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Coming to your workplace…soon

I’ve just finished devouring Laszlo Bock’s seminal book “Work Rules! – Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead.” I’m told I’m prone to understatement even by British standards, but I have to say I agree with Bock’s claim.

He lays out a series of principles that Google have developed and live by in relation to their people practices. He paints a picture of a fun, inspiring, challenging, rewarding place to work, one that attracts between 1 and 3 million applications a year and is consistently cited as one of the best places to work.

He is honest about some of the mistakes that they’ve made along the way (I suspect not all of them!). He candidly describes trying to distribute large cash bonuses and stock options for major achievements and actually doing more harm than good. In a chapter entitled “Why everyone hates performance management” he talks about the ridiculously complicated 41 point rating scale that was used to grade employees’ performance four times a year and tied the company up in knots for months on end. They subsequently moved to a surprisingly traditional 5-point rating scale that you will most definitely recognise. Bock admits that they still haven’t got it all right, and I’ll wager that that rating scale is one of the things up for iteration/scrappage in the near future.

Mostly, he focuses on some of the innovative, often low/no cost people practices that they have successfully adopted. In the chapter called “Let the inmates run the asylum” Bock explains that managers don’t have the final say on hiring decisions for their team to reinforce the non-hierarchical nature of Google and to prevent cronyism. Acknowledging that demand for formal learning will always outstrip resources, spend is directed only towards interventions that deliver proven behavioural change. And in a provocatively titled chapter, “Pay unfairly” Bock advocates paying your stellar performers magnitudes more than your poor and average performers. This really resonates with me. Why should someone be given stock options just because they are more senior and have been with a company longer than a more junior but more significant contributor?

I’m not going to go into all the details. You need to read the book!

What is striking, but not surprising about their approach is that their people practices are grounded in data and experimentation. They develop a hypothesis, they test it on a group of people (using a control), look at the data and then act on it. What works for Google may not work for your organisation, but taking a data driven approach to people strategies is something that we all need to be advocating. Google are leading the way, and now that they have come out and given us the detail, most certainly others will follow.

Emma Sawula is co-founder of The Geek People @thegeekpeople. She specialises in organisational development, performance management and organisational culture and transformation. You can follow her @emmazulu