Thursday, July 12, 2018

How Google Works Paperback – March 21, 2017 by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg (Grand Central Publishing)

How Google Works on two flights before attending a ThinkHR executive off-site meeting. Good timing! Every manager at your company should read this book. HR included. It contains a wealth of wisdom. It also embodies a significant challenge to employers. It sets forth a "new age" of human resource and management practices. These practices are not for the timid, mediocre or control freak. They are for those that trust smart people and want to be part of creating something special.

While there is a measure of old wine in new bottles, it is the implementation of these practices which is so exciting and challenges us to rethink the role of human resources. Having read the books criticisms I agree the Google approach will not work in every environment. It is young male centric (ping pong and beer anyone?). It’s also easy to say how wonderful you are when you’re at the top. GM was once wonderful and at the top too. Google is rich and can afford to do many things other companies can’t do or don’t want to do. I don’t expect to see McDonalds giving every service employee 20% of their time off to help reinvent the company.

What follows are some the key points gleaned from the book.

The purposeful use of languaging. Right out of the gate Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page describes the culture of Google. The following phrases are used in the forward and throughout the book "autonomy of thought", "moonshot thinking", "incrementalism leads to irrelevance over time", “focus on the user” Page recognizes the importance of defining a culture. To what degree can you help leadership in delivering the message?

Keep a spreadsheet ranking the company’s top projects. Google did this for years with its top 100 projects. What are the top dozen projects in human resources and how are they ranked? Are they in alignment with the company’s list?

Don't live by schedules. This is in alignment with the TQM ideas of Dr. Edwards Deming who said you manufacture towards perfection not towards a tolerance. Likewise when you put a deadline or date on something you manage the project towards it. Google realized it had to loosen the reins and allow its engineers the freedom to move fast. Not according to any deadline. And yes, we have to schedule meetings and the like. This is a conceptual point being made.

Product excellence is now paramount to business success. Not the control of information, not a stranglehold on distribution, not overwhelming marketing power (although these are still important). This is largely because of better informed consumers. For the consumer this is a good thing. The same concept applies to managing the workplace. Employees are better informed than ever too. Top employees can insist on management excellence…or work someplace else.

The primary objective of business is to increase the speed of product development and quality of its output. The only way to do that is to attract and hire what Google calls "smart creatives". Here's a list of smart creative characteristics: technical knowledge, hands-on experience, an expert in doing, analytically smart, business smart, competitive smart, user smart, new ideas smart, seriously creative, risky creative, self-directed creative, open creative, thorough creative, communicative creative. No smart creative has all these characteristics. These are the type of employees that can get a job anywhere. It is not about finding them but rather attracting them.

Hiring is the most important thing a leader does. This does not differ from what Peter Drucker, Jim Collins and every other management expert has told us. Problem is half of the companies choose to execute on it better than the other half. To be effective, there has to be a culture of execution when it comes to great HR practices. Is it more important your mangers hire fast or hire right?

Employees at Google have the freedom to solve any big problem that stands in the way of success. Google's culture turns their engineers into problem-solving ninjas.

Diversity. Google's approach is simple: "it doesn't matter who you are, just what you do". There are critics of Google who claim this diversity doesn’t exist.

The rule of seven. This is an interesting conversation. It's hard to manage 27 employees. Many experts, including me, have recommended a limit on direct reports. Google does just the opposite. They feel that if somebody has too many reports then they won't have the ability to micromanage them. We must test to find out what approach works best in our environment.

"Your title makes you a manager. Your people make you a leader" Debbie Biondolillo, Apples former head of HR

Overworked in a good way. Every company is rightfully concerned about the excessive stress placed on its workforce. Google believes that highly engaged employees stress only about their desire for accomplishment and little else. Not everybody agrees. Many a working parent has commented on the brutal reality of this overworked approach (put the kids to sleep and check in for the next three hours).

A culture of "yes" – as opposed to a culture of "no". HR, who has been painted squarely in the corner of no, needs to communicate yesses better. Let leaders and workers know the yes agenda (you have one…right?). Create skunkworks, experiments, tests, etc. so you can fail quickly and find out what works. This can be a real challenge for HR executives as their personality profiles reveal a personality geared towards rules and conformity, not experimentation. They're very concerned about any judgment that may come with mistakes made. Not exactly an innovators profile. Time to get over it.

Have fun, at your own expense. A good sense of humor can keep people humble. Google gives example after example of how they poke fun at themselves.

Open, open, open. While Google has its critics about openness on the outside, it is determined to create an open culture internally. Google believes openness is the only way to deal with a rapidly changing, chaotic business environment. Yes it can get sloppy but falling behind the times due to stagnation at ever accelerated rates is not an option. "With openness, you trade control for scale and innovation."

"You must wear something". Eric Schmidt's answer to the question of what the Google dress code was.

"Don't be evil" Another mantra at Google. While few would profess a desire otherwise, at many companies it is not a mantra attached to a commitment. Enron being the classic example. Highly productive managers, with good numbers, can get away with brutish tactics at many a company. The don't be evil mantra can avoid many lawsuits, agency investigations, media problems and employee turnover.

"Giving the customer what he wants is less important than giving him what he doesn't yet know he wants". Such as an amazing HR experience. Maybe HR must give CEOs what they didn’t know they wanted: a kick ass HR department. Curious-if you could create an X prize for human resources what problem would you try to solve?

"If you focus on your competition, you'll never deliver anything truly innovative” This is true for your HR practices too. Yes it's fine to learn from other company experiences. It is even better to generate your own. To be a great observer of your own environment, condition and opportunities.

"It didn't matter if the person would be an entry – level software engineer or a senior executive; Google made it a priority to invest the time and energy to ensure they got the best possible people". One would think this level of commitment to excellence would be common but it is not. Google believes the higher you go in the organization, the more attached executives should be to the hiring process Google also believes that hiring should be peer – based, not hierarchical, with decisions made by committees.

"The objective is to create a hiring culture that resists the siren song of compromise.”- A song that only gets louder amidst the chaotic whirlwind of hyper growth.

Hire "learning animals" or people with a growth mindset. When you do, offer training and growth opportunities. Problem is most people do not have a personal learning culture. Perhaps one out of ten do… at best. One reason there is no substitute for required learning, as most won't do it voluntarily.

Interview questions:
• Reflect on a past mistake you made. What did you learn from it?
• What books are you reading right now?
• Take them through problematic case scenarios
• "Could you teach me something complicated I don't know". A favorite interview question by Sergey

Identify candidates who asked thoughtful questions

Conduct 30 minute interviews and limit yourself to four. My feedback is why do they impose an artificial limit if their mantra is to not live by schedules? I say take the time you need to make a great hire.

Create a hiring packet for executives including a one page summary with all the key facts and supporting material. There is no substitute for a well prepared hiring system.

There is always an "up" opportunity available at Google. It amazes me when people must leave organizations to grow. What a waste of human capital investment

Test yourself: “if you could trade the bottom 10% of your team for new hires, would your organization improve?”

Another test: “are there members of your team whom, if they told you they were leaving, you would not fight hard to keep? If there are employees you would let go, then perhaps you should.”

The first step in the decision-making process is to understand the data. The next step is to engage in an open dialogue where opinions and objections are welcome. There's a bias for action and a decision must be made and that is the ultimate responsibility of the executive.

Google believes in daily executive team meetings. Short meetings that are action oriented. My only feedback is to make sure that is what happens. Why the meeting, how long, what outcomes, get it done.

Many chapters of the book focused on communication and decision-making. I saw nothing I would label as new. The principles for communication and wise decision-making have been with us for thousands of years and half of executive teams apply them better than the other half. Seems like Google does a good job of it.

Have a playbook. Google challenges its business leaders to have a playbook with notes on how to communicate to employees, bosses, directors, customers, etc. For example, a playbook for one on one meetings, or to discuss performance, manage relationship with peer groups, innovation/best practices, etc. Again, a bit of old wine in new bottles. Playbooks, scripts and SOPs have been around for years.

Innovation. The end of the book is spent on this subject, something near and dear to the DNA of Google. But it should also be near and dear to the DNA of every company and career. According to Google innovation "entails both the production and implementation of novel and useful ideas". It also requires much optimism. If you want to be innovative you have to "think big". This means you set goals that are almost and often unattainable.

20% time. Allows its engineers and presumably others time to experiment, test, identify novel projects and find others interested in supporting them. How do you catch up for the company that gives its engineers that level of freedom? Odds are you don't.


I regularly speak to company CEOs. They continue to state their greatest business concerns center on the ability to hire talent, get them to produce, keep them engaged, and retain the star performers. While this book is a self-serving manifesto, How Google Works provides a formula how to do each of these critical business objectives in a great way. It is as insightful as any human resource book you'll ever read. A strategic HR executive would well embrace the Google approach.

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