Advice from Laszlo Bock

If you don’t know, Laszlo Bock is the head of human resources for Google, or what they call “Google People.” He is the man behind some of the most innovative hiring practices and workplace policies that are being used today. Google attracts some of the best talent in the highly competitive market of silicon valley. Business Insider recently published an article highlighting 10 principals used by Bock at Google and why they are effective. I tried to relate these principals to hiring people in a public education setting. While some are definitely possible (on a smaller scale), some would be difficult given the differences between the business and education worlds.

Advice that works

1. Giving meaning to your employee’s work – This one is easy. Bock is a strong proponent of making work more meaningful than a paycheck or quarterly earnings. In education that higher purpose is built into the job. We are charged with educating and developing young people. If you don’t see the higher purpose in that then you should find a different career. However, leaders in a school or district should focus on making that higher purpose the central focus of their decision making and show employees that they feel the same connection to the work.

2. Trusting your team – A lot of school leaders can learn from this piece of advice. An easy way to move toward a culture of trust is by having communication channels that are clearly defined and performance reviews and feedback are discussed openly with everyone involved. The quickest way to lose trust or show that you do not trust someone, is to make decisions behind closed doors and failing to discuss the implications of those decisions with the team. If you have a program in place for training and developing employees along with clearly defined objectives for your team, there is no need to micromanage anyone.

3. Conversations about development and evaluations should be separate – Depending on the district and years of experience, a teacher is usually formally evaluated once or twice a year. These are great times to discuss student data, progress toward goals, curriculum ideas, goals for the future, and other big picture items. Conversations should happen throughout the year about what is going well, not going well, tough issues that have come up, or plans for improvement. These are initiated by either the administration or the teacher and always focused on improvement. DO NOT ONLY DISCUSS IMPROVEMENT AT THE YEAR-END EVALUATION! By this time you’ve missed all of the opportunities to actually improve.

4. Pay attention to your best and worst performers – This is my favorite item on the list. So often schools under-utilize their best employees. People who are great at using technology in the classroom should have opportunities to share that knowledge with the rest of the staff. Average teachers should be given the chance to peer observe the top teachers in the building. On the other end, people that are performing poorly should be closely evaluated. Is there are way to better utilize their strengths or some development that would be beneficial to them? If development doesn’t work, it is more difficult to let an employee go in public education than in the business world but it isn’t impossible. But the evaluations and improvement plans must be honest and show an accurate picture of performance or lack thereof.

5. Nudge people in the right direction – This is a very applicable piece of advice no matter the leadership position you find yourself. Bock basically says that they best way to move the team in the right direction is with guidance and subtle cues rather than blanket directives. It’s more or less a workplace law that people resist change and they violently resist change that is forced on them. Model the type of performance you want from your team and encourage them through debate and conversation to join you.

6. Ease into change – I view this as being closely related to the last point but on a larger scale. He points out that mistakes are inevitable when changing anything in a large organization and you MUST have a minimal threshold of supporters to make it last. This is easier to achieve by being open and transparent and providing opportunities for everyone to buy into the process and be involved. Employees need to be invested. The best example I have is when we recently undertook an update to our strategic plan. All 150 teachers in the building were involved in taking surveys, joining committees, and writing action plans. It was a conscious effort to include as many as possible and take in all opinions. Once it was over the site plan was approved faster than any in recent memory with the fewest changes because the process was slower and more deliberate up front.

Advice that would be difficult

7. Only hire people that are better than you – This is great advice for companies like Google and Facebook. These companies attract and compete for the most talented people in their fields. Mark Zuckerberg has said that he gauges whether to hire someone by asking himself, “would I work for this person?” The approach ensures that the talent is always at a high level and employees are challenging each other. Unfortunately for those of us in the real world we have a finite number of applicants for each position. Yes, we do want to hire the best of the best from the ones we have access but that can often be limited. I would adjust this by saying “hire people that are better than you whenever you get the chance.”

8. Keep things fun and innovative – I don’t have to tell any experienced people in education how difficult this can be. Much of what happens in a public school is not under the control of those working there. Fun and innovation should be found in as many small ways as possible but we can’t be like Google and install sand volleyball courts and tube slides in our cafeteria. We can however have fun and engaging staff days and staff outings. We can use extra-curricular activities like sports and drama to provide connections to the school outside of the classroom.

Advice that will not work

9 & 10. Be selectively generous & Pay unfairly – Of course the two pieces of advice from Mr. Bock that would be near impossible for school leaders have to do with money and benefits. First, he advocates for spending money on things that really matter. Find out what people want and devote your resources in that area. Secondly, he talks a lot about paying people what they are worth to the team. People that are contributing most to the advancement of the organization should be compensated accordingly. Virtually impossible to accomplish in an educational setting. For one thing, you are paying with public money which comes with all kinds of rules. Second, teachers are unionized which comes with a whole other set of issues when not treating people equally. The idea is nice but school leaders will need to come up with more creative ways of rewarding the best and most influential employees. (Pssst…a little secret…they don’t want another flash drive or school t-shirt).


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