Monday, January 12, 2015

How Google Works

I recently listened to the audiobook version of How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg.  I liked it so much, I bought the hardcopy.  There are a lot of management books you can buy.  Many of them are junk.  Most are lacking in a key area: actionable advice.  How Google Works includes the typical examples and case studies, some of which were failures.  The book also includes a decent amount of ideas that you might be able to actually try in your organization.  I think it also hints at some of the things that make Google so notably successful compared to their peers.

Here is an outline of a few items illustrated by the book.  These are my own distillations.  For more information, or a more accurate representation, please read the book.

Bezos 2-Pizza Rule
  Teams should be small enough to be fed with 2 pizzas.

  The most important thing a manager does at work is hiring and keeping the best people.

    I agree with this completely.  I'm astounded that most of the managers I know would never include this if asked what important things they do.

The Herd Effect
Hiring the best people will result in a herd effect, drawing more of the best people.
Hiring less-than best will result in growing dilution of the talent pool.

The P-word
Passion is overused.  Passionate people don't wear it on their sleeve.

    I agree.  The word is not just overused, it's vague and subjective.  And yet, you'll find "passion" in a lot of Google job postings if you search them.  It's right up there with "problem solver" in the list of useless adjectives for job candidates.  Most 8 year olds are passionate about things and are also problem solvers, but you probably wouldn't hire them.

Hire Learning Animals
Most companies hire a person who has excelled in exactly that same role.  This is not ideal.
You should favor intelligence over specialization.

I agree.  Too many people try to hire the candidate who has done exactly this role for a long time.  That's fine as long as the role will never change.  But in the white collar "knowledge worker" world, things change.  They can change a lot.  You need to hire people who are smart enough to spot the changed conditions and then change what they're doing.

Interviews should last 30 minutes.
Employees should be incentivized to participate in interviewing.

  This is an amazing thing Google does.  I'm surprised that so few companies do this: properly incentivize staff to genuinely participate in the hiring process.  I think this is one of the things that makes Google so strong and successful.

Google Interviews Look for:
Role-Related Knowledge
General Cognitive Ability

Sample interview questions: 
What surprised you about ______?   A great way to elicit demonstrations of their communication skills, knowledge, analysis & reasoning, and more.
If I were to look at your browser history, what would I learn about you that isn't in your resume?

Repetition Doesn't Spoil the Prayer   (guidelines for over-communicating)
Does the communication reinforce core themes?
Is the communication effective?
Is the communication interesting, fun, or inspirational?
Is the communication authentic?
Is the communication going to the right people?
Are you using the right media?
Tell the truth, be humble, and bank goodwill for a rainy day.

1:1 Topics:   
Job Performance (metrics)
Relationships with Peer Groups
Management / Leadership

These are Google's, however I prefer those from Manager Tools.

OKRs   (Objectives & Key Results)
Good ones marry big-picture objectives with measurable key results.
Stretch to achieve.  Hitting 100% of OKRs should be almost unattainable.
Make them aggressive but realistic.

70/20/10 Rule
70% of resources on core business
20% on emerging business showing some early success
10% on completely new things with high risk of failure

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