hard data, with actionable suggestions of what to do to close the gap for next time
  • Googler’s are encourages to do presentations of what they are working on. These, and the feedback that they get from doing so, is automatically made part of the performance assessment pack. (*)
  • Offer peer-awarded experience based bonuses rather than cash
  • The gThanks online system allows anyone to nominate anyone else for a piece of visible praise. It’s common across the whole organisation. There is an option to award a small cash bonus but most nominators don’t choose it – wide recognition is enough. The recognition automatically comes up in appraisals. (*)
  • The performance system is very rarely gamed but they have automated systems checking for it (*)

Learning

    • Tell everyone to expect to be constantly learning and to raise an issue with their manage if they’re not
    • The average company gives their average employee the equivalent of about 30 mins of training a week over a year. Almost all of that time and money is wasted as there is no follow-up to see if their performance has improved in the area in question.
    • Only spend money on training with a measurable outcome
    • Have you best people spend a non-trivial time training others – this is a massive productivity cascade (*)
    • Work hard to find out what makes your best people so good and share what they do. Having people actually doing the things you want people to learn doing the teaching is massively better. Break down their work in small tasks to do this.
    • Training works much better if you have to perform a specific task multiple times and can see yourself improved. Better still if you can continue to do that as part of your regular work.
    • Practical tasks are valuable such as “before every external meeting write down your goals, how you’ll plan to achieve them, review how it went after including what would you do differently next time”
    • Google has a site called G2G (Googler 2 Googler) in which anyone can volunteer to teach anyone else anything (not just work related things) (*)
    • Google for “reaction, learning, behaviour and results”
    • Allowing people to share what they know with other people is intrinsically motivating (see Dan Pink’s book Drive)
    • Every team that deals with an incident, a product flop or other failure should write up what happened and present to wide audience (e.g. at TGIF). Partly as a learning experience but also to show, if appropriate, that it’s not the fault of the specific team members in question. (*)
    • Team members having time to meet actual users (not under user research conditions – just a chance to talk to them informally) can make a huge difference
    • “The secret is to have the people doing the real work own their development of themselves and their peers”

Communications

  • Googler’s self-organise 100s of talks every month to show off what they’re working on – they’re all recorded and available forever for anyone in the organisation to watch (*)
  • Have many cross-organisational mailing lists and chat rooms – have an index (*)
  • List and promote cross-organisations clubs and networks (e.g. women, black, LGBT, etc)
  • TGIF every week with the founders. Show and tell but any-questions even more so. Video attendence but also recorded (Hangouts on air Q&A allow submission but also group voting on question priority). (*)

Googlegeist

  • Quarterly company-wide survey (*)
  • 90% of Googlers fill in the surveys
  • “In my work group we deal effectively with low performance”
  • 30% to 50% of questions changed each year
  • Feedback on questions requested but people can submit suggestions at any time
  • Specifically they ask “can you see how each of these questions can be used by the organisation to improve itself?”
  • Results broken down for every team of every size from small delivery team to vice president level
  • Results of any group with more than 100 people is automatically published to the whole company
  • Visualisations of responses any question for any area available to anyone at any time

Benefits

  • See list on p274
  • If you offer a captive audience companies will offer you lots of things on site for free
  • Develop a culture that allows employees to suggest their own benefits
  • Anyone can nominate an external speaker to come in
  • If a Googler dies their spouse gets 50% of their wages for 10 years. Costs less than %0.1 to total payroll but is massively popular with Googlers.

People team

  • Before doing anything ambitious the standard HR functions must “just work” – back this up with data
  • Set cross-organisational HR standards (see p357)
  • Combine traditional personnel and recruitment people with data analysts to make an excellent HR function
  • Google runs a huge number of internal A/B test on how to improve their people processes
  • Google has a dedicated People and Innovation Laboratory (PiLab)
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