I’ve been on a reading kick of late and recently finished a book written by Google’s People Operations Director Laszlo Bock. Its title is Work Rules: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live And Lead. It is not surprising the book has hit both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal’s best seller list, and has received nothing but rave reviews. It is one of the best management books I have read in years.
Yes Google is one of the planet’s most successful businesses and its various products have revolutionized and changed the way most of us live and work. As a brand you just can’t beat when people wanting some answer often say “let’s Google it”. But as Bock’s book illustrates, it is not just what they do and have accomplished that distinguishes Google from many other companies, it is how they operate as a human enterprise that distinguishes them as well.
What strikes me most about the Google work philosophy is its positive humanist outlook. It is a philosophy that believes people are inherently good, should be trusted with information and the truth, and, as Bock writes, “if you give people freedom, they will amaze you” (p. 51) Considering Google’s success as an organization, it is a philosophy that certainly seems to work for them.
I was also impressed by Google’s passion for hard data and for measuring the results of everything they do. In chapter after chapter Bock chooses his illustrations based on expert research — often Google’s own in-house data analytics — and describes their willingness to alter course when their research indicated they should. I believe there is an important management lesson in Google’s passion for measurement since the failure or unwillingness to measure the results of new initiatives is a problem that bedevils so many of today’s organizations.
Failure to measure results frequently renders an organization incapable of evaluating whether an effort was a true success or worth the investment of time and money involved. Worst case, it often results in the perseveration of a poor course of action damaging to both organization and human enterprise.
Now I can easily imagine many of my management colleagues raising their eyebrows especially at Google’s policy of taking significant elements of traditional management power away from their managers to “let the inmates run the asylum” as Bock phrases it (P. 118). But the notion of taking power from their managers and trusting their people to run things is central to many of the work rules the author describes. Getting Googlers to think and act like founders, to undertake bold initiatives on their own, and to believe they will be rewarded even for thoughtful failures, for example, cannot be achieved without mutual trust and the absence of a controlling management hand.
There is far too much of value in this book for me to summarize it any further here, nor do I feel qualified to write book reviews. Moreover, I do not recommend this book because I believe the Google way is finally the one size that fits all. Rather it is the sheer scope and volume of ideas the book contains I believe recommends it to any thoughtful manager as worthwhile food for thought.
Whether your current interests involve hiring, employee motivation, performance issues, pay and promotion matters, training and employee development, or the appropriate role for your managers, you will find a great deal of thoughtful insights to inform your thinking and discussions. While some elements of the Google way will not fit everyone, I believe a great many will.