Good management, Google-style
Google – the organisation rather than the search engine – has done some interesting work on the behaviours of a good manager. As you’d expect from Google, it’s drawn from a massive database. But in this case, the database is their own HR records.
At first blush, their list of conclusions is obvious, but the interesting thing is that it is ranked, in order of impact. Most new managers worry about number 8 – technical skills. They are labouring under a misapprehension – that they need to understand technical issues better than their team does. At Google anyway, a manager’s technical skills are far, far less important than many other softer skills, like coaching and empowering the team.
In fact, I still think this is blindingly obvious. But now there’s data to support it.
Here’s the list:
1.) Be a good coach. Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive. Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths.
2.) Empower your team and don’t micromanage. Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make “stretch” assignments to help the team tackle big problems.
3.) Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being. Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work. Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition.
4.) Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented. Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it. Help the team prioritise work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.
5.) Be a good communicator and listen to your team. Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information. Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots. Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees.
6.) Help your employees with career development.
7.) Have a clear vision and strategy for the team. Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy. Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it.
8.) Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team. Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed. Understand the specific challenges of the work.
This list has been re-published widely, by several newspapers, magazines and websites. Most readers will just glance at it and move on.
But how about taking this list and having a go at ranking it yourself? And then inviting your team to rank it. And comparing the results. What’s true at Google may or may not be true for your team or in your organisation. If you’re brave, you could ask them to score how well you’re doing…
The other interesting thing is that Google listed three bear-traps for managers. Here they are:
Pitfall 1: failing to make a transition into management. Sometimes, fantastic individual contributors are promoted to managers without the necessary skills [or training, Google!] to lead people. And people hired from outside may fail to appreciate the unique aspects of managing at Google [which may detract from the claimed usefulness of this research!]
Pitfall 2: lacking a consistent approach to performance management and career development. Not helping employees understand how these work, and not coaching them on their options to develop and stretch. Not being pro-active but rather waiting for employees to come to them.
Pitfall 3: spending too little time managing and communicating.
Once again, this is a pretty obvious list. But the question is not “don’t I know this already?” but “am I actually following these guidelines?” Also, there is a joint responsibility with the wider organisation, who should ensure that managers are trained, and that they have performance management tools and career development pathways in place, and that they genuinely help managers to manage.