white background with the yellow-themed Work Rules! book cover

Works Rules! Google research and data on running more effective companies from the 2015 book

Given its large scale, data-driven culture and willingness to experiment, Google has produced a considerable amount of intelligence on operating effective organizations.

Much of it was shared in the 2015 bestselling book Work Rules! by Google’s former chief people officer Laszlo Bock. It’s long been on my list, and earlier this year I finally finished it up.

I recommend you get yourself a copy of the book. Below for my own future reference, I share notes from my reading.

My notes are here:

  • Ed Schein said culture comes in three forms
    • Artifacts: offices, and behaviors etc)
    • Beliefs and values
    • Assumptions behind those values
  • Most of us focus on the artifacts because they’re the most visible
  • Google’s 10 Things We Know to be True (what would be ours?)
  • “The presence of a huge training budget is not evidence that you’re investing in your people. It’s evidence that you failed to hire the right people to begin with.”
  • There’s more variety between individual recruiters than the recruiting firms
  • Job Interviews are known for deciding within the first 5 minutes and then using the rest of the time confirming that decision. These are “thin slices”
  • What actually predicts Job performance? From a meta analysis by Frank Schmidt and John Hunter:
    • Sample test of work is (29%) — Test of general cognitive ability.  Not brain teasers, more akin to an IQ test ;
    • Structured interviews (26%) — An interview using the same set of questions, typically structured around behavior or situational. Behavior asks for examples from the past (Tell me about a time) and situational focus on hypotheticals (if you were in this situation, how would you handle?).
    • Unstructured job interviews (14%)
    • Assessments of conscientiousness (10%) — Tests or at-home efforts that test work to completion
    • References (7%) — Those selected by the candidate.
    • Past work experience (3%):
  • For structured interviews, the author argues to use bland questions because great answers will stand out. Without great answers don’t hire . Less structured interviews result more bias
    • Tell me a time you positively contributed
    • Tell me a time you had difficulty working with someone on your team..
  • Interviews then scored by a rubric (behaviorally anchored rating scales). That rubric and those notes should be saved for finalists and evaluated later to test and improve.
  • US Dept of Affairs has sample questions
  • Leave at least 10 minutes for questions in interviews
  • Google caps the number of interviews to four because their intentional slow pace found to not actually to add much after four. (Each interview past 4 added only 1% predictive quality)
  • No one Googler out of five thousand that conducted on site engineering interviews outperformed the 86% rate of prediction of a quality hire from a group of interviewees (well except for Nelson Abramson, a total outlier)
  • Robert Robinson played off Star Trek and said if you get an “exploding job offer”, the right move is to “accept, provisionally” and ask to meet someone or hear from another offer
  • Build in a reason why someone would want to work for you
  • Google managers do not have final say on whom they hire; In fact Google removes a lot of manager independent power
  • “Great men are almost always bad men”: Lord Acton
  • Google has only four primary levels: Individual Contributor; manager, director and VP (Engineering ICs can progress as ICs to higher levels)
  • Abraham Wald’s WW2 plane research on bullet holes (add armor to the parts of the plane that return without damage)
  • Google’s famed 20-percent time has waved and waned; last measured it is 10%  utilization on average. Most start small and get more support to grow with manager. It is no formal program. It’s for best and brightest stars who have an idea. Gmail developer Paul Buchheit tinkered for 2.5 years before it got fuller support
  • Find something the team is frustrated with and ask them to fix it. Ask your reports “do I need to review this or can it go to the client directly?”
  • Changed in late 2013 their review process to twice annually in five point scale: needs improvement, consistently meets expectations, exceeds expectations, strongly exceeds expectations and superb
  • Calibration of performance reviews by adding a step in which managers assess reviews collectively to match expectations. This avoids scoring drift
  • Deci and Ryan study: offering and then removing incentives lessened output dramatically
  • Separate our salary (extrinsic motivation) and and mentorship (intrinsic motivation abut getting better)
  • Separate people development from evaluation (don’t mix raises with performance reviews for development)
  • Add peer and junior feedback: one thing this person should do more of; one thing they should do less of to have more impact
  • Gaussian vs power law distribution
  • Of thousands of managers they found the 140 best and 67 worst managers. In a natural experiment, Google staff switched teams, 65 went from best to worst and about the same (69) went the other way. Their performance and self evaluations reflected immediate changes. (Old adage that we quit managers not companies)
  • 8 attributes for best managers: Be a coach, giving specific praise and room for improvement in regular 1:1; Technical expertise mattered least. Great manager was more important than a worse manager with better code
  • Inspired by Atul Gawande and his Checklist Manifesto, Google adapted into a management checklist
  • Upward Feedback k survey: managers should review what their reports say about them as it defines great management
  • Like Tiger Wods practicing hitting golf balls in the rain as an undergrad, true experts practice very small actions repeatedly rather than just 10k hours of overall usage.
  • K Anders Ericson calls this deliberate practice
  • McKinsey has consultants go through training in which they repeat and role play multiple times the same activity (like responding to a furious client)
  • Managers can help this by asking deliberate questions about goal setting before meetings
  • The best teachers are already in your org: lose 10% of time of your best seller to improve performance of the other sellers
  • “Training is a high leverage activity for a manager” Andy Grove
  • Author criticizes 70/20/10 corporate training program since they quantify time spent not behavior changes. (70% learning on the job; 20% coaching and 10% in classroom or formal (PWC, Dell and Gap do 70/20/10, he says)
  • Donald Kirkpatrick in 1959 said four levels of measurement for learning: reaction, learning, behavior and results
  • Winner Take All Society in 1995 predicted that jobs would increasing drive inequality. Best people continue to become more mobile and discoverable
  • Edwar Lazer argues that on average we are underpaid early in our career and overpaid later in career.
  • Internal pay equity constrains top performers and overpays average workers.
  • Author thinks there should be huge variety in compensation between average and strong performers
  • Impact of Valid Selection” paper by Frank Schmidt arguing pay people better
  • Ernest O’Boyle argues that work performance is more a Power Law than a normal distribution. That means really great performers are way more valuable than others
  • We mistake median performer with average performer. Most performers are below average
  • Google pays some high performers 10 times as much as others. “It makes you wonder which companies are really paying unfairly: the ones were the best people make for more than average, or the ones where everyone is paid the same.”
  • 1975 book Procedural Justice clarified we care about the process as much as the outcomes (deliberative justice)
  • Google found their Founders Award cash prize didn’t work. They moved to experiential awards of the same cash value and these made employees happier. Bonus and salary privately reward high performers and experiential awards for public shutout
  • Ronald Burt: people who “stand near the holes” in a social structure are at higher risk of having good ideas.
  • Creativity is an import-export game
  • Enlightenment thinker David Hume predicted much of behavioral economics
  • The email Google people ops sent Sunday evening before an employee starts Monday morning with a checklist showed performance improvements toward full on-boarding 25-percent faster than those who didn’t. Simple reminders worked (discuss your role and responsibility; match a peer buddy; help them build a social network; schedule monthly on boarding checks for first six months; encourage open dialogue)
  • ‘I can say, without the slightest hesitation,’ Taylor told a congressional committee, ‘that the science of handling pig-iron is so great that the man who is … physically able to handle pig-iron and is sufficiently phlegmatic and stupid to choose this for his occupation is rarely able to comprehend the science of handling pig-iron.”
  • Author’s overall 10 Work Rules!