Polo-like kinases (Plks) are potent regulators of M phase that are conserved from yeasts to humans. Their roles in mitotic entry, spindle pole functions and cytokinesis are broadly conserved despite physical and molecular differences in these processes in disparate organisms. Plks are characterized by their Polo-box domain, which mediates protein interactions. They are additionally controlled by phosphorylation, proteolysis and transcription, depending on the biological context. Plks are now recognized to link cell division to developmental processes and to function in differentiated cells. A comparison of Plk function and regulation between organisms offers insight into the rich variations of cell division.