Google admits HR brainteasers were “a complete waste of time”

In a revealing interview, Laszlo Bock, the SVP of People Operations at Google, reveals that hiring practices at Google were pretty terrible, like the famous brainteasers (“How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?”), which turn out to be totally unrelated to future productivity and promising candidates. He also confessed that by looking at actual data, very few people at Google — and perhaps everywhere — are good at predicting the future success of candidates based on these practices. Or actually, it found zero predictive correlation:

“Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring. We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess, except for one guy who was highly predictive because he only interviewed people for a very specialized area, where he happened to be the world’s leading expert.”

Zero correlation.

However, I doubt that this scientific finding will have much of an impact, because people often seem happier to continue doing what is familiar even when it doesn’t work, because they never track the results. But Google is now tracking the results, and management — the real problem in most organization — is getting better, because Google has shifted to a worker-centric system, where the opinions of direct reports are weighted much higher than opinions of a manager’s manager. Again, here’s Bock:

“Twice a year, anybody who has a manager is surveyed on the manager’s qualities. We call it an upward feedback survey. We collect data for everyone in the company who’s a manager on how well they’re doing on anywhere between 12 and 18 different factors. We then share that with the manager, and we track improvement across the whole company. Over the last three years, we’ve significantly improved the quality of people management at Google, measured by how happy people are with their managers.

“We’ve actually made it harder to be a bad manager. If you go back to somebody and say, “Look, you’re an eighth-percentile people manager at Google. This is what people say.” They might say, “Well, you know, I’m actually better than that.” And then I’ll say, “That’s how you feel. But these are the facts that people are reporting about how they experience you.”

“You don’t actually have to do that much more. Because for most people, just knowing that information causes them to change their conduct. One of the applications of Big Data is giving people the facts, and getting them to understand that their own decision-making is not perfect. And that in itself causes them to change their behavior.”

One other fascinating result: GPAs are a useless predictor, too. Bock suggests that academic environments are artificial environments, very unlike the workplace. So the skills and practices there are different. He doesn’t make the point, but I will: GPAs are a bad predictor of work success because the workplace is principally organized around co-work, while most university experience is solo work.

Bock also suggests that what he calls “behavioral interviewing” works, but I will require more information before I get it. His description was too brief, and I don’t understand how interviewers are trained in the technique. I will try to find out more.