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Google: Managers Matter after All

| by Abel Avram on Feb 10, 2017. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

Based on internal data, Google researchers have come up with 8 traits that great managers have, providing guidance and tools to other organizations to find out if managers matter to them and how to train their managers.

Back in 2002, Google ran an “uncontrolled” experiment turning into a flat organization without any managers. But, “it didn’t go well.” They discovered that “people were left searching for answers to basic questions and needs, as well as guidance in important areas such as career advice,” according to inc.com. They brought the managers back after a few months.

Still, six years later, in 2008 a team of Google researchers attempted to prove that managers do not matter for them. But, instead of demonstrating that “managers are, at best, a necessary evil, and at worst, a layer of bureaucracy,” the results proved the opposite: “managers matter a lot.” Based on their data, Google discovered that “teams with great managers were happier and more productive.”

The next logical question to ask was, “What makes a great manager?” After analyzing internal data - the annual employee survey, performance evaluations, the Great Manager Award nominations – the researchers came up with eight common behaviors characterizing those who excelled at management in their organization:

  1. They are good coaches
  2. They empower the team and do not micromanage
  3. They express interest for team members’ success and personal well-being  
  4. They are productive and results-oriented
  5. They are good communicators
  6. They help team members to develop their career
  7. They have a clear vision for the team
  8. They have important technical skills that help in advising the team

The researchers do not consider that what makes a leader a great manager at Google will automatically help others in other companies. But they do provide some guidance on finding out what matters, by asking a number of questions:

  • Do managers matter at your organization? Use researches, surveys and interviews to find out if employees benefit from managers. Explore external research (e.g., Gallup research highlights five important manager talents) and internal input like surveys or interviews to find out if people managers matter to your team members’ performance and happiness.
  • If managers matter, who do you need to convince and how? Google used internal data to convince engineers and leaders that managers matter. How will you convince your organization?
  • What makes a great manager at your organization? Google found eight behaviors of successful managers - you might find you have two, three, or ten. Internal data, like employee survey results and interviews, can help uncover the elements of good management at your organization.

Following this research, Google has implemented a program to improve the quality of their managers, noticing an “overall improvement in management by helping managers get better at coaching, empowering teams, managing team energy, staying results-oriented, communicating, developing teams, and sharing a vision.” Google has also made public a number of tools that can be used by other companies to raise the level of their managers: Google's New Manager Training Facilitator Guide, Google's New Manager Training Slides and Google's New Manager Student Workbook.

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