The secret behind why you'd love to work at Google

Work Rules!, by Laszlo Bock (2015)

**Pages: 406**, Final verdict: Great-read

What makes Google such a great place to work? In the past 10 years, the search giant has been named topped Forbes "Best Companies to work for" 7 times and is seen by many as the dream company to be at.

Former decade-long Head of People Operations at Google and responsible for growing the company from 9 000 people to more than 70 000 in 10 years, Work Rules! is Laszlo Bock's response to "How the hell does Google manage its people?".

Google from the inside

Colorful bean bags. Free Food. Crazy offices. Yellow bikes. These are probably some of the things that come to your mind when you think of the Google culture. The search giant has positioned itself as one of the most desired places to work in the world, where geek meets fun and college meets business.

As awesome as all those things seem, there is more to what Google than that. To show us what happens behind the curtain and demystify how Google is managed from the inside, Work Rules! is a collection of what Laszlo Bock believes to be top reasons what makes Google what it is, and how you can "Googlefy" your workplace and make work better.

The main stories and teachings from the book can be clustered in how Google hires its employees (covering everything from the interview process to finding the right candidates) and how the company manages its people (from performance reviews to perks and job rotation).

In its overarching goal, Bock attempts to lay down the way Google believes the "three defining aspects" of their culture (mission, transparency and voice) nudge most decisions the company makes on its people.

And in the process, you'll learn things such as how the company uses employee surveys to change what performance reviews look like, what data inputs lead them to reduce the number of hiring interview from 14 (auch!) to 4, or why Larry Page holds a weekly all hands Q&A meeting for the whole company!

And if you're reading this but really wondering what they look for in candidates, here it is:

  • General cognitive ability: Being smart and able to adapt to change.
  • Emergent leadership: People that do not follow the traditional paradigms of leadership and are focused on helping their teams succeed.
  • "Googleyness": People who thrive at Google, are curious, comfort with ambiguity and have taken interesting paths in life.
  • Role related knowledge: The least important of the four, this is about your ability to contribute from day 1.

"Building an exceptional team or institution starts with a founder. But being a founder doesn’t mean starting a new company. It is within anyone’s grasp to be the founder and culture-creator of their own team, whether you are the first employee or joining a company that has existed for decades.” - Laszlo Bock

The Google list

Each chapter follows a "problem-solution" framework, where Bock presents a problem most companies face "How much should I pay my employees?, and then follows to explain how the Google does it, and why. All those stories are tied within what Bock believes to be the 10 "work rules" (hence the book name), which are:

  1. Give your work meaning - "Everyone wants their work to have purpose"
  2. Trust your people - Build a high-freedom environment and your people autonomy
  3. Hire only people who are better than you - Every hiring decision at Google is made by a committee
  4. Don't confuse development with managing performance - Separate performance review moments with salary increases and bonus
  5. Focus on the two tails - The best impact you can have is by focusing on your top and bottom performers
  6. Be frugal and generous - You can provide great benefits to your people at little cost
  7. Pay unfairly - People performance does not follow a normal distribution. Pay top dollar for your top people.
  8. Nudge - Influence your team with subtle gestures
  9. Manage the rising expectations
  10. Enjoy! And then go back to No.1 and start again

That's it! As much as I loved to read the Google practices they follow to hire, manage and reward Googlers, what stuck with me was the amount of experiments they run and how important data influences their decisions. Does that make them slower? Probably. Is it easier do it with a company of their scale? It does. Can I still use the underlying principles at my own job? No doubt.

Bottom line

Work Rules is an insider's guide on how Google sees and treats its people. Not entirely surprising (coming from a former McKinsey consultant working at data-driven Google), Laszlo does a great job of
tying the rules and practices used by Google with scientific studies and validated experiments.

My reservations from a book (almost) purely focused on Google are on trying to balance how much of their success come from the practices we read about, and how much basically comes from their money-making ad business.

Ads aside, and with more than 2 million job applications received each year, they are definitely doing a lot of things right. And if you care about your company, the people you work with and want to learn how one of the best companies in the world manages its people, then Work Rules! is a no brainer.

Further learning:

Happy reading.