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Book review: ‘Work Rules’ by Laszlo Bock

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Sruthi K S,HR Manager

You do not search something on the internet, you Google it. Google glasses and Google watches are catching on; Google maps are handy in a long distance drive while Google Pixel is giving the iPhone a run for its money. On a purely technical note, Google maintains the Javascript based open source front end web application framework called Angular JS which is so popular with our developers at SayOne. So what makes Google what it is? Or how do they hire the people who make Google what it is? As an HR person I found myself asking these questions and I found the answers in an interesting book.


Work Rules’ is a book that came out last year. Subtitled ‘Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead’ it is penned by Laszlo Bock, the Head of Human Resources at Google where he is employed since ten years. Apart from being a giant internet company, Google which was launched in 1996 by two engineers, has also been selected the Best Company to Work for, over 30 times around the world. HR Resources magazine named Bock as the HR Executive of the Year in 2010.


So what is Work Rules about? Laszlo makes the discovery that we spend more time working than doing anything else in life. It is not right, he adds, that the experience of work should be so de-motivating and dehumanizing’. Studying the successes of some companies that hit it big starting from nothing, he arrives at insights such as the following:

  • Take away manager's power over employees
  • Learn from your best employees, and your worst
  • Hire only people who are smarter than you are, no matter how long it takes to find them
  • Pay unfairly (it's more fair!)
  • Don't trust your gut. Use data to predict and shape the future
  • Default to open; be transparent and welcome feedback
  • If you're comfortable with the amount of freedom you've given your employees, you haven't gone far enough.


Hiring talent and retaining them are among the biggest challenges faced by IT companies today. Even a giant firm like Google spends twice as much on recruiting than the average company in spite of getting around 2 million job applications every year. As People Operations head Laszlo introduced unconventional and out-of-the-box methods of recruiting at Google. According to him the success rate of a candidate is hardly gauged from his resume which is often the first filter for most companies. The biggest success indicator is how a candidate fares in a sample work test. Companies need to see people in action in order to assess, from entry level openings to highly technical jobs requiring seasoned professionals.  How cool is a candidate when talking to an irate customer, what approach he takes in solving a coding challenge, etc are better reflections on his suitability to the job. Cognition, leadership and the ability of the applicant to see a task through to completion are other desired qualities in a Googler. 


The focus for Google is on finding people who are innovative, who will try something new rather than specialists who do not venture out of the time tested path. This is also why the company does not resort much on hiring firms and recruiters like Personal networking is preferred. Entire teams are hired sometimes; new offices are opened in new locations if an abundance of talent is found in those areas.  Google offsets its huge hiring costs by cutting on training costs since the best people hardly need training and bringing up to speed.


To summarize, Work Rules is about building a company from within than from above. The book underscores the points that you do not need to be a large organization in order to achieve your people goals. The cost of making your employees happy is far less than the productivity gains of happy employees. It is a wonderful study on behavioral economics and will interest all kinds of readers, not just HR personnel and IT engineers. 

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