Google Cracks the Code on Good Managers

In the IT industry, as with many industries, the career track typically goes something like this:

Software Developer > Senior Software Developer > Manager

Yep. In many cases, the most technically skilled person is rewarded by a promotion to management. This is great for the technical person who also has a knack for managing people. But for a rockstar developer with not-so-great people skills, this can get tricky. We can all imagine (or perhaps know first hand) the ramifications of a manager who may be great at leading projects and achieving business objectives but lacks a natural propensity for people management.

It has been known for a long time by management gurus around the world that this approach doesn’t always work. In an initiative to put empirical evidence to these claims, Google recently conducted a study called Project Oxygen to determine what makes a good manager. A group of Google statisticians analyzed feedback surveys, performance reviews and nominations for top-manager awards and came up with a list of traits that comprise a good manager. Not surprisingly, they are similar to what management gurus have been preaching for decades.

They discovered through their research that the most important behavior is to be a good coach. For years, they had been thinking that employees wanted a leader who had super technical skills and they discovered that came in dead last.

So what did they determine to be the key behaviors of a good manager? Here’s the list. You can see a detailed chart here.

  • Be a good coach
  • Empower your team and don’t micromanage
  • Express interest in team members’ success and personal well being
  • Don’t be a sissy: be productive and results-oriented
  • Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  • Help your employees with career development
  • Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  • Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

There you go. How do you have the career ladder set up in your organization? Are you making the same mistakes as Google was before they created Project Oxygen? It’s time to make a change. Here is a good slide presentation from Pawel Brodzinski who really hits the nail on the head about technical skills versus management skills. (His blog is awesome too!)

What are your thoughts about good managers? Please share what you think by leaving a comment.



Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. Follow her @askteamdoc.

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