NEW WORK Rules – How Google and its people evolve the best version of themselves

It’s neither their colorful logo, the Googleplex state-of the art building, its attractive courtyard nor the extravagant bicycles for the staff that make their employees happy, it´s Google´s continuous (r)evolution towards New Work. That´s what makes Google both one of the most sought-after places to work and the #5 among the global top 100 companies by market capitalization.

The success of Google is still due to the philosophy of its “founding fathers”, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. When they moved from their garage to the first office building after Google was founded in 1998, they had already decided on the culture and the way of working in their organization: of course, it was about creating value and being successful but they also knew that both could only be achieved together with their people and should be shared fairly. And it worked. Google, with a staff of about 135,000 “Googlers” worldwide (as per 2020) has been elected number one employer in the U.S. and other countries again and again.

How have they made it? Laszlo Bock, former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, reveals it in his book “Work Rules” (2015):
Distinctive management philosophies as well as unique approaches to people, culture, talent and leadership. Since ActioGlobal´s PEAKNW Revolution with its series of heuristic principles, inspired by the New Work, goes in line with Google in these aspects, we think it important to convey this shared philosophy to our community more closely.

In this article we concentrate on the relationship between people, teams and leadership.

To wrap things up right at the beginning: Make your people understand and feel the purpose of their work. Their contribution to the company´s victories will be amazing.

New work - Google

In Google, it says “Give your work meaning” = 100% New Work philosophy = 100% ActioGlobal philosophy. Gen Z will demand that from us and their new workplace.

“Your work matters!” is the magic spell leaders should know. Be a Servant Leader and help your people and teams to recognize that their work contributes to a greater target and benefits your customers and the consumer. Create a culture of freedom and empower your people to take ownership, to set and realize common objectives (OKRs). Make them feel like being the founders of the company and they will innovate and push beyond anything they might have ever imagined. Maybe you will not make your purpose reality straight away, there are always several ways to reach a target. Your task will be to make sure that they proceed in synchronized autonomy. Your people will understand the purpose, make your mission their own. The further they get towards the common purpose the happier they will be. And this definitely matters, too, when outcomes are concerned.

It´s also a matter of “trusting your people”.
Be transparent and share information. Your people will understand the message: “we are considered trustworthy and to have a good judgement”. Your openness has an impact: it boosts people´s self-confidence and consequently their efforts to go further. Regard the teams as “start-ups” and let them take self-determined action.

Behaving like the founder and taking ownership is one characteristic of the members in a self-organized team. Discovering what frustrates your people in their work and fix it collaboratively is another step toward motivation and increasing outcomes after all. Give your people a voice in your/their organization to shape the team, set its OKRs, share knowledge, take responsibility for their product and the customer loyalty.

Stop being a top-down manager! Today, business success demands a democratic leadership culture. Of course, leaders striving towards a New Work culture will feel vulnerable at first since they give away an important share of their authority to the teams. Be courageous, take this step, this is what is needed to make genuine trust to grow. First you will be nervous (if so, you did things right), but finally you will be amazed at the result.

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Google still follows the hiring process initiated by Page and Brin: Take your time to get the best people, let them be interviewed and assessed by a team so you´ll save the time the new hire needs to prove him-/herself after having joined and will be a trusted and full member of his/her team right from the first day.

Laszlo Bock advices to “Hire people who are better than you.”

“Hire by committee, set objective standards in advance, never compromise, and periodically check if your new hires are better than your old ones. … The proof that you have hired well is that nine out of 10 new hires are better than you are. If they are not, stop hiring until you find better people.”, he says.

Don´t invest money in huge and expensive training activities. It´s the wrong investment in your people, since it marks only the evidence that you failed to hire the right people in the first place. Instead, invest time upfront to hire the best people since they will become your top performers.

There are pros and cons in this idea:

  • They bring new ideas, different experiences, new perspectives but also great expectations for the new workplace and the company. Make sure the expectations can be met.
  • As said above, they are your top performers from their first day.
  • Usually, the best people can choose among several offers, so, nevertheless, your decision to “grab” them has to be quickly made.
  • Have you yourself and your people stopped growing somewhere on the way in your careers?

Remember: it´s not about individual heroes, it´s the team that has to live the culture and win the victories. So make sure that all of you learn and grow continuously.

Keep an eye on the full range of your human resources, in Bock Googlish: “Focus on the two tails.”

Regarding its people, a company has two tails:

  • The top tail represents the top 5%
  • The bottom tail represents the bottom 5%

It´s these tails that provide your greatest opportunity to improve lives. Don´t waste the investment in time and money you have made in your people by getting rid of these low performers, better show ”compassionate pragmatism,” which includes revealing to this persons that he/she is part of the bottom tail and take action to help him/her grow, together with their teams. Google has found that such “interventions”, commonly called Radical Candor, improve teams because people will either improve their performance since they feel that you care of them and help them grow or go somewhere else where they can be successful.

In agile, high-performing teams, members teach one another new skills in their respective areas of expertise. Ideally, the person with maximum expertise in each topic area delivers the training so the whole team gets empowered. Create an environment of deliberate learning and let employees be your faculty.

Find out what they do best and then build programs to measure and reinforce the best attributes for the entire company. Take your top performers as a role model and learn from them.

Google has observed that when a struggling employee is helped, that person’s performance improves to an average level. As a result, you´ll have your top-performers on the one hand, but no more low performers on the other hand.

Stop doing performance reviews and “Don´t confuse development with management performance.”

The performance management process is bureaucratic and critical since it carries professional and economic consequences for people. Google, Adobe, Expedia, and Microsoft among others have got rid of performance reviews. They prefer having individual and separate discussions with their people, they make these developmental discussions safe, productive and consistent. These talks should become a routine in everyday business in your organization, too. Consider yourself to be the mentor, not an instructor. That´s the way how to make your people grow.

Always approach development discussions with a positive spirit and goal to help the employee be more successful. Again, Radical Candor is the key word.

“Nudges” are the best instrument to influence choices and decision into the right direction without being mandatory. Make them data-driven, based on internal or external research, learnings, studies but also on the experiences of the teams and their members, this is the way to convince people. In a network organization, new trends, new learning and new insight are spread quickly so the employees will know what you are referring to. 

Transparent, timely, relevant and simple to put into action – this is what nudges need to be like.

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Let´s talk money: “Be frugal and generous” and pay “unfairly”, say Google and Laszlo Bock. That´s what they do instead of sticking to a fixed internal pay system that due to its inflexibility will always lag behind the development of people and their growing contributions to achieve the company´s purpose. So the best people will never get what they are really worth. Since Google´s HR-strategy is to hire only the best, they think new talent is underpaid at the beginning of their career relative to their contributions. This is what they think unfair. So another of their principles is “Pay the best people more than you think you should”.  Stress is on “best”.

Google is radically frugal when it comes to special benefits, rights and symbols of hierarchy. Senior executives do not receive any benefits other than those offered to newest hires, not even a special parking spot. Mentor, not boss, remember?

Google is frugally generous with employees when it comes to perks and benefits, and this does not cost them a fortune. Target is to improve their employees´ quality of life, save them time, make things more convenient and efficient and simply delight and refresh the people who create and share in Google’s success (sic!).

Here are some examples:

  • Employees get free fitness classes and gyms and are encouraged to participate in organized intramural sports. A former employee says: “The opportunity to get outside and run around if you had some energy to work off, knowing you could just shower and switch into some other clothes helped alleviate a lot of the fidgety energy I felt being pent up in a cubicle. It let me focus on work. I love to think in the shower and frequently worked out ideas in there.”
  • The 80/20 rule allows Googlers to dedicate 80% of time to their primary job and 20% working on passion projects that they believe will help the company. This way the full creative potential of your people is set free.
  • Google also supports their staff in the development of their career. Another employee says: “I am really impressed with how invested Google is in your well-being and career growth. I’ve never had a conversation with my past managers about career trajectory as much as I’ve had at Google. As someone who is quite shy, it is hard for me to bring up promotions and career track with my manager. But Google really trained the manager to be proactive about their employees’ growth. I enjoy that the most”.

This sounds great but you need to “Manage the rising expectations”.

People quickly get used to what perks, benefits or bonuses are provided, and they become a baseline expectation rather than something positive, delightful and motivating: Don’t allow a sense of entitlement to creep in, don´t make benefits “a matter of course”. After their original reason has disappeared, change or cancel them. Foster the intrinsic motivation of your people, instead. How to, please see above.

We at ActioGlobal know from our almost 20 years of experience in transforming different kinds of organizations from different sectors and cultures that it is most important that leaders give each one of their people a purpose. It´s their “job” to help people to understand why and to what end they come to work every day. Make them see the impact they make. Mentor them. Make them unleash their unrestricted abilities. Fair enough, but we’re no romantics. It is about making money, too, for both parts.

Read how one of the great leaders among our customers, Gianpaolo Santorsola, CEO of Adevinta Spain, brings both parts together:

 … to stay competitive in the business you are in. It clearly has a humanistic component of empowering people, of making people feel good, so that they can live the values of the company. All of this creates value, perhaps somewhat difficult to measure, but there is no doubt …. We are all companies, we are all exponential companies that have competitors that we want to beat, there is no doubt about that. We sought ActioGlobal’s support in the transformation so that our company would be more successful, this is indisputable. PEAK is not only for and by people, it also has an important business value.”

To build a great New Work culture and environment, ensure constant learning and renewal. It is not a one-time effort and you will encounter resistance. Experiment with ideas, learn from the experiment, measure and optimize the initiative, and then start all over again.

Google has made the paradigm shift toward their understanding of the New Work culture – so have we of ActioGlobal, so have our customers. Follow in our footsteps.

Have a video call with our trusted New Work Transformation Advisors when it suits you best.


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