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How Google Develops New Managers

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Alex Langshur, host of Google Partners Podcasts, has launched the podcast Google HR secrets: identifying & developing great managers, interviewing Sarah Calderon, People Development at Google, on how Google selects, trains, and develops their managers.

Quoting a former manager of his, Langshur said that “A great manager will make a tough job challenging and rewarding, … but a bad manager will make a great job just so-so, and will make a tough job so crushing,” emphasizing the need to choose the manager, not the job, when looking for a new professional adventure. In his interview with Sarah Calderon, they discussed how Google, a company with over 70,000 employees and several thousands of managers at different levels, finds, manages and nurtures managers.

Calderon mentioned five lessons learned while teaching managers at Google:

  1. High-performing employees don’t necessarily make good managers. To manage people requires a different skill set. It is not enough to be technically good in a certain field. Not everyone is fit to be a manager, even if they’re a great individual contributor. To find great managers, observe how they work with other employees. Notice if they show flexibility and accept change in their work style. Are they drawing clear roles and responsibilities for others? Is the feedback provided to their team useful?
    To discover if someone is fit for the job, give them mini-assignments, for example, an intern to look after, or the leadership role in a small project. Evaluate them after a while to see if they like it, and if they were successful at it.
  2. The best time to train new managers is a few months into the job. Calderon recommends not to wait too long, to avoid the forming of bad habits, but to wait long enough so they actually start to understand what the management job is. At Google, the waiting time is usually three months.
    She also said not to train new managers before taking the job or immediately after taking it, but rather let them practice it for a few months, giving them enough time to understand what their job is and encounter some challenges. When training comes, it is not just a theoretical exercise but something that has real, practical meaning to new managers.
  3. Don’t overwhelm new managers. When a new manager starts working, they should not be told everything they need to know as managers, but enough to go for their first six months, practice what they learned and add more to it later.
    Things useful to teach them in the beginning are: how to provide feedback and how to be a good coach. Also, some of the things to learn are developing a culture of learning and developing emotional intelligence – how to be aware of oneself and the team managed. To be able to manage others one needs to be able to manager oneself.
  4. Training isn’t the only way to support managers. Managers can learn from other managers. They should be encouraged to talk to each other and learn from one another. Also, tools for collecting feedback are a good asset for them.
  5. Give managers the feedback they need to get better. Calderon mentioned Google’s custom to collect data from employees once a year, asking them to fill out a survey on their manager’s performance. This information is used to provide feedback to managers, helping them to evaluate themselves and grow. Determine first what a great manager is for the organization and guide them to achieve that. Google’s list of qualities of a great manager can be found in this guide, and they also suggest a feedback form.

Among the behaviors a manager should have, Calderon mentioned: be inclusive, don’t micromanage, support employees’ career development, being a good coach and communicator, having a clear vision and strategy for the team, being productive and results oriented, the ability to collaborate across organization, being a strong decision maker, and having key technical skills to advise the team when necessary.

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