Business Today

The Secret Code of Google's Success

The book looks at what makes the search giant the world’s best workplace.
Padmaja Alaganandan        Print Edition: September 13, 2015
The Secret Code of Google's Success

Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

PAGES: 416
PRICE: Rs 1,134

Imagine going through a company's code of conduct and seeing the following excerpt: "We like cats but we're a dog company, so as a general rule we feel cats visiting our office would be fairly stressed out." Clearly not an organisation bound by traditional notions of managing the workplace but one looking for relevance to what employees value and what makes sense to the culture they want to create. This in essence is at the heart of Google's success as a workplace.

A lot has been said and written about the global search giant's legendary work practices. Laszlo Bock, the US company's Head of People Operations, writes in a very readable style on how these evolved and how they reflect the core beliefs and values of the founders. Bock is representative of the 'not so typical' profile of the Googler - he worked in manufacturing, helped start a not-for-profit, spent time consulting at McKinsey & Co. before moving into HR roles, initially with GE and later at Google.

Bock talks about the core values that drive culture - transparency and non-hierarchical approaches. The benefits at Google are the same at all levels, and stock is granted to all employees. Some practices are refreshingly unique, such as the weekly all-hands meetings still chaired by the founders, and Larry Page meeting every shortlisted candidate before an offer is made (bear in mind Google has 60,000 employees and hired 10,000 in the last two years). Many others may appear commonplace, but what stands out is Google's willingness to experiment, follow through on aspects the company considers important (for instance, don't fill a position till you find the right person, even if it means you take a long time) and obsessively use analytics and employee test groups for any decision on what would be valued.

A constant belief running through the book relates to the 'power of the crowds'. Decisions at Google - whether on hiring, promotions, pay - are never left with managers, but done collectively by a team. There is also the interesting notion of a manager whose ultimate role is to 'make you want to be a better man', rather than an administrator or a power centre managing your career or next pay hike.

The book helps us understand some of the thinking behind Google's people practices and its legendary culture. While it could be argued that culture is very company specific and what works in a geeky Bay Area enterprise may not work everywhere, Bock brings in a profound insight when he talks of how the winners of the Great Places to Work awards were more similar despite coming from very different industries. Leading with your heart, empowering employees and focusing on the customer regardless of cost are what he feels separate these workplaces from others.

The early chapters could be a good read for business leaders on the fundamentals of creating a company of high performing talent and cohesive culture. For instance, Bock talks about the company's mission - to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful - and how decisions are often based on what supports the mission and values, and not on economics. The chapters on how Google recruits, manages performance, learning and makes pay decisions go into a lot of detail on alternate approaches and merits of each, and are more likely to be read by HR practitioners. The book ends with a summary of work rules that can work as a fundamental guide to leaders at all levels on how to build a self-fuelling organisation where teams find meaning in what they do and relish the accomplishment of having done something to make a difference in this world.

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