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*You probably know by now: VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Perhaps you also know the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times 😉
Bosses have a huge influence on people’s performance and job satisfaction (meaning whether they stay or leave). A 2019 study found that 57% of people quit because of their boss.
These numbers are an indictment: Employees see most bosses lack the qualities they would like to see in a boss. For example, only 3 out of 10 employees see their bosses as caring about their career advancement. Only 4 out of 10 employees see their manager as open and honest about opportunities for promotion, salaries and compensation.
Project Oxygen at Google
So Google has embarked on a bold initiative that would make a dent in this dire statistic: to build better managers. “Project Oxygen” applies what Google does best (organizing information) to the unpredictable world of the human element.
“Project Oxygen” is perhaps more far-reaching than any algorithm the company has ever designed. Its “people analytics” teams went about finding what makes a good manager.
They gathered and analyzed over 10,000 observations about managers across more than 100 variables, from performance reviews, 360-degree feedbacks and nominations for top-manager awards. Then they coded the observations to find patterns.
In trying to apply a data-driven approach to the unpredictable world of human behavior, “Google is really on the leading edge,” said Todd Safferstone, managing director of the Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board.
Behaviors of best managers
At first glance, the list Google found by correlating thousands of phrases, words, praise and complaints is self-evident. In fact, it is head-slappingly obvious to the point of sounding trivial. Here is the detailed list including some pitfalls managers run into.
The 10 Oxygen behaviors of Google’s best managers (behaviors 3 and 6 have been updated and behaviors 9 and 10 are new):
- Is a good coach
- Empowers team and does not micromanage
- Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
- Is productive and results-oriented
- Is a good communicator — listens and shares information
- Supports career development and discusses performance
- Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
- Has key technical skills to help advise the team
- Collaborates across Google
- Is a strong decision maker
“My first reaction was, that’s it?” said Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president people operations (which is Googlespeak for human resources). Indeed, the list has a certain “duh?” effect on readers.
But then Bock and his team looked at how employees had ranked ten qualities in importance, and found some interesting things.
For starters, “Be a good coach” is number one. (You and I could have told them that years ago and saved them the trouble.)
What employees valued most were even-tempered bosses whom they could meet with one-on-one, who did not give answers but asked questions designed to help people find their own answers, and who did not micro-manage but gave people freedom coupled with stretch goals.
This came as a surprise: Technical skills were ranked 8th only.
“We’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Bock said. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important.”
What do you think? What is one thing you plan to change right now (either stop doing or start doing) to be a better boss and/or leader? Post this below. I look forward to reading you.
 “New DDI Research: 57% of Employees Quit Because of Their Boss,” https://www.prnewswire.com/
 Sarah Brady, 2022, “82% of Workers Would Consider Quitting Their Jobs Because of a Bad Manager,” https://www.valuepenguin.com/