Even though no one seems to understand their success with living, breathing people — instead attributing it to cash or hand or KPIs or margins or some other BS — Google has long been one of the ‘best places to work’ and is often lauded for how it deals with employees. They’ve got this new ReWork site — which is partially helping to promote the book of their HR head, Laszlo Bock — and one cool aspect of the site is that they give some insights into their processes.
Despite what a lot of executives at companies think, people issues are important. Your products and services make you money, yes. Your processes allow for that money to be funneled in properly and keep the rank-and-file at bay from the big dogs, yes. But people work on the things that make you money, from production to marketing to PR to IT to whatever else, so you need to understand how to treat employees the same way you treat customers. Most high-level people in organizations don’t understand this, and instead run around screaming breathlessly about revenue forecasts. That’s life.
Here’s another potential tipping point in the next 15-20 years of work, right? Some companies are going to start competing on the idea of People Analytics. That’s a fraught concept in some ways — people are creatures of emotion, so trying to corral them into the right companies with a logical process is hard — but when companies do it right, it’s going to be a huge competitive advantage for them. Imagine getting the right people for your culture? Then organizing them on the right teams? Seems like a pipe dream, but if you hit those targets about people — instead of some Q3 revenue projection thing — you’ll be light years ahead of some of your competitors. Eventually, “the gut feel of the execs” model needs to fade away and give way to “We know what makes a person successful in this organization and this team, so let’s get that type of person.”
But what does make a team successful?
Here’s Google’s visual representation of it, based off this post:
So you’ve got five key factors:
- Psychological safety
- Structure and clarity
By far the most important one is the top one — psychological safety. Here’s why, via Google:
But remember the last time you were working on a project. Did you feel like you could ask what the goal was without the risk of sounding like you’re the only one out of the loop? Or did you opt for continuing without clarifying anything, in order to avoid being perceived as someone who is unaware?
Turns out, we’re all reluctant to engage in behaviors that could negatively influence how others perceive our competence, awareness, and positivity. Although this kind of self-protection is a natural strategy in the workplace, it is detrimental to effective teamwork. On the flip side, the safer team members feel with one another, the more likely they are to admit mistakes, to partner, and to take on new roles. And it affects pretty much every important dimension we look at for employees. Individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, they’re more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, they bring in more revenue, and they’re rated as effective twice as often by executives.
Completely logical. It rolls up with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which you’re probably familiar with.
Around Nos. 3-5, it starts to get harder — many people lack structure and clarity around their work, and many (especially at lower levels) lack meaning and impact.
Let’s bring in another important article, recently published on Harvard Business Review, about employee engagement. Pay attention to this specific section:
Let’s start with what doesn’t work. Incentives or other extrinsic rewards—individual bonus schemes, promises of nice offices and titles, and other tangible benefits—create transactional relationships, not deep bonds to an employer. Indeed there is a good deal of evidence that using such individual incentives actually creates self-interest, lowers trust, results in poor teamwork, and diminishes commitment.
That part is really important. A lot of bosses — and bosses are notoriously bad at understanding motivation — assume that the No. 1 thing for everyone is salary. Yes and no. Salary is important, but look above: it creates a transactional relationship. If you’re only hitting targets for your salary, that’s good for your company — and if you have a nice salary, it’s good for you — but that’s not an actual bond. There has to be some meaning, purpose, etc. behind the work. That’s what Google is saying above.
There’s another managerial flaw here. Look, not every position in a company is a revenue-generating one; heck, 4 in 5 probably are not. If the only thing that managers understand is “making money” and “where’s my annual bonus?” then they probably have no idea how to communicate anything back down a chain. If you manage a non-revenue employee and the only motivational structure you understand is money/revenue/bonuses, you have no idea how to tell that employee why their work matters to begin with. That actively creates disengagement. That’s happened to me in 4-5 jobs I’ve had, probably.
Other models to consider about putting together good teams include:
- C-Factor: Namely, how curious are the people on your team?
- Overlapping productivity styles: All one type and the team will accomplish nothing; a mix is good.
- Self-awareness: Hard as hell to measure/quantify, yes, but very important.
This all comes together with another thing we often misunderstand: in reality, there’s no such thing as a “bad employee.” There are “below-average employees in bad fits,” yes. But an employee is a function of many things, from their own intelligence/curiosity/skill set to their manager’s to their manager’s ability to define priorities to the overall culture of the organization. You could say the same thing about “great employees;” sometimes people leave one organization where everyone hated them, then they go to another and they’re a superstar. The organizations might be in the same industry. So how was the same person so bad at one place and so good at another?
Simple. Cultural fit, and the relevance of the work, the structure of the team he/she was on, etc.
This is what we miss when we breathlessly run around from meeting to meeting to e-mail to e-mail to standup to standup to scrum to scrum to task to project to deliverable (oh my!). Work is about processes, yes, and we try to apply logic to it, yes. But work is composed of people, and people have feelings and emotions and fit together in different ways — and until we make an actual attempt to understand the best ways to maximize that in our own organizations, all we’re all doing is failing upward.