Google has had a long and odd relationship with the whole idea of management.
In 2002, Larry Page and Sergey Brin turned the company into a “flat” organisation, free of engineering managers. That plan lasted a few months — Page couldn’t handle all the requests for help in making decisions and charting career paths.
Then in 2009, Google launched Project Oxygen, an inquiry into whether managers mattered at all. The conclusion? They did. But not in the same way they did for other companies.
As Google HR head Laszlo Bock told Max Nisen at Quartz earlier this month, managing at Google is just different.
At most companies, Bock says the people who become managers get to that position as a result of having better insights than everybody else and being able to play games of politics. “Everything you experience teaches you that you need to be assertive, and out in front, and making all of the decisions,” he says.
Then you get to Google.
Your whole team is as smart as you. Or even smarter.
“The trick isn’t making the decisions as a leader,” Bock says, “but figuring out how to get the best out of the team.”
This comes as a huge change for lots of people.
“You realise that you have a lot less levers, control, and power than you do at a lot of other companies,” Bock says. “You don’t decide who to hire or how big a bonus somebody gets; you don’t decide who gets promoted.”
Bock says that when you get a management job at Google, you have to make two realisations:
• You realise that “you’re surrounded by amazing people.”
• You realise that “you don’t have any of the traditional leverage that’s used to get teams to do things.”
This makes the job of a manager a lot more like a piano accompanist with a singer than a drill sergeant with a recruit.
“You’re forced to figure out how to add value without relying on power,” Bock says, “and you do that by influencing, by giving people the opportunity to learn, and giving people more freedom.”
Today, Google gathers feedback from managers using its “Upward Feedback Survey,” which employees use to anonymously report on their bosses.
Here are the criteria:
• They give actionable feedback that helps their employees improve their performance.
• They do not micromanage by getting involved in details that should be handled at other levels.
• They show consideration for their employees as individuals.
• They keep their team focused on its priority results/deliverables.
• They regularly share with their team relevant information from their own manager and senior leadership.
• They have meaningful discussions about career development with each member of their team at least once every six months.
• They communicate clear goals for their team.
• They possess the technical expertise required to effectively manage their team.
• Their employees would recommend them to their colleagues.
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