As research for an article I later wrote for Fast Company Magazine, I traveled to Google’s Mountain View, California campus, and spent the day meeting with several of their talent management executives.
Within just my first hour at Google, I saw firsthand all the reasons why so many people in business consider the tech giant to be an incomparable outlier – an organization whose leadership practices bear little relevance to the real world, and to most other organizations:
- Staged in the parking lot was a row of luxurious Wi-Fi-outfitted shuttles that transport hundreds of “Googlers” to and from work every day at no cost.
- At eleven o’clock in the morning, I saw two young employees unabashedly playing a “Dance, Dance Revolution” arcade game – while others were gearing up to play eight-ball on a nearby billiards table.
- I saw the bowling alleys, the laundry-room, the endless snacks, the gym – and I enjoyed one of the 75,000 gourmet meals Google provides its workers free of charge every month.
To the uninitiated, it’s no wonder that Google has been named Fortune Magazine’s “Best Company To Work For” an unprecedented five times. Who wouldn’t want to work at a place like this?
But Google’s methods for inspiring its 50,000 workers to commit themselves to doing amazing work far transcend the generous perks. And this is exactly the point that Google’s head of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, makes in his new book, “Work Rules! Why Google’s Rules Will Work For You.”
After reading Bock’s book – twice – I’m convinced that his (and Google’s) understanding of what drives human beings to consistently excel in their jobs is nothing short of brilliant.
I’m also quite certain that many business leaders aren’t yet ready to embrace this thinking, simply because it inherently contradicts longstanding management theory and practices.
But if you are courageous, open to new ways – and have the ambition of creating and sustaining a truly high-performance team – I’ll save you the time of reading Bock’s book by sharing five remarkable ideas you can use to make it happen.
Importantly, all five of these are adoptable within any team, company or industry; you just need the will. And based on the fact that Google’s stock appreciated nearly 1300% in its first ten years as a publicly traded company, you have clear incentive to implement them all:
Make Your Hiring Process Intentionally And Overtly Rigorous:
Google believes the single greatest mistake they can make is a bad hire, and has painstakingly created a process that prevents the wrong people from being chosen.
More importantly, they believe that by selecting people who have both high talent and high passion for a particular job, each person they hire will have a very strong chance of quickly becoming high-achieving.
To that end, Google will never make an offer to an otherwise qualified candidate if they cannot demonstrate a true cultural fit. And when I say, “never,” I mean that they will intentionally keep a job open indefinitely rather than ever settle. And just to reinforce the great importance Google places on employee selection, CEO, Larry Page, has the final say on every single candidate – and there’s no rubber stamp.
It’s traditional in business to have a hiring manager interview all the applicants whose resumé matches well to a job description – and to then choose the “best” person on their own.
But Bock asserts, all hiring decisions must be made by groups. Research shows that people tend to like people like themselves – and are therefore inclined to hire people just like themselves. Because of this and other unconscious biases, one-on-one interviews are a complete waste of time.
The single best indicator of whether someone will excel in a job, Bock tells us, is a work sample. If someone’s job will be to write code all day, then have them show you code they’ve already produced. During interviews, Google applicants are often asked to create something right on the spot – and the standards are extremely high.
Google also has discovered that four interviews are enough to predict whether someone should be hired (with 86% confidence), and purposely involves employees who will either work with, or for, the person being considered in the selection process. “You make your better hiring decisions by relying on a crowd of people,” says Bock, “and every person in the interview is given an equal vote on who ultimately gets chosen.”
Perhaps the greatest piece of understanding Bock has to offer is that the top performers are very rare. The cost of building a truly great team, therefore, is that you must interview many people for every open position.
Give Employees Perks – The Ones That Won’t Cost You:
Bock says that Google believes “it is easy to be penny wise and pound foolish with respect to benefits that can save employees considerable time and improve their health and productivity.”
Very clearly, the company knows for a fact that the very extensive offerings of perks they provide all have a direct and positive impact on employee satisfaction – and on the bottom-line.
But while things like food, shuttles and discounted day-care most definitely carry a direct expense to the company, it may surprise you to learn that most of the perks Google makes available actually cost them nothing.
By reaching out to very willing (and vetted) vendors, Google now has ATMs on all its campuses. Without ever leaving work, employees can get their bike repaired, their car washed, their oil changed and their dry-cleaning done. The local library brings a bookmobile on a scheduled basis, as do grocers who deliver organic produce and meats. Even salon treatments like haircuts and manicures can be done while people are still on the job – and Google pays nothing to provide them.
Like any company, Google could just as well not bother providing any of these conveniences – who of us hasn’t planned a weekend around grocery shopping, haircuts and car repairs?
But Google’s deep intelligence is lodged in both their minds and their hearts.
They know their people work very hard and purposely seek to minimize the seemingly trivial pressures of life that have a way of eating up a lot of their time. And who of us wouldn’t feel valued, cared for – even nurtured – by an organization that schedules a “Take Your Parents To Work Day?” Google employees most surely feel the intentional thoughtfulness that goes into experiences like this – and Google execs surely know that making people feel that they matter has a profound influence on loyalty and commitment.
Provide More Experiential Awards:
Ask most people what they would like as an award for doing exceptional work and they will tell you “cash.” No doubt surveys in your own company have you convinced that money is always the best incentive.
But Bock says that cash awards get evaluated on a cognitive level (e.g. “What can I buy?” or “What percentage of my salary does the bonus represent?”) whereas experiences (e.g. trips to Hawaii or Disneyland) trigger a deep emotional response in people.
Because Google analyzes every decision they make, they’ve learned that experiential awards make people happier. They’re perceived to be 28% more fun, 28% more memorable – and 15% more thoughtful.
“The joy of money is fleeting,” says Bock, “but memories last forever.”
Manage With Transparency:
The idea that people should not be trusted with important and “sensitive” information leads many managers in business to keep their knowledge close to the vest – and to share it only on a “need to know” basis.
But since Google’s founding, it has fully subverted this thinking by “assuming that all information can be shared.” As illustration, Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, takes employees through the same presentations he delivers to the company’s Board of Directors.
According to Bock, this kind of openness ensures every employee knows what’s going on. And it also clearly demonstrates to people that they’re seen as being both trustworthy and having good judgment. But, once again, Google does nothing without the conviction that it will be good for results: “One of the serendipitous benefits of transparency,” Bock writes, “is that simply by sharing data, performance improves.”
If you’re still queasy about trusting your people this much, Bock says that it’s only about one time per year – company-wide – that an employee makes a major leak. And regardless of the circumstances, they are fired.
But despite this risk, Google prefers to put its faith in the far majority of employees who honor it, and put their intimate company knowledge to great use.
Give Your Employees A Voice – A Real Say In How Things Get Run:
It’s simply easier for organizations to make decisions at the top, and to disseminate them down through the ranks of their workers. But, once again, Google has thrown the old-school rules out the door.
Googlers are routinely asked to contribute their thinking – in myriad ways – to ensure that they’re not merely aware of the direction of the company – but are directly vested in it. They leverage the work of Ethan Burris, professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who found that getting employees to voice ideas has long been a key driver of high-quality decisions and effectiveness.
Bock makes clear that giving workers a voice can be time-consuming inasmuch as they must solicit feedback, consider it and report back on the outcomes. But few things drive employees to act like company owners than knowing their thoughts and feelings can shape its future success.
In his book, Laszlo Bock tells us that “over the coming decades, the most gifted and hardest working people on the planet will gravitate to places where they can do meaningful work and help shape the destiny of organizations.
Perhaps wanting to extend the huge competitive advantage his company holds on attracting great talent, Bock suggests this date is way out in the future. The truth is that day is already here.
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