Each week, London Strategy Unit fillets one of the most influential books from the world of innovation, marketing or creativity, and serves up its most relevant ideas and advice. A marketing strategy and innovation company, LSU works with the likes of EY, JLL, ASOS, the BBC, adidas, Sanofi, Jaguar, Unilever and Mondelez around the world. 

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This week we're reading: 'Work Rules! Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead'

Every Wednesday, London Strategy Unit's Matt Boffey reads one of the most influential books from the world of innovation, marketing or creativity so you don't have to. In today's Booknote, he dissects Laszlo Bock's 'Work Rules! Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead'.

Why have we chosen this book?

Because Google is the place people want to be – it recently topped Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ for the sixth year in a row. Ultimately, Work Rules debunks the myth that start-up culture doesn’t translate into scalable, corporate business – 50,000 self-identifying ‘Googlers’ are proof of that.

What’s the original thought or argument?

That building the right kind of organisational culture creates more than just happy colleagues – it’ll guide your business and product strategy, too. Google Maps, for example, started as an employee side-project, simply another way to deliver on Google’s mission of “organising the world’s information”. It was only years later that Google started to look at Maps as a product they could make money from. Bock is a great believer that profitable businesses will grow organically as long as a company stays true to a meaningful vision.

If you want to look smart, just read

The chapters on Google’s hiring process, which whittles down over two million applications, with only one in every 130 applicants securing a job (making Google more selective than Harvard). For Bock, hiring is the single most important HR function, and accordingly Google spends about double the industry average on its hiring process. No Googler can make a hiring decision alone, with each candidate collectively assessed by the people they would manage as well as their prospective managers.

You might want to skip

Laszlo’s chapter on ‘nudging’ where he describes how initiatives like reducing the size of plates in the canteen has reduced the calorie intake of Googlers worldwide. Try Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge for a more objective analysis of how nudges work in the wider world.

Why trust this author?

Bock has guided the direction of Google’s culture as it grew from 9,000 employees in 2006 to over 50,000 by 2015. In that time he has personally reviewed over 20,000 resumés of hopeful Googlers, as well as making Google one of the first companies to compensate employees for unequal tax relief for same-sex marriages.

Once you’ve read this you don’t need to read

How Google Works by Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt, and SVP of products Jonathan Rosenberg. Unlike Work Rules, it’s more Google-worship than practical advice about creating the right type of organisation.

Why should this stay on your bookshelf?

Work Rules shows that there’s much more to culture building than free beer and fussball tables. Employee feedback processes are unglamorous, but every year Google runs a “Googlegeist” internal survey – and then gives its employees free scope to solve the problems that come up. It’s a reminder that business leaders shouldn’t feel responsible for every last issue.

What’s the one thing you should do differently after reading this book?

Focus your attention on ‘the two tails’: the very best employees, and the very worst. Bock argues that rather than trying nudge average employees to improve, companies should learn everything they can from their best performers while preparing the exit of those at the bottom of the ladder.

Best quote in the whole book?

“All it takes is a belief that people are fundamentally good – and enough courage to treat your people like owners instead of machines. Machines do their jobs; owners do whatever is needed to make their companies and teams successful.”

Matt Boffey is the founder of London Strategy Unit, which you can follow on Twitter @LSUsocial

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