Do Managers Even Matter?

In 2009, Google’s people analytics team launched Project Oxygen – a multiyear research program seeking to answer the fundamental question: Do managers even matter? That seems like a crazy question, doesn’t it? Of course an organization needs managers! Well, let’s rewind a bit.

In its early years, Google, like many other tech-based companies, struggled to get their engineers on board with management. To many engineers, management is convoluted, intangible, and more often than not just impedes their ability to get work done.

Things were no different at Google – engineers felt micro-managed and were unpersuaded by claims that managers played an important role in their individual success and the success of the company. And, despite the statistics, a majority of engineers globally disregard the importance of the soft skills promoted and encouraged by managers such as communication, collaboration, and adaptability.

The people analytics team in charge of Project Oxygen came to an important realization – the only way to convince engineers was to “speak their language.” Thus, the scientists prioritized a data-driven approach to measuring and describing the impact of good management, providing rigorous analysis and concrete evidence of management’s importance.

Though Project Oxygen simply sought to provide information on how management could enhance operations at Google specifically, the study yielded many generalizable conclusions regarding the significance of good management. The study found high-scoring managers had lower employee turnover in their groups, and that managerial quality had a strong correlation with employee satisfaction and happiness. 

And while this all sounds great, the people analytics team knew they needed to pinpoint specific, measurable qualities defining good management for it to have any impact on Google’s engineers. Project Oxygen identified eight key managerial characteristics:

  1. They are a good coach.
  2. They empower their team and do not micro-manage.
  3. They express interest in and concern for their team members’ success and personal well-being.
  4. They are productive and results-oriented.
  5. They are a good communicator – they actively listen to their team members and share information with their group.
  6. They help their employees with career development.
  7. They have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
  8. They have key technical skills necessary for helping or advising their team. 

Project Oxygen led the charge for what is emerging as fundamental to effective management, specifically in technical fields – evidence-based management. In a world of self-proclaimed “management experts,” evidence-based management is key to solidifying managerial success within your organization. 

Evidence-based management is defined as: (1) critically assessing peer reviewed and published studies on management practices and why they work, (2) understanding the context of an organization and understanding the risks and benefits of deploying different management practices, and (3) considering the values and preferences of those affected. It encourages managers to replace conventional wisdom and dogma with a commitment to pursue and analyze the best available information. It demands employees and managers use evidence, logic, and critical thinking to back up their assertions and employ a curious, learning-oriented mindset.

Thus, Google clearly found the answer to their initial question – YES! Managers do matter! Managers are critical to employee and organizational success. By helping employees solve problems, guiding them through their career, and investing in their team, both personally and professionally, managers drive engagement, innovation, and ultimately, higher profitability.

If you are serious about improving management practices at your organization, check out the Engineering Leadership Institute’s (ELI) Performance Certification System (PCS)! Accompanied by our forthcoming Leader Guide, the PCS utilizes video lessons and subsequent team discussions to enhance teamwork, communication, and engagement. Moreover, the PCS is specifically designed to leverage soft skills development, building a culture of impunity, developing shared language and common values organization-wide, and boosting trust and collaboration – all foundational elements to high-performance organizations!

To get started on building a high-performance culture within your organization, CONTACT ELI TODAY!