Book Review: Work Rules!
Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, by Laszlo Bock
This is my first time to review a book since one of my goals this year is to read one new book every month and write the review in Medium. So, without further ado, let’s start!
Why do I choose this book?
I decided to read this book because I’m a recruiter and I adore Google as one of my dream companies to work for. Google is one of the biggest global technology companies and it’s well-known for its fun, creative, and innovative people. Written by Laszlo, Former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, I believed he could enlighten readers on how Google creates a positive working culture and manages those amazing talents.
What is it about?
Laszlo told us everything about Google and people. He opened the first chapter by describing the background and personality of Larry and Sergey, Google’s founders. He captured them as people with a strong ambition to create products that give an impact on society, yet still promote a meaningful working environment when people are able to pursue their passions. Interesting to know that this vision had influenced how they recruit and manage their talents.
“Only hire people who are better than you”
That is Laszlo’s simple rule of thumb in recruiting people for Google. He emphasized on hiring top-quality talent rather than quantity. He said that better to take a longer time to find the best one rather than hire someone for the sake of closing the position as soon as possible. No wonder, you’d find that Google’s recruitment process is quite complex and has many layers of interviews with cross-functional stakeholders. In order to select people more objectively, he described Google’s methods in interviewing candidates which might be replicated by other HR practitioners.
Besides recruitment, Laszlo also talked about the development and reward of its people. Performance review and training are the main topics when it comes to describing the way Google develop the people. The performance review was designed transparently so Googlers could receive constructive feedbacks that free from bias. On the other side, training was created for Googler and by Googler. Because Google only hired the best from the best, its people are actually teachers who can be utilized to train other people. You will find some interesting classes and training created by Googlers and it unexpectedly turned out to be one’s business opportunity.
In my personal opinion, I love how Laszlo constructed his words by providing us data then elaborated it with Google context. He also made a list of highlight points in each chapter to summarize important ideas. It has 423 pages of a book but worries not I didn’t feel boring to go through every page because the content is relatable to me, not only as an HR but also as an employee.
There are some insights from this book that hitched my brain. First, Google cares about its employees and their significant others. Laszlo wrote about how Google tried to find ways to help the surviving family team members of Googlers who had passed away. Google provided the surviving spouse with Googler’s unvested stock and paying them 50 percent of the Googler’s salary for the next ten years. Maybe others would think that it will cost Google a lot and maybe it just part of retention programs, but Laszlo had proven it wrong. They just did it because it was right and they cared.
Second, Google prioritizes hiring quality than hiring speed. It is fine to hire the best people in a year rather than hire standard people in a month. Here, Google talks about quality. Hiring high-standard (re: smart, skillful, creative) talents will save more costs because they learn fast so Google didn’t need to spend much budget on training and they produce innovative products that impact the business. However, I think it’s not wise to interpret this statement as it is since every company holds different values and sometimes we need to adjust the hiring process based on the company’s need. Yet, Google is such an inspiration for me when they have a strong principle on hiring only the best quality people.
Third, Google thinks that it’s fine to pay employees unfairly. Why? Simply because two persons with the same responsibility might give different impacts on the company. Hence, it is possible for two of them to receive different compensation depends on how significant their impact to the business. What Google means by fairness here is to reward people based on their worth. By the way, you can read more about this topic in chapter 10. I personally enjoy this chapter the most.
Fourth, Google eliminates the status symbol to take away the managers’ power. Most employees see a manager as a person who has control over your salary, bonus, promotions, and workload. Therefore, Google decided to omit the status and limit its title to only four levels: individual contributor, manager, director, and vice president. By simplifying the hierarchy, Google lessens the bias that appears in decision making — because everything should be based on data, instead of managers’ opinion — and creates transparency in assessing each employee’s performance — because promotion isn’t determined by managers’ decision, but also from others.
Last but not least, one of the most major researches in Google, Project Oxygen which discovered how managers impact team performance. I quote Michelle Donovan’s words to explain why it is called Project Oxygen (FYI, Michelle is one of the researchers):
“Having a good manager is essential, like breathing. And if we make managers better, it would be like a breath of fresh air.”
This research purpose is to testify how managers’ skills may impact team performance and identify what good leadership is. Here, I wouldn’t tell you about the research method, but the result found that managers definitely make a difference in team performance. No wonder that I — and probably you — have ever heard that employees leave bad manager, not bad company. Meanwhile, good leadership is defined by 8 attributes. Again, I would not spell out them one by one, but you definitely can tell that do-not-micromanage is one of those.
In summary, I would say that every HR function (Recruitment, Rewards, Learning & Development, Employee Branding, Talent & Organization, and many more…) is interrelated and neither is unimportant. We couldn’t focus only on hiring the best talents, but also think about how we could retain them and you will find the ideas in this book. In addition, I admire Google because they put a lot of effort on how to create the best working environment for its people by having his special team conduct regular research about people at work. It simply shows that they really care about promoting a positive working culture for their talents.
On the other side, I personally think that Google’s principle might be not applicable to all companies. Again, it depends on each company’s culture and nature of business. For example, best for the banking industry to have a more strict working environment and hierarchical organization in order to carry out all activities efficiently. However, knowing that Google is listed as one of the best places to work has shown that their practice could be a role model for other companies to promote employee wellbeing. And if you want to know what Google is doing for its people, this book is the answer.