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Does Management Matter?


Faced with managerial skepticism, Google asked the broad question, “do managers matter?” To determine the relevance of managers within Google, the tech-giant resorted to a research experiment to provide answers. Started in 2009, Google’s Project Oxygen worked to prove the opposite situation: managers don’t matter.

To test their hypothesis, Google abruptly dismissed all their managers. However, Google quickly reinstated these employees weeks later as disruption reached an all-time high in the absence of management. Once Google concluded the impact and need for management, the company was pushed even further to identify the gap between the worst and the best managers within the company. To conduct their research, Google took two steps:

First, Google used performance ratings of employees, in both top-down and bottom-up fashions, to separate the best and the worst managers. Using this data, Google studied the difference between great and underperforming managers, in line with the performance of individual teams headed by these managers. In doing so, the research identified a direct correlation between teams and managers. Teams led by highly rated managers displayed better levels of retention and productivity than those led by poorly rated managers. Again, this research renewed the role management plays in team performance.

Next, Google utilized annual surveys and double-blind interviews to identify the difference in specific behaviors between the extremes of management. Here, Google successfully determined a set of clear attributes that define the behavior of a great manager, listed in order of significance. According to Google, a great manager:

  1. Is a good coach
  2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage
  3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
  4. Is productive and results-oriented
  5. Is a good communicator- listens and shares information
  6. Supports career development and discusses performance
  7. Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
  8. Has key technical skills that help him/her advise the team
  9. Collaborates across the organization
  10. Makes strong decisions

Aligned with Google’s Project Oxygen, here are four steps a company can take to grow top leaders within their organization:

1. Identify Traits

To identify managers who lead others well, companies should step back and differentiate between good, mediocre, and poor managers. To categorize the separate groups of managers, companies can employ several tactics, such as performance reviews, employee surveys, annual reports, and analysis of existing high performing managers as a form of comparison. At large, this step encompasses the use of behavioral and cognitive assessment to capture data regarding specific traits that enable team and individual growth. Alongside characteristics, this step includes identification of employees that contain these traits and those who have the potential to develop them. In this data driven approach, simplicity is key.

2. Define Great

You have defined the traits you are looking for in a manager, but how do you define greatness? For example, you may have a manager that is good at communication, which is an important factor (according to Google) in being a good manager. Being good at something should be the standard – how do you define great communication, or great decision making? How about being a great coach? It’s important to have good managers, but don’t you also want GREAT ones? Defining greatness is important as you are working to build a pipeline of great leaders who can grow with your organization over a long period of time. Great managers should indicate great times, which should translate to building a great company.

3. Build Capabilities Towards Growing Employees into Managers

Once traits are identified and “greatness” is defined, high potential employees should be offered plans for growth. Although some leadership qualities may be inherent, most of the ones outlined by Google are learned. Those who have been identified as current great managers should provide opportunities for high potential employees to practice and refine their management skills. While this step will be unique to every company, organizationally it is important as it lays the groundwork for successful transitions into management roles.

4. Integrate into Hiring

The best way a company can maintain a high achieving culture long-term is to hire based on potential. Companies should assess potential during the hiring process and consider long-term success, beyond the position they are interviewing for. This will ensure companies are hiring great people who have the potential to impact the organization long-term.

Great people build great companies. By working with a diverse set of clients in varying locations, sizes, and industries, Find Great People helps companies define greatness within their organizations. To do so, FGP helps clients identify high potential traits and construct progressive competency models that enable employee mobility within an organization. Management matters, and we can help you find and develop your next great leaders.