Google Tried to Prove Managers Don’t Matter. Instead, It Discovered 10 Traits of the Very Best Ones
Google’s definition of what makes the very best managers will help you be your very best.
The hypothesis was that the quality of a manager doesn’t matter and that managers are at best a necessary evil, and at worst a useless layer of bureaucracy. The early work of Project Oxygen, in 2002, included a radical experiment — a move to a flat organization without any managers.
The experiment was a disaster, lasting only a few months as the search giant found employees were left without direction and guidance on their most basic questions and needs.
Never daunted, Google pivoted to extensively study the opposite question — what are the common behaviors of their very best managers? It came up with a list of eight attributes, verified quantitatively and qualitatively in multiple ways. It then rolled out those findings in 2010 to its organization to ingest and use.
The results were remarkable.
Laszlo Bock (at the time Google’s VP of people operations) told The New York Times, “We had a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75 percent of our worst-performing managers.” Since then, further analysis has added two more attributes to the list.
So what follows are the 10 characteristics Google believes make for the best managers (and that it expects from managers), blended with my perspective on each trait.
1. Be a good coach.
You either care about your employees or you don’t. There’s no gray zone. If you care, then you’ll invest time and energy to help your employees become better versions of themselves. That’s the first 50 percent of being a good coach.
The other half is knowing you’re a facilitator, not a fixer. Ask good questions, don’t just give the answers. Expand your coachees’ point of view versus giving it to them. Sure, I’m oversimplifying. But not much.
2. Empower teams and don’t micromanage.
Absolutely no one likes to be micromanaged. Research from empowerment expert Gretchen Spreitzer (University of Michigan) shows that empowered employees have higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment, which reduces turnover and increases performance and motivation. Also, supervisors who empower are seen as more influential and inspiring by their subordinates.
Everyone wins when you learn to let go.
3. Create an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being.
Individual fulfillment is often a joint effort. People derive tremendous joy from being part of a winning team. The best managers facilitate esprit de corps and interdependence.
And employees respond to managers who are concerned about winning, and winning well (in a way that supports their well-being).
4. Be productive and results oriented.
Take productivity of your employees seriously and give them the tools to be productive, keeping the number of processes to a minimum.
5. Be a good communicator — listen and share information.
The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. It often doesn’t happen because of a lack of effort from both the transmitting and the receiving parties. Invest in communication, and care enough to listen.
Former CEO of Procter & Gamble A.G. Lafley once told me his job was 90 percent communication–communicating the next point especially.
6. Have a clear vision/strategy for the team.
With no North Star, employees sail into the rocks. Enroll employees in building that vision/strategy, don’t just foist it on them. The former nets commitment, the latter compliance. And be prepared to communicate it more often than you ever thought you could.
7. Support career development and discuss performance.
The best managers care about their people’s careers and development as much as they care about their own. People crave feedback. And you owe it to them.
People don’t work to achieve a 20 percent return on assets or any other numerical goal. They work to bring meaning into their lives, and meaning comes from personal growth and development.
8. Have the expertise to advise the team.
Google wants its managers to have key technical skills (like coding, etc.) so they can share the “been there, done that” experience. So be there and do that to build up your core expertise, whatever that might be. Stay current on industry trends and read everything you can.
In a global and remote business world, collaboration skills are essential. Collaboration happens when each team member feels accountability and interdependence with teammates. Nothing is more destructive for a team than a leader who is unwilling to collaborate. It creates a “it’s up to only us” vibe that kills culture, productivity, and results.
10. Be a strong decision maker.
The alternative is indecision, which paralyzes an organization, creates doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment. Strong decisions come from a strong sense of self-confidence and belief that a decision, even if proved wrong, is better than none.