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How to be more like Google

Google has been front and center when it comes to human resources in the tech world. But few outside of the sector have successfully replicated their strategy.

Why? Because Google fundamentally believes one simple thing: that people are good.

Most companies don’t believe this. They are skeptical, using layers of HR policies to prevent misbehavior. Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last argues that most people, when put in the right environments, do amazing things. When in bad environments, they act accordingly (Wells Fargo).

Laszlo Bock is the former head of People Operations at Google. In 2015 he published his book Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live. It’s a treasure trove of insights, philosophies and executable ideas from Bock’s 10 years in his role — a 370 page bible on how Google looks at its people operations (their version of human resources).

The book can be used as a starting point to transform any business (as long as you believe that people are fundamentally good).

Below are three takeaways.

1. Do everything you can to make your people feel like founders

There are three main components of Google’s culture: mission, transparency, and voice.

Mission means putting your mission front and center of everything you do. Have a concise, powerful mission that resonates throughout your organization. Most corporate mission statements are long, boring and don’t inspire. Don’t have one of those. Your mission should move people. It should drive them.

Transparency at Google means “default to open.” This is counter to the typical “need to know” mentality of many orgs when it comes to information sharing. The central idea: unless specific information is sensitive, default to giving everyone access to it. You might think of this as oversharing, but it’s better than under-sharing.

Voice means feedback — give your teams opportunities to provide feedback to help shape the organization. A dusty suggestion box isn’t enough… you have to listen to what your people have to say, respond accordingly, and, yes… be transparent about it.

The key to success with these three components is trust. Bock admits that it’s not easy to maintain this culture — Google suffers from at least one major product leak every year. But being transparent undoubtedly results in better products, more innovation, stronger collaboration and fewer politics across the company. This far outweighs the cost of a product leak. As Bock says:

Give people slightly more trust, freedom and authority than you’re comfortable giving them. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t given them enough.

2. Make hiring the most important people thing you do

Bock makes a compelling case for this one. The theory: if you spend appropriate resources hiring the right people for your company, you’ll deal with fewer costly issues down the road (like bringing in coaches or expensive training programs).

Start by hiring by committee. When we meet someone, we decide within seconds if we like her or not. Then, we spend the rest of the interview trying to confirm our bias. Hiring by committee helps alleviate this bias — this ties into a concept called wisdom of crowds.

Everyone knows that interviews don’t predict future performance. Studies conclude that unstructured interviews account for 14% of an employee’s performance. Yet most companies continue to do them. Solve this by selecting attributes you want in a candidate besides skill set. What will he bring to the culture? Is she politically-motivated? It he empathetic? Create a standard hiring rubric to assess candidates objectively and train interviewers on its usage. Use structured interviews, with a mix of behavioral and situational questions.

Make recruiting a part of everyone’s job. If you trust your employees, trust that they’ll bring great people to your company. Referral bonuses don’t do much — if you create an irresistible workplace, your employees will want their friends to work there simply because they love working there.

3. Managers are important, but not for managing people

As most companies grow, they become bureaucratic. With bureaucracy comes heirachy.

Do everything you can to remove power and status symbols from your managers.

Power comes down to trust — do you really need five layers of approval for that contract? Would two be fine? Or if you hire people you trust, is an approval necessary at all? Yes, they’ll skin their knees sometimes, but that’s how people learn.

Status symbols means executive perks that reinforce hierarchy: reserved parking spaces, stock options, or executive-only dining rooms. These perks reinforce bureaucracy and make most employees feel less-than valued (yes, Google gives stock to the lowest-level employees. And there are no reserved parking spaces).

Take power away from managers. Make decisions based on data, not opinions. Do not allow hiring managers to decide who will be on their teams (a controversial one, but necessary to remove bias).

Google’s internal research uncovered eight common attributes shared by high-scoring managers and not exhibited by low-scoring managers:

1. Be a good coach.
2. Empower the team and do not micromanage.
3. Express interest/concern for team members’ success and personal well-being.
4. Be very productive/results oriented.
5. Be a good communicator — listen and share information.
6. Help the team with career development.
7. Have a clear vision/strategy for the team.
8. Have important technical skills that help advise the team.

Out of these eight, only one involves technical skills. So it’s clear: the most important skills your managers need are people skills, not technical skills. Technical skills are useful in an advisory capacity, but that’s it. Managers should exist to serve their teams. Not to manage them.

Google understands something important that many companies don’t: most people think they know how to do the people stuff…hiring, promoting, culture, etc. We often rely on our gut. But in reality, we’re really bad at making these decisions.

Yes, this makes sense coming from a tech company. Data wins. But to be clear, humans ultimately make every people decision. Data is simply used to inform sound decisions.

We can learn a lot from Google. Free lunch is nice, but their focus on people is much deeper than the shiny perks we often associate with the company.

It begins with a fundamental belief that people are good.