Good Luck, Laszlo


I’ve never met Laszlo Bock. Never even seen him speak. But I was in his People Ops team in 2008. And although my time at Google was short-lived and now long-departed, the experience still influences the way I see HR. Here’s why.

Nearly everything about Google was amazing, but neither the whippet-smart people nor the mythical employee experience could compensate for some uncomfortable HR practices. I left within a year of joining...

Google only looked for people from elite or top tier universities.

And in ambitious areas like Marketing and Product, that went even further... Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Imperial or UCL in the UK.

The ‘screening’ line was brutal and I would make stories up in my head. Did you want to stay near your mum in Cardiff while you studied? Reject. Couldn’t afford to live away from home in Birmingham? Reject. Fell in love and followed your partner to Manchester? Reject. It made the diversity problem so much worse – obviously. It wasn’t a big issue on my radar when I joined, but the difference between the makeup of people in Victoria Station and Google HQ next door was a daily slap in the face. I felt weird about it every time I arrived in the office.

Google’s interview questions were worse than useless.

How many basketballs could fit in this room? How many pizzas are made in Napoli every year? I was sucked in initially. I remember reading the articles before I got there and thinking 'wow, you'd have to be a genius'. It’s what everyone thought. But it was just a Rubik’s Cube. The solution looks amazing when you’re not in the club, but it’s a trick; a sequence. And if you have a buddy – from Oxford, say – to tell you how to do it, you’ll be fine. If not? Reject.

So off I went. Thinking that Google had created the best working environment I had ever experienced and that the people were incredible. But that it was all built on dodgy foundations. And that could have been the end of that.

But over the years, Laszlo and his team started to say surprising things out loud:

Like this on academic credentials…

“When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.”

And this on interview questions...

“On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They service primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

It would be easy to go all hindsight bias and say, ‘well sure, and about time’. But let’s just revisit the context. Imagine you’ve built the most successful company on earth based on certain hiring principles, and then some HR guy comes in the door and says they’re nonsense. Not only that, but he’s going to start doing interviews in the New York Times to tell the world.

Now imagine the gumption that takes. Imagine the nerve you’d need to see something wrong under those conditions and work to turn it around. Imagine the setbacks that must have been faced along the way...

Well, here we are. Google remains the most influential workplace in the world, but its lessons for HR are now built on a platform of evidence and academia. It's been open about its rapid progress and has released some of the most exciting research I’ve seen - like these incredible insights on trust and performance. Read them if you haven’t - they're inspired.

This is the future of HR. Applied science. And while it’s probably what Laszlo is most famous for, it’s not what deserves the most respect...

Because whatever happens, we’ll get nowhere without bravery. Progress isn’t about turning away from things that are wrong - like I did in 2008. But to see a challenge that needs confronting and standing tall - like he did at Google.

So, thanks Laszlo. Best of luck with Humu.