While we always like to encourage doing the right thing for its own sake, it’s also rewarding to receive outside validation. And when that validation comes from an organization like Google, we sit up and take notice.
Since 2008, the global tech and SAAS behemoth has been studying the art and science of management and leadership (which aren’t the same thing). Project Oxygen was born as a research-based, survey-validated, behavior-driven attempt to crystallize how the “best managers” create cohesive, collaborative, productive, cross-disciplinary teams–at a company that needs to move fast, innovate, and still accomplish unimaginably complex, interrelated goals.
Originally, Project Oxygen identified eight behaviors that correlated strongly with manager effectiveness (measured by outcomes like lower turnover and higher satisfaction and performance scores on leadership feedback surveys). And after its first decade, a fresh look has identified and validated two additional behaviors, for a total of ten manager skills that strongly correlate with high-functioning, productive, cohesive teams.
Project Oxygen: The Great Leader Skills List
With no further ado, here are the ten skills a decade of research at Google has validated through extensive data-crunching. And in a company full of engineers and tech specialists, it may come as a bit of a surprise that technical skills were only a minor portion of the best managers’ toolkit. The rest of an excellent manager’s job? Outstanding people skills.
According to data, the best manager at Google:
- Is a good coach.
- Empowers the 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.
And there you have it; ten objective behaviors, actively studied and validated by statistical analysis in one of the most demanding modern workplaces on the planet.
“But correlation does not prove causation!”
We’re glad you brought that up!
Because data is tricky, and because the best engineers understand the need to interrogate data beyond the surface, a tech giant like Google understands they can’t simply lay numbers in front of employees and ask them to “just trust us.”
So Google took its dataset and subjected it to additional validation.
…we accounted for this in two ways. First, we followed results over time to make sure strong management proceeded employee outcomes. Then, we verified that this pattern remained even when accounting for manager shifts (e.g. employees shifting to excellent managers saw improvements in turnover, satisfaction, and performance). We’ve found that quality management is not only critical, but dare we say, that it also causes better employee outcomes. [emphasis added]
Bottom line: When employees moved from managers who scored lower on the Project Oxygen “excellent manager” behaviors, they were less satisfied and less productive. If they moved under “better” managers (who scored higher on Project Oxygen measures) their satisfaction, productivity, and even likelihood of leaving Google improved.
What are the overall lessons of Project Oxygen for better management?
Google may not have realized it when they began in 2008, but Project Oxygen follows in the footsteps of giants.
- It extends the examination of human psychology and motivation that began when Abraham Maslow removed value judgments from behaviors and began to look at how we act as ways of meeting needs.
- It offers clear evidence that management and leadership produce better outcomes when they are collaborative, supportive, and empathetic (as opposed to disciplinarian, antagonistic, supervisory, competitivite, and punitive).
- It moves “excellent management” into a predictable and controllable realm: a quantifiable, measurable set of communication skills and behaviors, rather than a mastery of “personality types” or multiple “communication styles.”
- Everybody–management or not–can acquire the skills that improve a team’s working relationships and outcomes. You don’t have to wait for a promotion to learn to solve conflicts and problems without resorting to using power, and defaulting to collaboration rather than conflict sets up a virtuous cycle that reinforces trust, teamwork, and group success.
Leader Effectiveness Training brings a logical, rational, skills-based, functional approach to leadership communication and problem-solving to workplaces–from tiny startups to enterprises the size of the tech Alphabets.
Built on the pioneering work of Dr. Carl Rogers (who, together with Maslow, founded humanistic psychology), Dr. Thomas Gordon’s L.E.T. is a deeply practical scaffold that bridges the gap from theory to practice. It can help both new and seasoned managers to operationalize Google’s ten best practices with a toolkit for team management, conflict management, continual improvement, and consensus-building.