Are managers really necessary? Google wanted to know for sure, so in 2002, it experimented by removing bosses from its hierarchy. The answer was a resounding yes. Managers were critical not only for structure and clarity, but also for team performance.
After Google discovered that its teams needed great managers, it wanted to know the characteristics that made some bosses more effective than others.
In 2008, Project Oxygen (an initiative to uncover the traits of Google's best managers) gathered 10,000 manager observations including performance reviews, surveys, and nominations for top-manager awards and recognition. After analyzing the data, Google stumbled upon a realization that surprised many--even its former senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock.
In a New York Times article that revealed the findings, Bock acknowledged that the company had historically hired managers or promoted people who exhibited a higher level of technical expertise than others. "It turns out that that's absolutely the least important thing," Bock says. "It's important but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible."
Bock's team of people experts didn't stop there. Upon further analysis of the findings, they narrowed in on "Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers."
- Be a good coach.
- Empower your team and don't micromanage.
- Express interest in an employee's success and well-being.
- Be productive and results-oriented.
- Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
- Help your employees with career development.
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
- Have key technical skills, so you can help advise the team.
However, 2008 was a long time ago. Since, Google has increased in size and complexity, and so has the demands on its managers. To ensure the Eight Habits were still relevant, Google gathered additional employee feedback and revisited the research. Two major themes arose. Googlers wanted to see:
- more effective cross-organization collaboration and
- stronger decision-making practices from leaders.
What Google discovered was that the traits of its effective bosses had evolved with the company. As a result, it updated habits Nos. 3 and 6 from above and added two more. I've provided my personal thoughts on the significance of each.
No. 3 (updated). Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
Creating an environment in which everyone feels included and a sense of belonging is the first step toward showing genuine concern for employees' well-being. An inclusive team environment ensures that everyone's voice is heard and that all team members feel like they can bring their full selves with them to work.
It doesn't matter how much you care if, at the end of the day, employees don't feel part of the team. Instead, create an environment that universally empathizes with and celebrates everyone's differences.
No. 6 (updated). Supports career development and discusses performance
The two go hand-in-hand. Development opportunities that are not driven by performance feedback are a poor use of time and resources.
When managers provide feedback and then follow it up with a customized development plan, employees walk away from performance reviews feeling encouraged and supported rather than frustrated and confused.
It's a responsibility of managers to not only serve as a sounding board as individuals consider development opportunities, but also to ensure their efforts lead to improved performance.
No. 9 (new). Collaborates across Google
It's hard for teams to gain traction and earn support from others when their managers operate with a compartmentalized mentality. Now, more than ever, a team's effectiveness relies on its ability to collaborate with others and create comprehensive solutions.
It's critical that managers remove silos across the organization and create stronger, more deliberate connections between people, teams, functions, and locations.
No. 10 (new). Makes strong decisions
No one likes spinning their wheels or seeing work stalled due to ineffective decision making. It's important that managers provide guidance and act swiftly to ensure their team's work stays on track, and the impact is maximized.
To ensure informed decisions are made, Google encourages managers to test their ideas out loud and collect feedback by explicitly advocating for their opinions (voicing individual views, reasoning, and providing data), testing their understanding by inquiring about others' perspectives (soliciting ideas and feedback), and then synthesizing the responses to ensure a comprehensive understanding before making a decision.
As our respective markets change and our companies evolve, it's important that our people grow at the same rate as the business. Hats off to Google for revisiting old research and ensuring its managers change with the times.