Book Notes: Work Rules

My notes on Work Rules by Laszlo Bock — a fascinating look into the people management at Google.

1) Give your work meaning.

Whatever you’re doing, it matters to someone. And it should matter to you. As a manager, your job is to help your people find that meaning.

  • The most gifted people will gravitate towards meaningful work that they can heavily influence through their contributions.
  • Trust, freedom, and authority are all important parts of meaningful work. We all want control over our destinies.

2) Trust your people.

What’s beautiful here is that treating your people well is both a means to an end and an end in itself.

  • You have to believe that people are fundamentally good.
  • The most talented people want and deserve freedom and trust.
  • Hire people who will think and act like owners. Most people are wired to defer to authority, so remove signifiers of power and status (i.e. with managers) to avoid the tendency to seek hierarchy.
  • Use data to avoid politicking, leaving management to spend time on things that are hard to quantify.
  • Things like 20% time don’t get used by everyone — they are there to be an outlet for the most persistent employees who will see an idea through, no matter what it takes.
  • Give room for people to fix their own problems, not just complain.

3) Hire only people who are better than you.

  • A bad hire is toxic to both themselves and the people around them. Never compromise on hiring quality, and focus on avoiding false positives.
  • Look for people who don’t stop until a job is done and are heavily focused on their accomplishments.

4) Don’t confuse development with managing performance.

  • Learning shuts down when people become concerned about professional or economic consequences, so keep these separate from feedback.
  • Feedback should be on-going — there should never be a surprise in a performance review.
  • Set goals. Make them public and ambitious.
  • Diminish bias and make your performance assessments fair and trustworthy through calibration.

5) Focus on the two tails.

  • Learn from your best people and use them to figure out what it takes to excel. They should become your teachers.
  • Look at both generalist and specialist separately.
  • Your worst performers are your biggest opportunity. Their improvement will generally be more significant than an average performer’s improvement.

6) Be frugal and generous.

  • Realize that a lot things you can do for your people cost the company nothing.
  • Be there when your people are most in need (times of tragedy or joy). Focus on human moments that matter.

7) Pay unfairly.

  • Performance (and value created) follows a power law distribution.
  • Your most productive people are worth several times that of your average employee. Pay accordingly and make sure they feel their worth.
  • Be generous with public recognition and celebrate both achievements and failures (learning).

8) Nudge.

We are all constantly nudged by our environment and nudging those around us. Use that fact to make yourself and your teams happier and more productive.

  • Don’t push, nudge.
  • Create environments that encourage behavior you want.
  • Give options and let people make their own decisions, but make it just a little bit easier to make good decisions (i.e. eating healthy food, saving more for retirement).

9) Manage rising expectations.

  • Watch out for signs of entitlement. The group will often self-correct when these behaviors are brought to their attention.
  • Sometimes you need to take backward steps because something isn’t working.
  • Frame things as experiments instead of permanent to help manage the expectations.

10) Enjoy! And then go back to No. 1 and start again.