Laszlo Bock, the guy who hires at Google, shares his list of
By Lou Fancher
Unrolling the geist of Google -- the inner spirit of the 50,000-employee, high-tech global company -- Laszlo Bock tells all in a list-centric book, "Work Rules!" (Twelve, $30, 416 pages).
The head of people operations at Google (what most companies call human resources) departs from the company's usual "we speak" to craft a first-person narrative that promises to "transform how you live and lead." Offering 10 "work rules" in a 14-chapter management manifesto aimed at defining meaningful work, the handbook reads like a puzzle in reverse. It's Google, separated into irregularly shaped but perfectly interlocking pieces.
"This is my day job, so I had a lot of theory in my head," Bock says.
The 42-year-old Los Altos resident also had research data, experience and the intangible touch -- artistic sensibilities that transform algorithms, charts, metrics, black-and-white photos and personal workplace stories into an engaging mosaic with solid business leadership underpinnings.
Writing "Work Rules!" in a 16-week blitz during the final quarter of 2013, Bock drew on his nine years at Google and previous executive roles at General Electric and McKinsey & Company. Bi-coastally educated -- an MBA from Yale University School of Management and a BA in International Relations from Pomona College -- Bock admits he's a private fellow, and the book is forcing him to be more "exposed" by digging into his family's history in Communist Romania before their 1974 arrival in the United States.
"You grow up with the stories. You're sending packages to your relatives that arrive, having been ransacked. You send Tylenol; they never receive it. Government employees opened and read the letters," he says.
Bock learned to appreciate American liberties. He held onto stories of his grandmother, delivering goods and hiding Jews during the Holocaust.
Brave heroes were everyday people, friends or family. After they came to the U.S., his father started an engineering firm; his mother, a teacher, launched a small business management company.
Given his background, it's easy to see how innovation, hard work and a crystal clear understanding of the difference between algorithms and actual people translate for him into obvious work rules, such as "give your work meaning," "trust your people" and "hire only people who are better than you." Less intuitive -- and, Bock says, harder to write about -- are the topics in the book's second half.
"Focus on the two tails" sounds like a lark, but develops into a vital practice of recognizing a company's worst employees as an improvement opportunity and scrutinizing the best employees like DNA evidence in a petri dish. "Be frugal and generous" and "pay unfairly" branch into subset ideas like "reward thoughtful failure" and the importance of procedural and distributive justice when determining awards, recognition and compensation. Shifting from monetary to experiential rewards resulted in surprising statistics at Google: Employees thought the rewards were 28 percent more fun and 15 percent more thoughtful, Bock reports.
A chapter titled "Nudge ... a Lot" leans on a treasure trove of data, publications, studies and even the Japanese manufacturing concept "poka-yoke," meaning "mistake proofing." "Writing about hiring is linear, and I get asked about it all the time. (For that subject), I could write beginning, middle, end," he says. "But the chapter on building a learning organization was more like the way Google operates." Learning and growing, he says, are organic, messier. Algorithms may stay the same, but people are "entangled" and "super complicated."
To weave the elements together, Bock frequently mentions an upcoming subject briefly, then reaches back to delve into it from a later chapter.
"It helps to have been exposed to an idea a couple of times. Our systems are all connected," he says.
Bock's writing process was similarly interwoven. Using Google Docs, he wrote one chapter per week and shared it with fellow Googlers. "I got input on what sounded true or untrue," he said, calling the comments that appeared like live conversations in the margins "beautiful." Working with the publisher, the process shifted to emailed Microsoft documents, then handwritten notes on PDF printouts. Bock liked the backward march from modern technology to pen and paper.
Although he's happy with his list of 10, Bock says if he'd had more data, No. 11 would have addressed how to rectify his current preoccupation: unconscious bias influencing the gender gap in technology.
The best thing about having written the book, he says, is handing it to the hordes of people who ask him on a near-daily basis how Google hires.