Google’s Project Oxygen: Do Managers Matter? Research Papers Example
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Project Oxygen was done in Google to determine if managers matter in the company. This study was implemented to know how managers influence their team members in the progression of the company. The said project is vital for the ever growing company, which has a $37.9 billion revenue. With the continuous partnership and expansion the headcount of the company has increased. In this regard, Project Oxygen aims to identify the characteristics of a good manager based on the surveys given by People and Innovative Lab (PILab) and the teams from the people operations. The said teams made two types of surveys, which are as follows: the Upward Feedback survey (UFS) for global business organization and the Tech Managers Survey given for the engineering group. Answers to the surveys were generally positive but there were some points that managers should consider for improvement. The eight characteristics that emerged from the survey, which constituted a high- ranking manager are the following: (1) being a good coach; (2) expressing interest in the members’ success and personal well-being; (3) helping team members for career development; (4) being a good communicator; (5) being productive and results oriented; (6) developing a clear vision/ strategy for the team; (7) advising the team in using their key technical skills; and (8) empowering the team members. The results of the study, in general, helped to prove that managers are really needed in the company and that they have an impact on their members. The results also gave the company the idea on how to retain good employees through their best managers and to make their managers effective and be the best at what they do. For this initiative, Google developed trainings and awards to help
managers become better at being a manager in their team or department. However, the company still looks for other ways to produce good managers for the company.
Google’s Culture for the Employees
Because of the continuous expansion of Google, employees were organized into three groups: engineering, global business organization (sales) and general and administrative (G&A). The company’s bigger population of employees consists of the engineers since it is a company built for engineers mostly. Engineers find it tasking on their part to report to a manager. They think of it as just a waste of time. Hence, they tried to make a flat organization where everybody can go directly to the person they have a business with. However, a company can’t do that for the whole operation. A rigorous screening for applicants is done to ensure that employees are well-rounded with the skills and the knowledge that Google needs. The company is one of the trendiest companies in the United States. It gives generous compensation, such as a base salary, bonus, stock options, and a lot of benefits and perks. Moreover, they provide their employees with free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also provide a Wi-Fi enabled bus so that employees won’t have to wait for other buses, enabling them to commute easily from their work and home. Google has a one-of-a-kind bundle of perks that will make an employee stay.
Characteristics of Google Employees
Google is an adaptable company; hence, their employees should also reflect the same characteristic. They want to have a pool of the best employees; thus, applicants must have top level talents and high cognitive skills. In the process of hiring, the lucky applicants again will be assessed to determine whether they have initiative, flexibility, a collaborative spirit, and evidences of being well-rounded. These characteristics are the traits of a Googley.
The company commends good ideas that are developed from peer respect. They described themselves as ambitious, perfectionists, and hardworking. Although there are competitions in the company, they still enjoy working together. Since the company provides the best benefits for the employees, it has become a training ground for young, intelligent people. These people are hungry for autonomy. They are willing to be on top always; hence, managers who do not know how to handle their positions fail.
Implementation of Project Oxygen
The project was implemented by PiLab and with the core team of Patel, Donovan, and Kurkoski. The Project Oxygen team gathered data from previous employees to know if the reason of their leaving is about management issues. They found some connections between the low satisfaction level with one’s manager and the turnover rate, as well as a correlation between the satisfaction with one’s manager and retention. However, the results were low so they were unable to conclude that it speaks for the whole Google company. In this regard, the Project Oxygen team modified the results and divided them into ‘high scoring managers’ and ‘low scoring managers’.The results of the project made the team excited because they found that there are significant differences between high scoring managers and low scoring managers and that there is a substantial impact on job satisfaction, retention, and performance. Moreover, it was discovered that high scoring managers have a lower employee turnover rate compared to low scoring managers. In sum, the PiLab team found that a group with high scoring managers performs well in terms of innovation, work life balance, and career development.
Priorities in Moving Forward
Setty is determined to use the results of Project Oxygen in improving the company. The first thing that he will do is to expand Project Oxygen in order to develop a deeper understanding of the specialized attributes of the most senior manager of the company like the directors and the vice-presidents. The leadership of senior managers should be used as an inspiration to other newly- hired managers. Setty also deemed it important to understand that it would be helpful to learn the lifecycle of managers, which includes hiring, lateral job transitions, promotions and departures. Setty wanted to identify potential great manager applicants inside and outside the company. He wanted to make sure that who they hire possesses the e behaviors of a great manager. Another realization that Setty has is the inclusion of analytics in the study of team. He thinks that it is important to study the combination of people who can work side by side with others, which will make for a great team. Lastly, Setty sees that it is vital to be engaged in making incremental changes and improvements in the company’s management. They tried to lessen the variance of managers and management skills. They are still trying to discover what drives people transformation from being good to great managers. Setty would like to get to know the managers better through observation and researches with the use of the ethnographic approach. They won’t be able to follow, observe, and interview people but they will be able to somewhat understand what managers and employees experience.
The Challenge in Creating “Truly Amazing Managers”
A comment that was left in Setty’s mind from Larry Page was that Google should be growing the leaders that the world needs. Setty fears that Project Oxygen may be constraining and putting people in boxes; hence, the question in his mind is how they will create truly amazing managers. From the results of Project Oxygen, they were able to identify the distinction between high scoring managers and low scoring managers. They have established the fact that managers have an impact on retention, job satisfaction and performance. They boosted the talents and skills of the low scoring managers through trainings and awards for best managers.
Since Project Oxygen was able to unearth the 8 behaviors of managers, Cincotta (2014) added 7 traits to turn good managers into great managers, which did not surface from the answers in the survey. The 7 traits given by Cincotta are the following: (1) having a great attitude especially in handling difficult situations at work since this will reflect their temperament; (2) being transparent, which means being vocal and straightforward so as not to let rumors circulate in the workplace; (3) demonstrating maturity, especially in regulating strong feelings; (4) being flexible, especially with the ever changing trends in society; (5) taking accountability for their action as well as for their employees; (6) being a hands-on manager since they have to first do what they implement; and (7) developing great talents among their constituents in order to contribute to the company’s progress.
Value of the project for Google
The launch of the project by Google drew much public attention, and there are several reasons for this. Firstly, the subject of the discussion is not new, but approach was quite unexpected. Numerous researches on management have been already done, and it may seem that the theory of effective management is already perfectly developed, what raises additional question: why did such a progressive and innovative company start a project on something that is well known and understandable. In fact, herein the answer lays in the question. Google is the company where the majority of staff is inspired and highly motivated engineers, but still, they have problems in communicating with others and managing others. So, accordingly, an issue of effective management has become a pressing one for Google.
Yet, the results of the project were also quite questionable. For example, some management experts said that the results were even ridiculous. At the same time some said that, anyway the project is really valuable for management theory and especially valuable herein is Google’s approach to investigating qualities of the perfect manager for a global company. In fact, this project helped Google to make a significant step towards changing the image of the manager in the company and moving from the image of a manager as a distraction from the real work and tangible tasks.
Google experience of organizing the company’s management is a precious case study that provides different examples of management strategies. More than ten years ago the company’s founders were not even sure whether the company needed any managers at all. For example, at the beginning of Google history, for a few months the founders of the company tried to establish an absolutely flat organizational structure without engineering managers. It was expected that such a structure will help the company to make the process of creating new ideas and bringing them into life easier, moreover, it was expected that such management organization will create a comfortable, creative environment for the engineers, will make them feel like they are back to college and they are generating ideas without any pressure from engineering manager. They failed in this effort: this organizational structure showed its ineffectiveness when the founders of the company became overloaded with different organizational issues and questions regarding interpersonal conflicts from engineers. Moreover, this idea proved to be completely inappropriate as the company continued growing. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin found numerous reasons for creating strong and effective management in the company. For instance, strong management is essential in the big company for communicating strategy, prioritizing projects among employees, facilitating collaboration, creating stimulus for career growth, and providing for the alignment between the employees actions and the company’s strategy and policy (Garvin, 2013).
Additional scientific and practical value to the Project was added by the company’s approach to testing their hypothesis about successful management. The template and surveys created by Google can be used by any company that faces such problems. They showed that each manager and employee, usually considers himself qualified, thinks that he has good interviews, is a perfect leader and has good communication skills, but other employees and colleagues may not agree with this. Such surveys are perfect for prioritizing skills and areas for development in each company individually (Bryant, 2015).
Finally, the project solved a pressing, dubious issue inside the company itself. Now all the employees know that management is important, and the only point for discussion left is how to make good management better. Now the company has its own, understandable for all employees vocabulary for discussing management and shared guidelines for improvements.
The ninth behavior that is not on the list
As it was already emphasized, scholars may say that the results of the survey are not surprising and maybe even obvious, yet, there is something in these results that almost no one expected to see, especially in Google. Against the common perception that you have to be highly qualified, high-tech knowledgeable professional to manage the team of Google engineers, Googlers who took part in survey for Project Oxygen said that this is not the key issue. They proved that what they really value in manager is the ability to communicate, give freedom to the employee and to support his ideas, finally, to create comfortable working environment. In this case, the deep expertise of the manager can even become an obstacle to communication with employees and to developing their ideas and projects.
In this case, Google found the value and necessity of “collaboration by difference”. Expecting from one manager extra professionalism in all possible directions of his area of responsibility may lead the company to nowhere. Instead, the company may get additional benefits by wisely adding strong sides of engineers who strive for understanding, support and communication, to skills of their managers (HASTAC, 2015).
Challenge faced by Google
Rapid growth of the company has forced Google to establish a multilayer management. Yet, it is not that complicated as it is usually in a company that has 37 thousand employees. Currently there are about 5 thousand managers in the company, one thousand directors and one hundred vice presidents. The company makes a lot of efforts to avoid micromanaging and to make its managers focus on creating the best and the most effective environment for its engineers (Garvin, 2013).
This traditional for the company underestimation of the management was the main stimulus for the launch of the project. Google team always prized engineers and disliked managers; it was a common conviction that managers hold down the ideas and are just a part of bureaucratic machine. Google faced a challenge of solving the discussion that is vital for most big corporations, developing business and companies entering international markets, and additional, special value this research has for young, fast developing startups. These small startups usually started with bright ideas that were professionally developed to high level, than the initial team decided that it’s time to extend their business, and had to decide whether to extend the company’s management or to continue working the way they used to do it at the very beginning. In fact, this happened in Google also: in 2004 the company had 3000 employees who were run by three co-founders. This is the path many successful startups may go through, but there is no need for this anymore: Google investigated the case and made their input into management theory, by doing the research that proved that managers do matter. Google was wrong and moreover, by this research they admitted that they were wrong. They proved that managers are essential part of corporate structure, achievements and communication. Finally, Project Oxygen established a list of qualities and skills, that are important for manager to be considered a good manager, and list of behaviors that will make him even better (Bryant, 2015).
Another example to follow from Google is their attitude to obtained results; just after getting the results, Googlers started teaching them to their managers and organized trainings on the 8 behaviors. It had its effect, as a significant statistical improvement in performance of even the worst Google managers was seen. This improvement in managers’ performance has another interesting effect: Google proved that it is possible to change and improve the performance, when it is deliberately explained and showed what kind of improvement is needed (HASTAC, 2015).
Google made an effort to prove their perception that managers do not matter in big company, and attempted to prove that it is better to establish flat organizational structure in the company. They failed in this attempt, but achieved new, unexpected results that were used for practical improvement of management in the company.
Google established new approach in management of engineering teams in big companies and in small startups. They found out that engineers hate being micromanaged on the aspects of their technical, engineering work and want to see close management on their careers. After the initial research they concluded that the problems with management were not that serious to cause engineers quit their jobs, but anyway much space for improvement existed. Finally, as a result of research Googlers obtained a shared vocabulary to assess managerial skills, straightforward, understandable, guidelines for management improvement and complete description of management best practices. Effectiveness of the trainings that were conducted after the surveys is still a topic of the discussion, but some managers agree that the surveys themselves were very useful in establishing new managerial practices even for the most experienced managers.
Until recently, companies used fundamental data analysis when the research on product, marketing and demand was needed. Yet, a new trend was set by Google and several other big companies: now they use statistical research for managing people, they taught us how to do HR by numbers. Project Oxygen, with its exact behaviors guidance, has set a new standard in developing management strategies and teaching employees how to become a good manager. And now it can be expected that such guidelines and strategies will be used by the other big companies and then will move to management in smaller companies. In fact, this is the case when practice lends to theory.
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Bryant, A. (2015). Google 8-Point Plan to Help Managers Improve. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 22 March 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/business/13hire.html?pagewanted=a118_r=0
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HASTAC,. (2015). Google Wisdom: To Be A Great Leader (or Boss), Learn How To Follow. Retrieved 1 April 2015, from http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/google-wisdom-be-great-leader-or-boss-learn-how-follow
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