1. Give your work meaning
Work consumes at least one-third of your life, and half your waking hours. It can and ought to be more than a means to an end. Even a small connection to the people who benefit from your work not only improves productivity, it makes people happier. Connect work to an idea or value that transcends the day-to-day, and that also honestly reflects what you are doing. If you’re a lox slicer, you’re feeding people. If you’re a plumber, you’re improving the quality of people’s lives. Whatever you’re doing, it matters to someone. And it should matter to you.
2 . Trust people
Be transparent and honest with your people, and give them a voice in how things work. For a company with a history of opaque management, a suggestion box that employees know is read and attended to will feel revolutionary. If you’re a small shop, regularly ask your employees what they would change to make things better, or what they would change if it was their company. Because that’s how you want them to behave – as if it were their company.
3. Hire only people who are better than you
Organisations often act as if filling jobs quickly is more important than filling jobs with the best people. But it is an error ever to compromise on hiring quality. A bad hire is toxic, not only destroying their own performance, but also dragging down the performance, morale and energy of those around them. If being down a person means everyone else has to work harder in the short term, just remind them of the last jerk they had to work with. Hire by committee, set standards in advance, never compromise, and periodically check if your new hires are better than your old ones. If they’re not, stop hiring until you find better people.
4. Don’t confuse development with managing performance
Even the most successful people fail to learn. And if they can’t learn, what hope is there for the rest of us? It’s not pleasant to confront your own weaknesses. If you marry criticism with consequence, if people feel that a miss means that they will be hurt professionally or economically, they will argue instead of being open to learning and growing. Make developmental conversations safe and productive by having them all the time. Always start with an attitude of “How can I help you be more successful?”
5. Focus on the two tails – your absolute worst and best employees
Put your best people under a microscope. Through a combination of circumstance, skill and grit, they have figured out how to excel. Identify not just your best all-round athletes, but the best specialists. Don’t find the best salesperson; find the person who sells best to new accounts of a certain size. Then use them as exemplars for others, and also as teachers. If you’re exposed to one of these people as a co-worker, observe them closely, pepper them with questions, and use the opportunity to suck every bit of knowledge out of them.
At the same time, have compassion for your worst performers. If you’re getting hiring right, most of those who struggle do so because you’ve put them in the wrong role, not because they are inept. Help them to learn or to find new roles. But if that fails, exit them immediately. It’s not mercy to keep them around – they’ll be happier in an environment where they aren’t the worst performers.
6. Be frugal and generous
Most things Google does for its people costs nothing. Have vendors bring services in-house or negotiate lunch delivery. Guest speakers require only a room and a microphone. Save your big cheques for the times when your people are most in need. Your generosity will have the most impact when someone needs emergency medical attention or when families are welcoming new members.
This is true even for the smallest company. My father founded an engineering firm that he led for over three decades. He cared deeply for each of his people. When any of his team reached five years in tenure, he took them aside and told them that the company had a pension plan, and at five years they were fully vested in it.
In addition to whatever they’d been saving, he had also been putting money aside for each of them. Some cheered, some cried, some simply thanked him. He didn’t tell people earlier than that because he didn’t want them to stay for the money. He wanted them to stay because they loved building things and loved the team.
7. Pay unfairly
Ninety per cent or more of the value on your teams comes from the top 10%. As a result, your best people are worth far more than your average people. Make sure they feel it. Your B players might be a little unhappy about their rewards, but you can address that by being honest: explain to them why their pay is different and what they can do to change it. At the same time, be generous in your public recognition. Celebrate the achievements of teams, and make a point of cheering failures where important lessons were learned.
Look around you right now and discover how your environment is nudging you and those around you already. Is it easy to see other people and connect? Are the least healthy snacks in your refrigerator at eye level? When you email or text your colleagues and friends, is it to share good news or snark? We are all constantly nudged by our environment and nudging those around us. Use that fact to make yourself and your teams happier and more productive.
9 . Manage rising expectations
You’ll trip up sometimes and need to take backward steps. Knowing that, tell people around you that you’ll be experimenting with ideas before you start. That will help transform them from critics to supporters, and they’ll extend you more benefit of the doubt if things go away.
10. Enjoy! And then go back to No 1 and start again
Larry Page and Sergey Brin set out to create the kind of place where they’d both want to work. You can do the same, even if you join a company fresh out of school, as a junior employee, or as employee number 1,000,006 •
This is an edited extract from Work Rules! Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live And Lead by Laszlo Bock, published on 9 April by John Murray, at £20. To order a copy for £16, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.