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Blog : Google - building great managers as well as search engines


Google - building great managers as well as search engines

I often ask the people I am developing which companies do the ‘people stuff’ right or they believe are amazing to work for, and every time Google appears on the list alongside aspirational brands, Apple and Virgin. With funky workspaces and built in ‘playtime’ each day, you can understand why they would be seen as the places to be (and obviously companies who understand their people and know what keeps them happy and engaged).

For much of its thirteen year history, Google believed the key to success lay in the technical ability of its leadership and so took a very simple approach to management - leave people alone. They let the engineers do their stuff, and agreed that if they become stuck they’d obviously ask their boss for support.

However, they started to lose a number of their key ‘talents’ to competitors and therefore decided to look at people management with a closer eye. They found:

  1. Their employees didn’t feel a connection to the mission of the company, or sense that their work matters
  2. Technical expertise was not seen as an important management trait by the workforce
  3. That they didn’t really like or respect their co-workers
  4. They have a terrible line manager

It was this final point which saw the biggest variables. Google, where performance reviews are carried out quarterly rather than annually, saw huge swings in the ratings that employees gave to their bosses. It was agreed that it was here which required investment – they needed to build better bosses not just a great search engine.

Using their data gathering expertise they put together Project Oxygen. Google statisticians took data from the previous 13 years, gathering more than 10,000 observations from approximately 258,000 employees. This data was split across more than 100 variables from performance reviews, feedback surveys and recorded one-to-ones. Once they had their working statistical theories, they interviewed managers and teams across the business to find evidence to support their findings. They then drew up their conclusions and in 2010 began rolling out the results across the business; incorporating them in to their learning and development and coaching programmes.

The statisticians found a number of trends in terms of good management behaviours, along with three pitfalls:

The Google management good behaviours:

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower your team and don’t micro-manage
  3. Express an interest in team members’ success and personal wellbeing
  4. Don’t be a sissy: be productive and results orientated
  5. Be a good communicator
  6. Help your employees with career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team.

Three main pitfalls:

  1. Have trouble making a transition to the management team
  2. Lack a consistent approach to performance management and career development
  3. Spend too little time managing and communicating.

By having access to this information, Google found that the investment in Project Oxygen really paid off. ”We were able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75% of our under-performing managers,” Mr Bock, vice-president for people operations, reported. He, and the rest of the company, believes the reason the findings have delivered an ROI and were bought into so quickly was because the report was built from information within their own organisation and not from one of many management theories in the market place.

The Corporate leadership Council, along with numerous leadership experts across the America including Dr Scott Derue – University of Michigan, have applauded Google’s approach stating “although people are always looking for the next new thing in leadership, Google’s data suggests that not much has changed in terms of what makes an effective leader. Whether Google’s eight rules will still apply as the company evolves is anyones guess. But if Mr Bock continues to test them for their effectiveness and watching for results in all the training the company is doing to reinforce the good behaviours then they should continue to win.”

We don’t have to be a large multi-national to learn from this report and its outcomes. The eight rules can be applied to any manager across the world and the process Google took to reach these conclusions can be re-enacted within our own organisations; allowing us to assess our own management styles and how our teams perceive company leadership; then performing accordingly.

When was the last time you analysed your managers’ performance? Do you currently use 360 appraisals, employee opinion surveys? Do you develop leadership skills based on the results of these? Why not design a questionnaire that measures your leadership team against the Google eight rules of management and see how they stack up. It could give you the basis for a robust and relevant leadership development programme over the coming year and like Google, ensure you are retaining and developing your key talent for many years to come.

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