Google has around 50,000 employees. That’s 50,000 resumes, interviews and hires to manage and guide as cogs in the large machine that has shaped so many aspects of the internet as we know it today. Tasked with recruiting, analysing, and retaining that talent is Laszlo Bock.
Laszlo is the head of what Google calls “People Operations” — more commonly referred to as human resources at other companies — and has largely designed how the company hires its talented employees. He recently wrote a book, Work Rules!, details how the process of managing the competitive Googler positions has evolved and changed over the years, and why Google remains such a popular place to work. We caught up with Laszlo to learn how he manages what must be a ponderous workload of his own at the Googleplex.
Location: At present 30,000 feet above McCook, NE, but usually Mountain View, CA
Current Gig: SVP of People Operations at Google and author of “Work Rules!“
One word that best describes how you work: Efficiently
Current mobile device: Nexus 5
Current computer (and what OS is it running?): I use a Chromebook Pixel, but also switch between a Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 device, depending on what I’m doing and reading. I basically keep a device in each room and love that they are all synced, all the time. I never have to schlep anything around and can pick up wherever I leave off.
What apps, software or tools can’t you live without?
I use Google News and Google Now to get a sense of what’s going on in the world each day. Google Translate is amazing and keeps getting better. All my devices run Twilight, an app that dims your screen and tints it from sunset to sunrise to minimise blue light exposure. Blue light suppresses melatonin production, which then degrades your sleep-wake cycle. It does seem to make it easier to fall asleep after reading online. Toddler Lock was a lifesaver when my kids were smaller. I could give them my phone and knew they wouldn’t accidentally call Eric Schmidt. I also have a tester iPhone which I’m spending way too much time on because I just installed Fallout Shelter…
What’s your workspace setup like?
I haven’t had a desk in almost 10 years. My office has a couch and a really cool chair shaped like someone who was run over by a steamroller (a cartoon someone!) that flexes at the knees and hips. It is the most comfortable chair in the world. I have a little table that’s about 12″ x 18″ and about 3 1/2 feet high that I keep my Pixel on. I’ll stand at that if I need to work on that device, but otherwise I’m on the couch, pancaked dude chair, or the floor. I also collect the business cards of people who used to work on my People Operations team that have gone on to be heads of HR at other companies, and keep them in little display cases. So far I’ve got Tesla, Uber, Square, Pinterest, Jawbone and a bunch of others. I’m really proud of the folks who have gone on to do cool things.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I keep an empty inbox and try to respond to every email within 24 hours. They either get resolved, or they go into one of three folders: check Thursday, check monthly, or check quarterly. I don’t have to bother with a checklist and nothing ever slips since it’s either done or in a folder I’ll check on regularly. One of the things I write about in my book is how your “choice architecture”, or the way you arrange things around you, can help you be healthier, save more, and make better decisions. Having this structure staring at me every day nudges me to prioritise, sort, and close out as quickly and efficiently as I can.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
My other essential gadget is my Xbox One. I can’t wait to play Arkham Knight. I’m excited they’re going to make them backwards compatible too, which means I can retire my 360.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I’m gifted (cursed?) with being flat out amazing at finding things in my food that shouldn’t be there. As a kid I bit into a frozen pizza (you know the kind that used to be 99 cents at the store?) and found a half-inch long claw from some kind of mammal. Since then I’ve found the tip of a rubber glove in a plate of pasta, a cockroach (real little) in my Thai iced tea in NYC, a plastic spider in a burger in Calaveras County, and a live spider in my salad at a place in Mountain View, CA (the waiter told me it was because the salad was organic…). Do NOT look closely at your food.
In terms of people operations, the scale of Google sounds intimidating to say the least. How do you manage to operate such a workforce?
The keys are to hire amazing people, give them more freedom than you’re comfortable with, provide targeted real-time coaching, and forgive failure as long as people learn. We also use a lot of metrics and numbers to track how things are going. Our goal is to innovate as much on the people side as we do on the product side. Part of the reason I wrote Work Rules! was to open source what we’ve been doing so that others can borrow, tweak, and adapt what we’ve done that works. The coolest thing has been discovering over the years that there are a lot of other places that also hire well and give people freedom, ranging from Wegmans in the northeast to Brandix in Sri Lanka. We don’t have it all figured out of course, but trusting people and giving them real freedom goes a long way.
What do you listen to while you work?
I don’t tend to play music while I work. Just never got in the habit. Kind of a boring answer, I guess…
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading Scott Snyder’s Batman: Year Zero. You wouldn’t think that story could be retold again, but it’s fantastic. I’m reading the Zita the Spacegirl series with my kids, a tough, touching, funny story about a girl who leaves Earth on a quest to save her brother. Natural Born Heroes by Chris McDougall, who was kind enough to sign my copy in London. Carmen Bugan’s Burying the Typewriter is a great glimpse into what my country of birth, Romania, was like under the Communists. Her dad was a dissident who would type political leaflets at night and then in the morning bury the typewriter in the yard so the secret police wouldn’t find it until they did.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Definitely introvert. Introversion/extroversion is about where your energy comes from. I need time to myself or with close friends or family to recharge.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I read myself to sleep and then try to exercise in the morning. I’m usually able to pull off the exercise three or four times a week.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ____ answer these same questions.
Neil deGrasse Tyson. I was at a holiday party in DC two years ago and he was in the same room. I wanted to say hello and thank him for all he’s done for popularising, explaining, and advancing interest in the sciences, but I figured people must bug him all the time so didn’t want to intrude. I wish I’d at least said thank you.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Always go above and beyond, because then they have no choice but to reward you.” The “they” was the brilliant part. It recognised the power dynamic between the employee and the boss. And recognised that the only thing you have absolute, unilateral control over is how hard you work and the quality of your work. You could be lucky or unlucky, your boss could love your or hate you, but you exclusively control the quality and volume of your output.
We’ve asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we’ll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.