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Google's Quest to Build a Better Boss

| March 15, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Last Saturday, Erik Lundberg, ITLP alum from the University of Washington, found at interesting piece – “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss” – in the New York Times and sent it to me.  Erik noted that “By analyzing data from within its own ranks, Google proves what management practitioners already preach.  But then implements it in a way that resonates with technical/engineering types.”

In 2009 Google initiated a project, “Project Oxygen,” to analyze internal performance reviews, feedback surveys, nominations for top-manager awards, etc. for what might be called the practices of highly effective Google managers.  The team gathered something like 10,000 observations across 100 variables and then looked for patterns and formed hypotheses.  After interviews with managers to test these preliminary hypotheses, eight practices were identified.  

Technical expertise ranked dead last in their list.  “What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through questions by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”  The entire Google list, in order of importance, is: 

1.  Be a good coach.

2.  Empower your team and don’t micromanage.

3.  Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being.

4.  Don’t be a sissy:  Be productive and results-oriented.

5.  Be a good communicator and listen to your team.

6.  Help your employees with career development.

7.  Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

8.  Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team.

The report also lists Three Pitfalls of Managers:

1.  Have trouble making a transition to the team.

2.  Lack a consistent approach to performance management and career development.

3.  Spend too little time managing an communicating.

(This list of Google’s rules along with explanatory text for the rules can be found on the Solution Focused Change blog <>.)

Interestingly, there aren’t any surprises on the list.  The Times piece calls them “forehead-slappingly obvious.”  And, we’ve touched all of these pratices in the Leaders Program.  What’s hard is developing consistent practices.

So, my challenge to you today is to reflect on the list, choose something that you need to work on, and begin to consistently practice that skill.  Your team will welcome your efforts.


Have a great week.  .  .  .     jim