Google’s Powerful Secret to be a Good Manager

And good managers do not need technical skills.

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Are managers really necessary?

In 2008, Google undertook a study to answer this question. Google’s Project Oxygen was birthed with a fundamental mission: To build better bosses.

The reasons why Google decided to undertake this humongous exercise were not hard to find.

The tech world is known for its rebellious attitude towards everything that represents the conventional corporation and management is often seen as a bastion of the old workplace hierarchy that just won’t die.

And the group that had the biggest problem with management was the company’s engineers. Engineers have reason to dislike bad management. This field, in particular, fosters creative individuals who have their own personal style of doing things. When someone tries to micromanage this type of worker it results in conflicts and a loss of interest.

As Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google Laszlo Bock explained.

Engineers generally think managers are at best a necessary evil, but mainly they get in the way, create bureaucracy, and screw things up.”

The Project Oxygen team in Google’s People Innovation Lab spent a whole year data-mining performance appraisals, employee surveys, and nominations for top manager awards and other sources to evaluate the differences between the highest and lowest rated managers. The statisticians gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers — across more than 100 variables.

Once patterns were established, they then interviewed managers to gather more data, and to look for evidence that supported their notions. Finally, researchers coded more than 400 pages of interview notes and data and rolled out the results to employees. Later, these results became the source of various training programs for managers.

And the results were highly unexpected.

In Project Oxygen, they found that successful managers consistently had these eight qualities, in order of importance.

· They’re good coaches.

· They empower their team and don’t micro-manage.

· They express interest in their team members’ success and personal well-being.

· They are productive and results-oriented.

· They’re good communicators and they listen to the team.

· They help employees with career development.

· They have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

· They have key technical skills that help them advise the team.

We can draw two inferences from this study.

· the most important activity for management success is being a good coach. Successful managers know how to coach their teams into success.

· The least important is technical skills. This proves that being a great developer doesn’t necessarily make you a great manager.

As a result, Google changed its feedback surveys to mirror these qualities. Instead of simply measuring how much output a manager achieves, the surveys now focus on how much time they spend coaching their team, whether or not they communicate a clear vision, etc. They also developed new management training programs centered around these skills.

This single-minded focus of developing managers into coaches is the secret behind Google’s successful managers. This approach is what makes them take the №1 spot for the sixth year in a row in Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work for’ list.

Becoming a great coach, especially in the tech world, is essential. What engineers, developers and everyone under the sun really want is a manager who knows how to distinguish the line between coaching and micromanaging.

To learn where this line lies, think about your employee. Are they an engineer with +5 years of experience? Then what they probably need most is a manager who will help them to set goals and then stand back and allow them to execute them in their own way (as long as this gets results).

On the other hand, new engineers may need more coaching. Here the line may become thinner but the best way to provide guidance while not encroaching on your employee’s freedom is through feedback.

So in a nutshell, what is required is a balance of coaching strategies based on employee experience and temperament to achieve best results.

And here are some coaching techniques which can be used.


Be The Guide

This style is very effective for those team members who are self-motivated and willing to learn but do not have the knowledge. They have a natural zeal and passion to absorb anything like a sponge which needs to be capitalized upon by the leader.

How to be the Guide

· Prepare and help them in building Skills.

· Allow them to make “mistakes” but make them learn from that.

· Provided timely and specific feedback for improvement

· Relax your control as they develop and improve


Be the Empowerer

This style is for “star” performers. They are the go-getters, highly driven and enjoy challenges. They are the future leaders and the backbone of any team.

How to be the Empowerer

· Empower them by giving autonomy. Allow them to make their own “decisions.”

· Define the goal, not the method. Let them find out the best way.

· Do not micromanage them. They get frustrated very easily.

· Protect them from “office bullies” if they are at a lower level.


Be The Director

This style works well with “trouble makers”. They can’t do and also won’t do anything unless plodded. They do not show any desire to learn and improve and tend to escape work.

How to be the Director

· Have a candid “talk” with them and understand the reasons for their behavior.

· Provide clear instructions and set up stringent deadlines for completion.

· Monitor their progress very carefully and take regular status updates.

· Adopt the “Stick” and “Carrot” method initially. If nothing is working, let them go.


Be the Catalyst

This style works great on those team members who have the knowledge and the potential but are too lazy and laid back to do any productive work. Indiscipline and being disorganized is their second nature.

How to be the Catalyst

· Identify reasons for lack of motivation and set up the expectations upfront.

· Address the issue and motivate them. Play to their “strengths”.

· Monitor progress carefully and give them increased “accountability” in their work.

· Assign them to “collaboration” and “team building” activities to improve their organizing skills.


And Lastly, Give Feedback Regularly

Managers’ words have the power to build or destroy. Google understands this sensitivity and teaches its supervisors to be consistent (free from bias) when delivering feedback across their teams, to balance positive (motivational) and negative (developmental) feedback, to be authentic and appreciative, and to state growth opportunities in a clear, compassionate way.

Always make sure your feedback places emphasis on actions and completely avoids personality traits. For example, “I noticed you talked over Sid in the meeting yesterday” rather than “You’re overbearing in meetings.

Always provide advice on how they can fix the situation and discuss the best solution. More than the actual feedback, the way of communicating the same plays a very important role in the response and the impact. Recent studies have shown that sandwiching negative feedback between dollops of praises is not very effective. Keep the praise and the feedback separate.

And the most important, give real praise. Employees are not dummies. They can easily see through if your praise is genuine or not. Again like the actions, the praise also needs to be specific. Mention specific areas where their work has impressed you and where they are doing a great job.

As Chris Dyer has rightly said.

“Give feedforward not feedback.”
About the author-:
Ravi Rajan is a global IT program manager based out of Mumbai, India. He is also an avid blogger, Haiku poetry writer, archaeology enthusiast, and history maniac. Connect with Ravi on LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter.

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