Laszlo Bock’s new book, Work Rules, explains how the people management practices of Google are part of what makes it such a great 21st century company. But it also explains how these practices are not just for high tech companies. Laszlo opens by comparing the culture of Google and the culture of Wegman’s supermarkets, two companies that couldn’t appear more dissimilar. Both, however, have been chosen many times as among the best companies to work for in America. And both have cultures that value and enable what Dan Pink calls “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” among their employees.
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Micromanagement is mismanagement. … [P]eople micromanage to assuage their anxieties about organizational performance: they feel better if they are continuously directing and controlling the actions of others—at heart, this reveals emotional insecurity on their part. It gives micromanagers the illusion of control (or usefulness). Another motive is lack of trust in the abilities of staff—micromanagers do not believe that their colleagues will successfully complete a task or discharge a responsibility even when they say they will.
Performance improved only when companies implemented programs to empower employees (for example, by taking decision-making authority away from managers and giving it to individuals or teams), provided learning opportunities that were outside what people needed to do their jobs, increased their reliance on teamwork (by giving teams more autonomy and allowing them to self-organize), or a combination of these. These factors “accounted for a 9% increase in value added per employee in our study.” In short, only when companies took steps to give their people more freedom did performance improve.
Henry Ford is best known for his sweeping adoption of the assembly line. It’s less well known that his philosophy of recognizing and rewarding work was remarkably progressive for the time: ‘The kind of workman who gives the business the best that is in him is the best kind of workman a business can have. And he cannot be expected to do this indefinitely without proper recognition. …[I]f a man feels that his day’s work is not only supplying his basic need, but is also giving him a margin of comfort, and enabling him to give his boys and girls their opportunity and his wife some pleasure in life, then his job looks good to him and he is free to give it his best. This is a good thing for him and a good thing for the business. The man who does not get a certain satisfaction out of his day’s work is losing the best part of his pay.’
Building an exceptional team or institution starts with a founder. But being a founder doesn’t mean starting a new company. It is within anyone’s grasp to be the founder and culture-creator of their own team, whether you are the first employee or joining a company that has existed for decades.
Once it’s explained, it seems self-evident. But how many of us have taken the time to look for the deeper meaning in our work? How many of our companies make a practice of giving everyone, especially those most remote from the front office, access to your customers so employees can witness the human effect of their labors? Would it be hard to start? … Having workers meet the people they are helping is the greatest motivator, even if they only meet for a few minutes. It imbues one’s work with a significance that transcends careerism or money.
All it takes is a belief that people are fundamentally good—and enough courage to treat your people like owners instead of machines. Machines do their jobs; owners do whatever is needed to make their companies and teams successful.
Laszlo Bock leads Google’s people function globally, which includes all areas related to the attraction, development, and retention of “Googlers.” Google has been recognized over 100 times in the last five years as an exceptional employer, including being named the #1 Best Company to Work for in the United States and 16 other countries. Laszlo joined Google from the General Electric Company. Before GE, Laszlo was a management consultant at McKinsey & Company. Laszlo earned an M.B.A. from the Yale University School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Pomona College, where he’s also a member of the board of trustees. Laszlo is the author of New York Times best seller WORK RULES!—an insider’s look at how to find and nurture professional talent.
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