Google Oxygen : Do Managers matter?

The Oxygen initiative had started with a fundamental question that Google executives had raised in the early 2000s: ‘‘Do managers matter?’’ The topic generated a multiyear research project that ultimately led to a comprehensive program, including surveys, feedback, training, and rewards, designed to help Google employees become better managers. The program, with its focus on eight key management attributes, had been in place for several years, and the company could point to statistically significant improvements across managers overall.

Google’s eight Key Management Attributes 

  1. Is a good coach
  2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage
  3. Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Is productive and results-oriented
  5. Is a good communicator—listens and shares information
  6. Helps with career development
  7. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team

While this list seems obvious there were three reasons why it had such a big impact on management at Google.

 First, it was based on people analytics. At Google scientific evidence is key, therefore using people analytics gave the project greater credibility. The fact that it was based on employee feedback encouraged wider employee buy in and trust. Similarly, the hard data helped to convince managers why they needed to improve their management style.

Second, the interesting thing is that technical skills came in last. While it’s important that managers have the needed technical level to guide employees, soft skills such as coaching and communication are absolutely essential. This proves that being a great developer doesn’t necessarily make you a great manager.

Third, it provided a checklist of management qualities. As Bock explains in his book, whether or not your manager is well versed in management 101 and every training course your company offers, having a checklist makes a big difference as it actually reminds managers to remember and implement these skills on a daily basis.

As a result, Google changed its feedback surveys to mirror these qualities. Instead of simply measuring how much output a manager achieves, the surveys now focus on how much time they spend coaching their team, whether or not they communicate a clear vision, etc. They also developed new management training programs centered around these skills.

Donovan explained that, “Having a good manager is essential, like breathing. And if we make managers better it would be like a breath of fresh air.” As Google takes its No. 1 spot for the sixth year in a row in Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list.