Oxygen at Google—getting management right

Project Oxygen—that’s what they called it at Google when statisticians at the company looked inward to analyze data related to such things as performance reviews to find out what made for better managers at this very successful company.

You would think that at a place famous for the latitude given to employees to be creative that a good boss at Google would be one who gives employees a great deal of freedom and whose main job is to provide technical expertise when asked for.

While Google’s managers certainly need to know the business of developing algorithms, it turns out that technical skills and knowledge wasn’t the most important part of being a good manage at the company. It fact, it ranked last.

At the top of list of good management skill were these qualities: being level-headed, making time for everyone, meeting individually with workers, asking questions, taking an interest in the employee’s lives and careers. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/business/13hire.html

A good boss, even in a place dominated by creative technical geniuses, is one who is people oriented. The real skill in being a good manager is relating well to others. The oxygen workers need to do their work well turns out to be more than a technical skill—it having a manager who expresses a genuine interest in them.

Google also lists three major pitfalls to good management, one of which is spending too little time managing and communicating. Good managers, in other words, needs to know the people they supervise, they need to spend more time walking around and less behind desks, they need to know how to talk to people and get their ideas across clearly in ordinary language.

Once Google implemented its findings, it found that the quality of its management improved by 75 percent.

One interesting aspect to Google’s work is how the points that usually are at the top of tips for good management are at the bottom, such as having a clear vision for the team. It isn’t that this isn’t important to know where you are going and what is expected, but since no one can do everything all the time, Google sets priorities for good governance and these qualities, which many companies list as critically important, turn out to be less important than something like a manager knowing people for who they are as individuals.

There is nothing surprising in Google’s results; it is what other surveys of good management have shown. What does surprise me is how many organizations don’t employ them. It seems self-evident to me that people want to be recognized for what they do, want to be treated respectfully and want to be acknowledged as a unique human being.

These qualities apply not only to the work environment but human relations everywhere—from families to strangers we meet. Yet, I find, the more typical management style is one in which supervisors don’t meet with personnel except when there is a problem, don’t acknowledge accomplishments on a regular basis, sit behind desks, and know next to nothing about personal lives of the people they manage.

Good organizations have to balance three things, but many only take two into account—the quality of the product and the efficiency with which it is produced. But a third factor—what Google puts at the top—is just as important in the long-run and that is the quality of the experience of the employees in the workplace.

Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice-president for human resources said, “You don’t actually need to change who the person is [who is managing]. What it means is, if I’m a manager and I want to get better, and I want more out of my people and I want them to be happier, two of the most important things I can do is just make sure I have some time for them and to be consistent. And that’s more important than doing the rest of the stuff.”

I think the same can be said for good teaching and administration and good parenting or wherever it is that people interact on a regular basis in social setting, trying to make better products in a company, teaching students how to master a subject in school or raising children to be good people at home.

Thanks, Google, for bringing this to our attention once again.






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