Q & A: Laszlo Bock

Laszlo Bock

For a decade, Laszlo Bock led recruiting efforts at Google, one of the world’s largest and most innovative companies. As Senior Vice President of People Operations, he built a data-driven approach known as “people analytics,” attracting, developing and retaining some of the industry’s best tech talent and helping to ensure the company was consistently named one of the world’s best places to work. 

Now he’s using that experience and expertise to help improve the culture of work for companies around the world. “We spend more time working than doing anything else in life,” Bock wrote in his New York Times bestselling book, Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. “It’s not right that the experience of work should be so demotivating and dehumanizing.”   

To drive that shift, Bock has set his sights on improving how managers manage. “Almost everything about how you experience work has to do with your manager,” he said. “Do they care about you? Do they help you grow? Are they good for you?” 

In 2017, Bock and two of his former Google coworkers launched Humu, an artificial intelligence platform that works to identify behavioral changes that are likely to make the biggest impact on elevating a workforce's happiness.

The software, which combines behavioral science and machine learning to nudge managers and employees with time-based alerts, functions like a digital personal coach; for example, prodding managers to check in with a quiet employee, give employees a shout-out for helping their team or ask workers what they are looking forward to doing over the weekend. 

The result, Bock told Forbes, is that “it makes people happier, it improves productivity, it reduces attrition and it works from the bottom up and inside out.” 

PMI recently spoke with Bock about this mission, and his advice for project managers who want to improve their power skills and become more effective leaders. 

PMI: What is the biggest challenge to making managers better in their role?

Bock: The biggest challenge is helping them understand they are not alone on the journey. It's not just you that is going to make you better as a manager. Instead, you need to enlist the people around you, because if we try to do something by ourselves, we're likely to fail. If you enlist your manager and you enlist your peers and your team, you are much more likely to grow. And that makes life better, not just for you, but for the people on your team.

PMI: What lessons have you learned that have helped you manage projects better? 

Bock: One of the biggest lessons I've learned came from my time at Google: Sometimes it's just hand-to-hand combat. For example, when we were overhauling our performance management system, we had one executive object to the project plan at the last minute. Over the next 24 hours, I literally got on the phone with 80 people to convince them why the project was still a good idea. It was an incredible lesson about what it takes to get things done. 

PMI: PMI calls the essential skills that set project leaders apart in current and future career goals “power skills .” What do you see as the essential power skills? 

Bock: First, patience with the folks around you. Second, structured thinking and the ability to break any problem down into its pieces and think about how those pieces are going to unfold over time. And, most importantly, the ability to understand another person's point of view. What do they want? What's motivating them? And what does good look like to them?   

PMI: What is your best advice for project professionals who want to improve their power skills?

Bock: According to the science and research around how humans learn and grow, it takes deliberate practice. Whatever the skill is, take the smallest piece of it and then find somebody who's exceptional at it. Watch them and learn from them. And then take that tiny slice of the skill and practice it again and again and again until it's second nature.   

PMI: What's the most important thing COVID has taught you about being a better manager? 

Bock: Human connections don't happen automatically. More of us are working remotely now and we're under tremendous stress. It turns out it takes hard work and deliberate practice to keep those connections strong. And without them, organizations fall apart. It’s worth the effort, but it is an effort. 

PMI: What challenge will you take on once you’ve tackled better management and workforce happiness?

Bock: I want to end unemployment. There is enough computer science and enough behavioral science in the world to be able to tell people what jobs are suited to them. Not only that, but we could also tell them whether they should go back to school, what schools will give them the best options, or even whether they should move. It becomes a solvable problem. It's something I hope to be lucky enough to tackle in the future.  


For more Laszlo Bock, visit PMI’s Virtual Experience Series 2022 on demand through January 31, 2023.


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