Google is building a better boss

Here is an interesting New York Times article about Google’s Project Oxygen, which is, in essence, an initiative by the company to improve management.

In Project Oxygen, the statisticians gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers — across more than 100 variables, from various performance reviews, feedback surveys and other reports. Then they spent time coding the comments in order to look for patterns.

Like in many other technical companies, team and project leaders are assigned from the best of technical people.  It turns out that being good at programming does not necessarily mean being good at managing people.  That’s something that some of us knew for years.

For much of its 13-year history, particularly the early years, Google has taken a pretty simple approach to management: Leave people alone. Let the engineers do their stuff. If they become stuck, they’ll ask their bosses, whose deep technical expertise propelled them into management in the first place.

But Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

But just knowing that technical skills aren’t at the top of the list for a manager is not enough.  One needs to know what is important.  And that’s what Project Oxygen is all about.

Things like this make me appreciate and respect Google.  Even if they don’t publish the results of the studies and use it internally only.  One thing that should be kept in mind is that Google employs a lot of people.  And those people come and go.  So even if they get a glimpse of a better way while at Google, that knowledge will eventually get out, will get applied to other companies, and will make the (office) world a better place.

Leave a Comment