Year 3 / Book 27: Work Rules!


27) Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock

I got given this book when starting my new job (hat tip Jeremy R), and I’ve been gradually going through it in my first few months, folding down corners of pages and taking notes when coming across a little nugget or two. It’s written by Google’s Head of HR (or People Operations as they call it), and it’s basically all about how you recruit, pay, train, develop, create a culture, support, communicate, and manage people in an organisation.

We have to get one thing out of the way first: clearly Google is not a typical workplace, something which Bock is very aware of, but also forgets at various points. So that means there are quite a few sections which feel fairly irrelevant to a smaller organisation or one without Google’s vast resources – the section on the design of their cafés, for example – or the email chains, noticeboards and feedback systems which rely on an enormous critical mass to work. Nevertheless, there’s a fair amount that is of interest to any organisation.

Some of the tips aren’t new or rocket science but Bock does back them up with research (either Google’s own) or from external sources. Ones that resonated with me were: to hire slowly, to hire people better than yourself, to involve various members of the team in the recruitment process, to fit the process to the role…and so forth. There are some more contentious points too, like his rule that organisations should pay ‘unfairly’; his point being that what you get out of those superstar top performers more than justifies the extra, and that as long as you make the rationale, others understand it (I get the argument, but again I’m not sure this works in a smaller organisation, where the sense of collective pulling together is so important; or in a sector with a strong moral sense of fairness and equality).

There’s some particularly interesting sections on performance and management too – the short version being that most appraisal processes are pointless, both in how they are done and who by, and that OKRs (a form of more regular, often quarterly performance monitoring) can work much better: it stands for objectives and key results. There’s also some useful stuff on how you support managers, how checklists can be useful in building consistency (which relates to Atul Gawande’s excellent book, The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right), and how to recognise management itself as a skill and something to invest in.

I found it useful and interesting, if a little overlong at times: some of the detail (and indeed the whole chapter on ‘nudge’) could definitely have been edited out. It might have been that it was a very pertinent time to read it, but I think for anyone in an organisation who manages people, is in HR or in leadership, there’s much food for thought here, whatever the size of the team.

Score: 7/10

BUY IT NOW: Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead

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