Ahh…Vindicated by Google, No Less

I recently finished reading Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock, head of Google’s People Operations (aka HR). It’s a terrific book.

One of the many performance management practices they have adopted at Google is what they call “calibration” of the individual performance ratings. When I read this, I felt vindicated because it is the same process that I learned in my HR days at Air Canada and that I have recommended to a number of clients over the years.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

All the performance reviews are completed in draft form, including input from the respective employees and comments from their managers. No rating is applied yet.

A managers meeting is convened to collectively go through the proposed performance ratings (at Air Canada we included a promotion potential rating too) by having each manager present, one-by-one, the ratings he/she is recommending and why.

At the outset of the meeting they review a list of the most common rating distortions (e.g. Recency, Halo, Horns effects). This awareness reduces the incidence of such distortions. Then, early on, they tackle the reviews of a few employees who are well known by at least several managers. This provides the group with some familiar benchmarks for their discussions.

During the meeting peer managers (and the boss, of course) can challenge any rating and the group can insist that a manager alter it if he/she fails to make the case. This does happen, especially in the first such meeting when the managers are still in the process of forging a shared understanding of what they, as a group, mean by each rating.

Here are three important outcomes of the process:

  1. Rating biases are drastically reduced because they don’t go unchallenged
  2. Consistency develops across the organization. In other words, a rating of “exceeds expectations” or, say, “4” (out of 5) comes to reflect roughly the same level of performance in any department or job.
  3. Over time, you create as fair a process as we humans are capable of when dealing with the so called “soft” aspects of an employee’s performance.



The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt What I’m Reading (not surprisingly!)

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead,

by Laszlo Bock

So much has already been written about acquiring and retaining people and then getting them to contribute their full potential to the organization. As a result, most new books have little of value to add. Work Rules! is not one of these.

The author, Head of People Operations at Google, pulls back the cover on their many successful (as well as some tried-and-failed) processes to leverage their investment in talent. He not only shares what has worked for Google but backs it up with their well thought out rationales.

So, you’re not Google, your not even in the private sector? There is much that they have honed over the years that will work in a small organization or a not for profit one. Be prepared to have your thinking provoked and what’s possible in your organization challenged. Here are just two examples:

  1. Over the years they have found that four interviews are enough to predict with 86% confidence whether or not they should hire someone. This “rule of four” represents the optimal investment of time by internal interviewers.
  2. If you hire well, employee performance does not follow a classic normal distribution, with a small percentage of people performing extraordinarily, a similarly sized group poorly, and the bulk doing average work. Rather, you will have “a massive group of average performers” and “a small group of elite performers.”

Therefore, pay your top producers really well–not just at the top of their job’s standard pay range. After all, 10% of output comes from 1% of your employees and 25% comes from 5% of your staff.

There is so much more in here. If you are in HR. Get the book! If you are a manager, buy your HR head a copy…but read it yourself too.