How Google Thinks About Hiring, Management and Culture

During Laszlo Bock’s nine years as Google’s SVP of People Operations, the company has won more than 100 awards for its employment practices. Bock, who came to Google after stints at McKinsey and GE, recently collected his thoughts about management and culture into “Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead,” a New York Times best-seller. He expounded on some of his HR-related ideas in a conversation with Beth Seidenberg at KPCB’s recent CEO Workshop. What follows is an edited version of his remarks.

Hiring is best done by committees, not individual managers. (1:26)

Most people overestimate their interviewing skills. As a result, interviews are too often an exercise in confirmation bias, in which interviewers, without realizing it, are looking for data to affirm the snap judgment they’ve already made. Google’s hiring committee’s sole job is to keep quality high; its decisions cannot be questioned.

Avoid “gotcha” interview questions. (4:11)

Google’s data shows brain teaser-style interview questions don’t predict performance, rather structured interview questions are much better indicators. When screening for problem solving, one might say, “Give me an example of a hard problem you’ve solved,” and then drill down for specifics. Those kinds of questions are much more predictive of how someone will perform.

Don’t forget what life was like before you were a manager. (5:30)

When you become a manager, you forget what you hated about being managed when you were an employee. As managers, we want to make sure our people get their work done and as a result, we get involved with all kinds of things that we shouldn’t, because if we’ve done hiring right, we’ve hired exceptional, smart, capable, motivated people.

Managers thinking about self-improvement should think small. (9:13)

People learn best when they focus on the smallest possible things, when they practice one small skill that is a constituent component of a much bigger thing. Doing that has two benefits. One is immediate repetition of that skill, and the second is immediate feedback and course correction. People learn best when they have those two things working.

Sweat the small stuff. (13:26)

Managers have to be acutely aware of how small things can affect the culture of a company. Things like slamming a door or leaving garbage on the table after lunch in the boardroom: Those signals get internalized by everyone in the company. There was one tech firm where they had free towels in the gyms. And then one day they decided, on some cost cutting exercise, to start charging some trivial amount for towels, like two bucks a month. But that small decision was a tipping point in the culture; people realized, “This isn’t the place I joined.”

Pay unfairly. (16:34)

Talent doesn’t follow a normal distribution, so neither should salaries. Ordinary pay systems are based on a misguided notion of fairness, and so have a relatively small difference between the highest- and lowest-paid employees. Google has a contrasting perspective: its compensation packages reflect these differences in talent. It is not uncommon for one hire to get a $10,000 stock grant while another one gets a grant worth $1 million.

Counteroffers are toxic to a company. (22:00)

Google doesn’t make counter offers, which incentivize the wrong employees. A well-designed compensation package helps to retain the most qualified.