Meet the legendary Laszlo Bock, Google’s former People Chief who grew the search giant’s workforce from 6,000 to 60,000 over the course of his 10-year tenure (2006-2016). In his new book, Work Rules!, Laszlo identifies the key insights that helped him shape the culture, management style, and now-famous hiring process of one of the world’s most successful companies.
In a galvanizing speech to IVY, Laszlo gave his top tips for radically transforming our workplaces. IVY Magazine caught up with him to glean few extra insights.
What was the vision that drove you down the path you went? What was one critical challenge you had to overcome that made you who you are?
I was born in Communist Romania. We sneaked across the border when I was two years old, and we stayed in a refugee camp as political refugees—which sounds more glamorous than it is. My folks always instilled this deep appreciation for freedom. What was always difficult for me was to be in environments where people aren’t treated well—they’re treated as if they’re not good people, and they’re given jobs where they don’t have much meaning. I tried to change that for any team I was a part of. Then, Google called me. There was just such a close alignment between their goals of free speech, autonomy, and meaningful work. It’s been fantastic to actually be in a place where individual values aligned with what important to me.
Where will People Departments be in the next thirty years?
Well, it all depends how things play out. It’s possible today to make a ton of money by treating people really badly. There are a lot of companies where people are replaceable cogs, and where people take jobs because it’s the best they can get. There is still going to be a lot of that. There’s an alternative: companies like Google, Wegmans, and others treat people well — and I think (and hope!) that will be increasingly prominent. The most talented people on planet are becoming easier to find and more mobile. They’re going to choose to work in high freedom environments. You’ll see more and more of that.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I was in a job interview once where I totally blew it. The interviewer had asked: what are your core values? I had an apple-pie kind of answer. At the end of the interview, I asked the person interviewing me: what are your core values? He said: always go above and beyond, because then they have no choice but to reward you. Everyone says work hard, but he recognized that in most organizations, there’s this power dynamic, where sometimes the boss will like you, and sometimes the boss will not like you. If your boss doesn’t like you, you’re stuck. You recognize that. Basically, be so good that they have no choice to reward you. The quality of your work is entirely under your own control.
What is something you believe to be true, that few other people believe?
Our individual judgment is way worse than we think it is. Don’t trust your gut! A professor at my business school had us read an academic journal article about doctors, and in the article, they show that doctors make pretty good decisions. If you develop an algorithm, the algorithm will also make good decisions. But the combination? That makes great decisions. We don’t really appreciate how much a little bit of evidence can influence our decision-making. We work better when we combine our judgment with actual data.
What’s your one message to the IVY audience?
The most important thing you can do is hire people who are better than you, and do it slowly. When you want to build great things, there’s this pressure to hire as quickly as you can. It’s the wrong thing to do. You know what you’re looking for, so you hire a couple other people. Those other people generally know what you’re looking for, too, so they hire other people. Those other people only have an ok sense of what you’re hiring for, and soon, the quality of hiring is at best average. Hire thoughtfully, and with clear standards. Hire slowly, because the price of a bad hire is incredibly high. If you hire someone who is not right, your 55,000 employees will probably figure it out. If you have a ten-person team, everyone will definitely feel it.
IVY: What’s one thing no one knows about you?
I would say deep down, I’m really a 12 year-old kid. Video games, comic books — I love them. Yes I have a job and a family, but at the end of the day, if a 12 year-old boy is interested in it, then I am, too.