Book Recap: Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock

Work Rules! taks about the principles and practices applied by Google’s people ops team. It paints the picture of a data-driven, risk-seeking culture that’s willing to experiment and takes advantage of its scale by mining internal data to improve employees’ lives.

Overview

Let’s try to make people ops act more like a software organization. Select small groups of employees to test new benefits, don’t be afraid to iterate on ideas. When something doesn't work, scratch it right.

Use data about your organization heavily. Employee satisfaction surveys, compensation data, percentage of pull requests accepted without need for revisions, ...

People Ops should have the capability to integrate data from across the organization, analyze them, set metrics a come up with actionables. But don’t lose your soul. Keep in mind that keeping your people happy is always your ultimate goal. If you achieve it, the score takes care of itself.

Main Ideas

There are a bunch of interesting ideas in the book. I’ll try to highlight a few of the more unconventional ones.

Treasure and analyze your best performers. The top 10% of your people is not better than the average by 10%, but by 1000%. Reflect their performance in the way you treat them. This approach is a bit contrary to the current industry trends, where more equal pay seems to be the goal.

Google’s approach to unequal compensation should be adopted carefully. People from cultures where modesty is valued could be uncomfortable with being publicly called a top performer and being compensated on a different scale than their peers.

Aside from paying top performers incredibly well, you need to put them under a microscope. The differences between your best and worst tell you how you can help your weakest players. That requires you to measure a host of different employee behaviors, which is not something many organization do effectively.

Use non-cash awards for better employee happiness. Awarding non-cash prizes such as team trips or fun hardware makes people happier in the long run than giving cash. Even if they tell you otherwise in the beginning.

For committee-based processes, calibration is key. When you set criteria for candidates or performance evaluations, it’s key that committee members agree on a baseline. E.g. the baseline for an optimal hiring goal can be an existing employee.

Create easy-to-consume resources for your managers. Managerial quality is the single biggest determinant of employee retention. Invest in your managers by giving them dead-simple tools to help with common activities (e.g. checklists for good career conversations). Give managers data that helps them understand what holds their teams back and what they can do about it.

Help your people with routine tasks, let them focus on important stuff. Routine activities take away your focus from important work. Where possible, manage routines for your people (on-site hairdresser) or give them nudges to improve their behavior (make saving part of their income the default choice).

Actionables for Doist

  • We don’t measure performance. It enables us to move very fast, but hinders personal growth. We discover our best and learn from them organically, but it’s a slow process.
  • Personal goals and feedback should be a part of our squad process. Right now there’s no feedback going around before the squad dissolves. It’s a missed opportunity.
  • At Google, excellent people become coaches and lecturers. How can we dip our toes in the water and introduce more learning from each other inside Doist? We need to be innovators here and find a solution that works great for remote orgs.
  • Todoist should become #1 platform for getting expert-authored checklists. We should launch a “Checklist Store” where users can publish their checklists (e.g. surgery prep checklist) for others to use

Interesting Tidbits

  • Veterans’ Affairs is an amazing resource for interview questions.
  • Keep the compensation and performance conversations separate to prevent people from getting defensive when you suggest improvements.
  • Google’s Project Oxygen identified what makes a manager an amazing manager. It’s one of the more actionable lists of its kind you’ll see.
  • “Most companies celebrate promotions but do nothing to reach out to people who missed the cut”. This feels like a low-hanging fruit that could make a lot of difference
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