I admire much of what Google does, and have interacted positively with the intelligent bright engineers they attract.
Their size and engineering approach- everything empirically proven – has created a wealth of data. And now some of their HR data has surfaced. Highlighted in an HBR article, Google have attempted to prove empirically the value of a good manager. In a data driven way comparing the data driven performance of great and poor managers (as assessed on their internal assessment- discussed below) Google was able to show a significant (Greater than 99% confidence) the significant benefit of having good managers. OK, its good to know a good manager can have a significantly positive impact on performance, and conversely a poor manager can have a significantly negative impact on performance.
What Google’s Best Managers Do
An internal project code named Oxygen identified eight behaviours shared by high-scoring managers. They examined data from employee surveys and performance reviews. The key behaviours primarily describe leaders of small and medium-sized
groups and teams and are especially relevant to first- and second-level managers- ‘managers in the middle”. They involve
developing and motivating direct reports, as well as communicating strategy and eliminating roadblocks—all vital activities that
people tend to overlook in the challenge of their day-to-day responsibilities.
A good manager:
1. Is a good coach. Google invests in encouraging managers how to learn how to coach, and identifying
good coaching behaviours.
2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage. Google enhances this by having both a rigorous selection process hiring only competent people, and a high ratio of subordinates to managers, preventing a manager from micromanaging any one subordinate.
3. Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being.
4. Is productive and results-oriented, themselves.
5. Is a good communicator—listens and shares information. They also understand what information to share, how to share it and when to share.
6. Helps with career development. This can be a challenge within Google, which has a very flat hierarchy and so the traditional “promotion” isn’t the go-to option. So Managers are enabled to craft career development around project leadership, international experience, cross-department linkages, for example.
7. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team. Google also invests time and resources into helping managers understand
their role within Google, and how to craft an appropriate direction for a managers team.
8. Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team. While you may say this is not an especially inspiring nor new list, Google have proven that doing these things makes you a significantly better manager, and your team better performers.
In addition to the eight behaviours they have identified for a good manager, they also narrowed down on the top 3 causes
why managers struggle in their role:
- Has a tough transition (e.g. suddenly promoted, hired from outside with little training in culture or process)
- Lacks a consistent philosophy / approach to performance management and career development
- Spends too little time on managing and communicating.
Google has acted on these insights and have started to measure their managers against these behaviours through twice-yearly feedback surveys. This has allowed them to put in place early warning systems to detect both great and struggling managers. Google has also revised its management training in light of these findings.
Putting the Findings into Practice
The list of behaviours, the HBR commentators mention, has served three important functions at Google:
– giving employees a shared vocabulary for discussing management,
– offering them straightforward guidelines for improving it, and
– encapsulating the full range of management responsibilities.
Though the list is simple and straightforward, it’s enriched by examples and descriptions of best practices—in survey participants’ own words. These details make the key principles, such as “empowers the team and does not micromanage,” more concrete and show managers different ways of enacting them. My take away from this is that there is now proven examples of the positive impact of good managers and also bad managers. A simple list of things good managers should do better, as well as clear benefit to team members. Proof that managers in the middle are needed and what they need to do, to enhance performance.
Do you have your own examples to supplement this, lease share with us.