People Management

Here's how to manage, build and grow your team in a human and effective way.

We'll give you concrete and unconventional tips from the most innovative companies and backed by the science of what motivates people.

Start here with our management guide and how to take back your work day.

Why Google Got Over Brainteasers

You’ve probably heard stories about Google’s interview process. The web is littered with examples of brainteasers interviewers have posed, including “How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?” and “How many piano tuners are there in the world?”

Brainteasers were another one of Google’s trailblazing company culture quirks essential to its “Googlieness,” like casual dress or napping pods. These head-scratching puzzles were touted as a meritocratic way to hire. The logic was, no matter where you went to college or what your SAT score were, if you could solve one of these questions, you deserve to work at Google.

But Google’s brainteasers are a thing of the past.

“We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Laszlo Bock, senior VP of Google’s people operations stated. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.” In fact, the people who succeeded at brainteasers were often the opposite kind of employee Bock wanted to hire.

While buzz-worthy, brainteasers have been abandoned for straight-edge processes and questions. Interviewers ask boring questions that you might hear from any other company. And they get better results.

Bock overhauled the quirky interview process in favor of hiring policies that yielded employees who would work hard and work smart. Here’s what he did.

Setting the Right Filters

Google receives 2 million applicants per year, and only accepts a couple thousand. Its huge applicant pool makes it 25 times more selective than Harvard.

In order to make sure they accept the right people, they needed to set the right filters.

Brainteasers, Bock found, were setting the wrong filter. He recognized that the brainteaser process represented a kind of macho one-upmanship. It asked interviewees to overcome intimidation and immense pressure, which often prevented creative thinking and embarrassed people.

Candidates who could talk their way out of an intimidating puzzle, then, were often over-confident in their abilities—the exact opposite of what Bock wanted in Google employees.

Bock values intellectual humility. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure,” he says, “and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure,” Bock says. He’s found that ego matters a lot in the workplace. To filter for people who with both intellectual chops and humility, Bock places a high premium on candidates’ ability to work in a team.

Here are some of the questions Bock asks now:

  • Tell me about a time when you effectively achieved a goal. What did your approach look like?
  • What were your targets and how did you meet them as an individual and as a team?
  • How did you adapt your leadership approach to different individuals?
  • What was the key takeaway from this specific situation?

Questions about teamwork help Bock find employees who are humble and can work autonomously.

Set specific goals for hiring:

Of course, companies value different traits. Zappos, for example, only hires candidates who are passionate about working there. To ensure that they’re getting the right people, they offer new hires $2,000 to quit. If they take the money and run, good riddance. If they’d rather be at the company, it’s a good fit.

It’s important to think about the qualities that differentiate your company and your team. By doing so, you can tailor your interview process to your brand.

Thinking Beyond the Resume

Bock also found that candidates’ college GPA had no correlation to job performance. “After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school,” he said, “because the skills you required in college are very different.”

More importantly, he notes, the skills a candidate needs now might look a different from the skills they’ll need a couple years down the road.

This is because Google is constantly evolving. And Bock looks for dynamic candidates who can evolve with it. To do so, he formulates questions that evaluate a candidate’s adaptability. This doesn’t mean asking them to design an escape plan for the city of San Francisco. It means talking to them about how they behave in numerous situations, and confirming this with references.

The big picture

Chances are, your company is also evolving. You’re growing, adapting, or scaling. And you need to make sure your employees are too. What do you want your team to look like in three years? Where do you see this candidate in that picture?

Considering long-term outcomes of a hire allows you to ease your company’s growing pains.

Auditions Trump Resumes

Another trick Bock uses is the active interview, or giving the candidate real work in addition to a sit-down interview. A lot of hiring managers are turning to a process of auditioning for a job rather than simply submitting a resume. They find it invaluable to have candidates try their hand at the job they’d be performing.

As Uber CEO Travis Kalanick says, “Simulating what it’s like to work together is the best way to determine whether somebody has the raw talent to not just do the job but to grow into something bigger.”

Automattic, which made the open source software WordPress, swears by the audition. They give applicants real work to do, and pay them for it at a rate of $25/hour. CEO Matt Mullenweg said, “There’s nothing like being in the trenches with someone, working with them day by day. It tells you something you can’t learn from resumes, interviews, or reference checks.”

It also gives everyone a sense of what it would be like if they joined: both employer and employee. Mullenweg continues, “It’s a mutual tryout. Some people decide we’re not the right fit for them.”

It’s similar to the advice Jeff Bezos famously gave in 1998: “I’d rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person.”

Tailor the Interview to Your Company

There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to finding the right employees. It will take extra time out of your day to review candidates’ work, or to develop an interview process that accurately predicts employee output. But as Bock’s example shows, it’s well worth the effort. Even if it’s boring.

And those pesky brainteasers? Use them to test yourself, or take a peek at the answers.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

Your Employees Are Underperforming…They Just Don’t Know It

As an executive, criticism is an essential part of your job. Your role is to get your team working as efficiently as possible. This means reminding employees of impending deadlines, hounding them to finish tasks, and firing off nit-picky memos. It’s important work, but it comes at a high cost: employee confidence.

Hard and fast criticism might seem the quickest way to get your team to work better. But if negativity is all they hear from you, you’re harming your company’s productivity.

Unconfident employees are less likely to approach you with out-of-the box ideas, teach themselves a new coding language, or apply for that promotion where they would excel.

Confident employees are productive employees. The problem is, most people aren’t as confident as they should be, since they don’t accurately perceive their abilities and competency.

If they’re not cognizant of their capacity, they probably aren’t working at it. If they’re under-confident, they’re underperforming.

Here’s the good news: confidence isn’t fixed. By applying a couple of positive psychology tools, you can boost their confidence and their productivity.

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The Management Technique Essential To Google’s Growth

In it’s early years, as the company was experiencing astronomical growth, then-Google executive Marissa Mayer started executing a technique she picked up while teaching computer science at Stanford.

At 4 p.m., for 90 minutes each day, Mayer held office hours.

Employees could put their name on a board posted outside her office to reserve a chunk of this time.

“Many of our most technologically interesting products have shown up during office hours,” Mayer, now President and CEO of Yahoo, said in 2006.

The idea for Google News, for example, was first discussed in one of these sessions. Mayer was reportedly able to fit in 15 meetings per day averaging seven minutes per person.

Many other successful managers and entrepreneurs have celebrated the benefits of holding open office hour sessions, a concept that has roots in academia.

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How Travis CI Is Fixing Company Culture By Taking On ‘Culture’

Travis CI

Travis CI

Here’s a loaded phrase in the startup world: culture fit.

It’s a term with humble early intentions that has grown weeds and sprouted out of its container. It started as a simple way of talking about whether a new hire and current team would work well together. It’s grown into a loaded gun of baggage and misappropriation. It’s used to hire unqualified people and fire great ones.

Mathias Meyer, CEO at Travis CI, started to notice a problem with “culture fit” and the way it was implemented at many companies. It seemed to him like “culture fit” was doing the opposite, and holding company cultures back. Companies, if not careful, would create a monoculture, with everyone acting and thinking the same way. This is terrible for creativity and growth.

Or as Meyer put it in an excellent blog post:

“There’s one fundamental mistake in both using and looking for culture fit as a means for hiring: You’re assuming that your current culture is healthy and doesn’t need to be changed.”

I chatted with Meyer about his thoughts on culture fit, growing Travis CI and what they’re doing to create an authentic company culture.

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How To Keep Great Employees Once You Conquer The World

How to keep great employees

Landing an early role at a hyper-growth company like Facebook or Google seems like a dream. It seems like something you’d never want to walk away from.

So why do so many great people do exactly that? What can keep great employees from taking off?

And if you’re running one of these organizations, how do you keep great employees — those who helped build the organization — from hitting the road once you’ve achieved big success. It almost seems inevitable.

When the going gets tough, the tough show up.

When it stops being tough, they go find something else.

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What Airbnb Can Teach You About The Lost Art Of The Rejection


When Airbnb was getting started in 2008, the company’s founders met with seven top Silicon Valley investors. The founders were looking to raise $150,000 at a $1.5 million valuation.

“That means for $150,000 you could have bought 10% of Airbnb,” founder Brian Chesky wrote on Medium recently.

That 10 percent would be worth $2.5 billion today.

Instead, all 7 investors passed on the opportunity.

The rejections didn’t stop the founders. They kept at it, they found other investors, and went on to build one of the most valuable startups in the world.

Chesky recently shared those 2008 rejection emails on Medium (he omitted names of people and firms). There are two valuable lessons we can learn from this material.

The first is the obvious one: don’t give up. Even the biggest and best operations faced rejection early on.

But behind this lesson is another opportunity, a window into the art of rejection, from some of the world’s greatest rejecters. And I mean rejectors in the best possibly way. These are the top venture capital firms controlling billions in assets. Their job is as much about rejecting offers as it is accepting them.

In fact, they send a lot more rejection letters than acceptance letters. They meet with and reject some of the brightest, most talented people in the world. They are world-class rejectors. And these emails give us a chance to see how it’s done.

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What Managers Are Getting Wrong About The World’s Greatest Job Ad


Here’s how the story usually goes. Sometime in the early 20th Century, British explorer Ernest Shackleton needed to hire a crew for an upcoming expedition to the South Pole. So he placed a newspaper ad:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success.”

The copywriting — and its strong, direct language — has been printed, reprinted and talked about for decades. It’s beautiful. Possibly the world’s greatest job ad.

Though his accomplishments went largely uncelebrated in the years after his death, Shackleton in recent years has become a revered leadership figure thanks to new literature on his life and career.

The ad copy has taken on a life of its own, with hiring managers and entrepreneurs pointing to it as an example of how to lure exceptional people to your organization.

But there are two problems here. For one, the ad probably never existed. Even if it did, many people — it seems — are missing the point.

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Why Amazon Hires Good Managers, Not Great Ones

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Really great managers are hard to come by. They’re even harder to hire.

Those who are truly and undisputedly world class are already working. And the company they’re working for will do whatever it takes to keep them. These managers are rarely, if ever, on the market. Even if you’re Amazon.

The top 1 percent of product managers, for example, are so rare that one Amazon director believes he has never encountered one in a job interview.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever met a 1% PM, certainly not one that I identified as such prior to hiring,” Ian McAllister, Director of the AmazonSmile program at Amazon, wrote on this Quora Answer.

So how does Amazon consistently hire world-class managers? Here’s how. Identify the areas a 1 percent manager excels at, and hire someone who excels at some of them, but not all.

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How Micromanaging Poisons Productivity and Creates a Vicious Cycle of Despair


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Here’s the thing about bosses who micromanage. None of them think they’re actually doing it.

It’s easy to see how this happens. Managers, typically, were once experts at the work their subordinates are doing. That’s likely why they were promoted.

But this changes at the management level. Their jobs are more strategic, less hands on. Many managers aren’t up for the transition, so they sink back into what they’re familiar with — the gritty details of the work they used to do.

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Avoid Workplace Disagreements By Getting Things In Writing


I was talking to a friend, who is an attorney, some years ago. We were discussing a small disagreement I was having with a coworker. The friend gave me some advice that I’ve practiced ever since.

“Have him send you an email. Make him write out exactly what his request is.”

Lawyers love this technique, he told me. And the benefits are two-fold.

For one, writing forces clear thinking. It will become obvious if someone doesn’t have a clear idea what they’re asking once they try to put it down on paper. And secondly, should some disagreement on the topic come up in the future, you will have a clear record of what was said and when. There will be no squabbling over who said what.

It’s an amazing tool that can make a big difference in your personal and professional life. The phrase “get it in writing” often conjures thoughts of a lengthy contact, formal documents with signatures and lawyers involved. It doesn’t have to be that way. “Get it in writing” can be something as simple as an e-mail.

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