Work Rules!: A book review by Bob Morris

Work Rules!Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
Laszlo Bock
Twelve/Hatchette Book Group (2015)

How to build a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive

I agree with Laszlo Bock that leaders “who build the right kind of environments will be magnets for the most talented people on the planet. But it’s hard building such a place, because the power dynamic at the heart of management pulls against freedom…Nobody produces their best work entangled in the Gordian knot of spoken and unspoken agendas and emotions. Google’s approach is to cleave the knot. We deliberately take power and authority over employees away from managers.” The decisions that managers at Google cannot make unilaterally include whom to hire and fire, how a worker’s performance is rated, and how much of a salary increase, bonus, or stock grant (if any) is given to someone.

This unique policy essentially frees up the managers that Google wants to develop from making certain decisions unilaterally that undermine their ability to help build a culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. As Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt explains, without being concerned about when, how, and why to use the traditional sticks and carrots, managers can focus on serving the “team.” This default leadership style nourishes relationships between and among everyone involved.

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Bock’s coverage:

o Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Pages 18-23 and 67-71)
o Google culture (29-53)
o Transparency (41-51)
o Values (46-48, 284-285, and 318-325)
o “Culture eats strategy for lunch” (51-52)
o Testing cognitive ability (91-93)
o Zero-compromise of hiring talent (104-113)
o Decisions based on data (127-135)
o Freedom in shaping work and company (135-146)
o Performance management (150-177 and 325-327)
o People programs (160-182)
o Interview questions (167-169)
o Two tails (178-203)
o Project Oxygen (189-196)
o Upward Feedback Survey (197-200)
o Learning Institutions (204-224)
o Accomplishments versus compensation (242-250)
o Employee Resource Groups (265-268)
o Sense of community (263-269)
o Relentless improvement (359-360)

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of material provided by Tom Davenport in one of his most recent books, Judgment Calls. He and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” Bock explains how and why decisions concerning use of the aforementioned “sticks and carrots” can become abusive…and often does. “The irony is that the best way to arrive at the beating heart of great management is to strip away all [such] tools on which most managers rely.” My own experience suggests that people who can be motivated only by sticks and carrots — or manage others only if having them available — probably should not have been hired in the first place.

Long ago, 3M’s then chairman and CEO, William L. McKnight observed, “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” At Southwest Airlines, there is a Culture Committee whose membership consists of C-level executives and baggage handlers, mechanics and flight attendants, accountants and gatekeepers. As former CEO Herb Kelleher explains, “Before people knew how to make fire, there was a fire watcher. Cave dwellers may have found a tree hit by lightning and brought fire back to the cave. Somebody had to make sure it kept going because if it went out, everyone would be in great danger so the fire watcher was the most important person in the tribe. I said to our culture committee, `You are our fire watchers, who make sure the fire does not go out. I think you are the most important committee at Southwest Airlines.'”

I mention McKnight and Kelleher because they are among the great business leaders upon whose shoulders Google’s leaders now stand. Bock acknowledges, “We don’t have all the answers, but we have made some fascinating discoveries about how best to find, grow, and keep people in an environment of freedom, creativity, and play.” That is the environment within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. Moreover, it is also the environment with which others — customers and client companies — also want to be associated. He asserts — and I wholly agree — that Google’s rules will work for almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.

The abundance of information, insights, and counsel that Laszlo Bock provides can help those who read it to achieve for themselves as well as their organizations a high-freedom workplace environment. Why accept less?

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