Transforming How People Work #CAHR15

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

The California HR Conference wrapped up yesterday with a final keynote address by Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People Operations at Google. Bock recently published Work Rules!, which contains his advice for transforming the workplace. His presentation drew from his experience at Google as well as examples from other companies where valuing and listening to employees are keys to success.

Google is a company known for innovation in technology. Their search engine is powerful enough that it turned the company’s name into a verb, and they have introduced things like Google Glass and the self-driving car. There seems to be regular buzz around what invention Google will bring forward next. But even though Bock works at a tech giant, his advice was surprisingly simple: treat your people right. 

It is easy to get caught up in new HR tech and thinking of ways it will streamline and improve processes. While those things can help us perform our jobs, they are not at the core of creating an environment that drives creativity and innovation.

Bock emphasized the importance of trusting your employees. He said, “Let people in your organization try stuff. Trust them to solve problems.” Too often managers do not put that level of trust in their employees. Whether it is a retail store where employees must get approval for any customer request outside of normal procedures or a manager who won’t let employees try new ideas, many companies fail to trust in their employees. 

At one company I worked at, the owner warned everyone at a management meeting, “Assume all employees are stealing from us.” This was his philosophy for figuring out how to reduce theft in the company’s warehouse. Unfortunately this attitude spread to most of his interactions with employees. As such, the company had a culture of paranoia. This is not the type of culture that encourages creativity and innovation.

Bock also said that companies should be frugal and generous. He explained the ways that Google has been able to increase their benefits at little to no cost to them. For example, the company has a mobile haircutting service that comes on campus. Employees can pay $20 to have a haircut. The benefit is that it makes getting a hair cut convenient, and such a benefit is no cost to Google. They also provide services such as on-site dry cleaning as a way to help employees save time in their busy schedules.

As for being generous, Bock said, “There are moments in life where you get crushed by life or moments where something amazing happens.” These are the times a company needs to be ready to address. This may come in the form of generous death benefits for family members of an employee who dies while working at the company or extended leave options for new parents. Caring for employees during those big moments in their life is a key part of valuing their work.

Bock added that the smallest things can have the biggest impact, and he encouraged managers to nudge their employees when they feel it is necessary to facilitate communication or action. This could be as simple as sending an email to both a manager and a new hire to remind them to meet to go over expectations. Even the gentlest reminder can have positive ripples.

In conclusion, Bock stated, “We’re positioned to transform how people work.” What is most interesting about Bock’s philosophy is that it can be implemented at any company. It does not require fancy technology or the vast resources of a company like Google. It boils down to putting trust in our employees, and as Bock said, “To always make an exception in favor of the employee.”