Kathy Gibson is at SAP SuccessFactors in Berlin – Human resources professionals have a responsibility to help their companies run efficiently, but they also have a duty to help their employees have a better life.

This is the word from Laszlo Bock, co-founder and CEO of Humu, who was also the CHRO of Google from 2006 to 2016.

“One of the difficult things about the people profession is that everyone thinks they know better than you. It makes it hard to fight the fight,” he says.

“So I’ve learnt to rely on the science. When I was at Google, I had a simple mission: find the best people, grow the best people and keep the best people.

“At Humu our mission is to make work better through science, machine learning and a little bit of love.”
Bock points out that people spend more time at work than anywhere else. “There are 4-billion people who work on planet earth – and for most of them it is a means to an end.

“But there is a way to make it better.”

To do this, it is important to give work meaning, says Bock.

“Across professions, only about one-third of people find their work meaningful.”

There is a way to fix this, he adds. By connecting people to meaning, productivity and profitability can be increased.

“Figure out what your mission is – and it shouldn’t be about customers or shareholders; it should be aspirational,” Bock says.

“Then find the people in your organisation who are lit up with joy – and ask them to tell their stories.”

The issue of trust is also important, Bock says. People need to be able to trust their co-workers and their employers.

“If you want to lead, to build wonderful organisations, you have to make a choice about whether people are good or evil. I believe people are good, deep down.”

Mostly what people want from management is some leadership and guidance, but more than that, to stay out of their way. Paradoxically, managers trying to do a good job tend to be more controlling.

An experiment in a T-shirt factory where workers could figure out their own schedules and work conditions saw productivity go up, income go up, wages almost double and total cost go down.

“Giving people freedom has been shown to consistently drive improvements,” Bock adds. “And giving people trust is easy: go back to your office and decide you will give your teams slightly more freedom than you are comfortable with.”

An easy way to do that, he says, is to hand off responsibility to people and make them accountable for outcomes.

A good way of driving team morale, Bock says, is a concept called the “nudge”. Studies show that small interventions delivered at the right time can make it easier for people to make better choices.

“So look for small opportunities to intervene,” he advises.

In his book, Work Rules, Bock offers suggestions for building great workplaces:

* Give work meaning

* Trust your people

* Hire only people who are better than you

* Don’t confuse development with managing performance

* Focus on two tails

* Be frugal and generous

* Pay unfairly

* Nudge

* Manage the rising expectations

* Enjoy – then go back to number one

“The work we do as HR professions is often undervalued – and it is difficult work,” Bock says.

“There are a couple of things in our favour, though: computer science has advanced to the extent that we can prove the value of what we do; and there is more conversation in our field about meaning and purpose and doing the right thing.”