Google researchers launched Project Oxygen 15 years ago to understand what makes people great managers. In 2018, some 10 years after Google’s original report, its researchers looked again at their results to understand if the initial findings had held true after Google’s tremendous decade of growth.
Turns out, they did. The original results held up well, driving results, reducing turnover, and improving employee satisfaction. But researchers also learned they should refine two of the original eight traits and add two more.
Their findings resonate louder than ever in today’s world of Quiet Quitting, Quiet Firing, and the gap between management and employee expectations about requiring employees to return to the office.
Google’s research in 2008
Let’s begin by looking at what Google learned in 2008.
That’s when an internal team of researchers launched Project Oxygen – an effort to determine what makes a manager great at Google. From this research, Google identified eight behaviors that are common among their highest-performing managers and incorporated them into its manager development programs.
By publicizing and training managers on these eight behaviors, Google saw an improvement in management at Google and team outcomes such as turnover, satisfaction, and performance over time.
As Google grew in size and complexity, demands on their managers and leaders increased. From the results of an employee survey in 2018, Google learned that their employees wanted to see more effective cross-organization collaboration and stronger decision-making practices from leaders.
They also learned more about how Google needed managers to show up in some related work streams (e.g., teams, unbiasing, performance management). So Google took a second look at its research, refreshed behaviors according to internal research and employee feedback, and put them to the test.
Google found that over time, the qualities of a great manager at Google had grown and evolved with the company.
The 10 Oxygen behaviors of Google’s best managers are:
- 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.
Behavior Item No. 3 was revised to emphasize that managers create a more inclusive team environment. No. 6 was changed to emphasize higher focus on performance management. These revisions were also informed by new external research about psychological safety, unbiasing efforts, and the importance of establishing clear performance expectations.
Behaviors No. 9 and No. 10 above were added from the 2018 research. According to Google’s researchers, the two new behaviors were highly correlated with manager effectiveness.
The updated list of 10 Oxygen behaviors was even more predictive of team outcomes such as turnover, satisfaction, and performance than Google’s original list of eight. The higher the scores a manager received on the two new behaviors, the better those three outcomes were for their teams over the next year. That is to say, their team members were more likely to stay at Google, gave higher subsequent satisfaction scores on Google’s employee survey, and were better performers.
This learning is powerful evidence of the best 10 behaviors of high-performing managers.
How is Google handling today’s hot management topics: Quiet quitting and return to the office?
Google flipped quiet quitting with quiet hiring.
Quiet quitting is when employees step back from climbing the corporate ladder, don’t volunteer to take on extra work, and work only about 40 hours a week. According to a recent Gallup survey, 50 percent of US workers are quiet quitting, but employers can still find employees who want to go the extra mile to climb the corporate ladder.
Quiet hiring is the practice of an organization acquiring new skills without hiring new full-time employees. Quiet hiring enables organizations to strategically address acute, immediate business needs by assigning existing employees to new roles, expanding existing employees’ responsibilities through stretch and upskilling opportunities in both cases with commensurate compensation.
Google has a different approach to quiet hiring. Google uses promotional assignments and new training to reward the employees who exceed their defined job duties to excel at their roles or volunteer for new assignments.
Regarding Return to the Office, Google’s approach has been to combine cost-cutting with coming to the office only two days a week, either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday. Note: either scheme allows employees to work from home on Fridays.
Some 15 years after its original research, Google’s 10 Behaviors of Great Managers drive excellent outcomes. Company executives are wise to keep their managers focused on these 10 positive behaviors rather than divisive issues such as harsh return-to-work regiments and quiet firing.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and managing partner of InnovationOne, LLC. He works with organizations to transform HR and recruiting, implement remote work, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: The Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. He is quoted in business journals such as The Wall Street Journal, Workforce Management, and CEO Magazine. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at http://www.VictorHRConsultant.com.