Project Oxygen, Google's extensive manager study, analyzed more than 10,000 bits of information including performance reviews, surveys, and nominations for top-manager awards and recognition to determine the best practices of its most effective bosses.

After the dust settled, Google was left with eight unique qualities. The trait that rose to the top as the most important was "Is a good coach."

Equipped with this new knowledge, Google set out to transform its managers into great coaches. Google defines a great coach as:

  1. Providing timely and specific feedback
  2. Delivering hard feedback in a motivational and thoughtful way
  3. Tailoring approaches to meet individual communication styles in regular one-on-one meetings
  4. Practicing empathetic "active" listening and being fully present
  5. Being cognizant of your own mindset and that of the employee
  6. Asking open-ended questions to discover an employee's acumen

While a few of these points are self-explanatory, some require a higher level of tact and experience. To help its managers be consistent, free from bias, and productive during coaching conversations, Google uses the GROW model. 

The GROW model is a simple framework that was developed back in the 1980s by Sir John Whitmore and colleagues to facilitate corporate coaching conversations. GROW is an acronym that stands for the following -- with some of my personal observations: 

Goal -- What do you want?

Start by clarifying the objective and what it is you want to change or accomplish. Add as much structure to the goal as possible. Google uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) to create great goals. Another mainstream tactic is to ensure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound). 

Reality -- What's happening now?

Consider the current state and where the employee truly is in the journey. What's going on that could either help or hinder them from reaching their goal? During this phase, it's critical that the manager actively listens and asks great questions to assure they understand the situation. 

Often, managers try and provide feedback and constructive criticism without fully understanding the root cause -- they jump to conclusions without examining the current reality. As a result, their input and instruction lack credibility and impact. 

The manager and employee may have different views of reality. In order to move forward, it is important to develop a shared understanding of the situation. 

Options -- What could you do?

Given the goal and current reality, what could the employee do or use to improve? Utilize this stage to consider and explore all the possibilities. Brainstorming with your employee not only allows you to evaluate their problem-solving capability, but also helps ensure they contribute to the solution. 

It's important that managers teach employees HOW to think as opposed to WHAT to think. When you create a two-way conversation and help employees puzzle through problems, you simultaneously build their competence and confidence. 

Quickly giving them the answer may help in the short run, but playing the long game and building problem-solving skills will serve employees throughout their entire career. 

Will -- What will you do?

After all the options have been discussed, it's time to think of specific steps that can be taken to ensure the employee accomplishes their goal. As the manager, it's important to provide input here, but ultimately, the likelihood that the employee succeeds depends upon their willingness to propose a plan and commit to it themselves. 

Coaching is a skill that can be taught and developed over time. You can apply this research from Google and the GROW model to immediately start improving your effectiveness as a manager.