A data-driven analysis of the top 8 traits of highly effective managers
Google ran an extensive plan code-named Project Oxygen, gathering and analysing 10,000 manager observations including performance reviews, surveys and management award nominations, correlating phrases, words, praise and complaints, to distill out the 8 traits of highly effective managers. While it is typical for organisations to come up with a laundry list of what they envisioned managers to be, Google takes a quantum leap forward with this project to not only back up the list with empirical data from its own employees with their formidable data chops, but also rank the traits in terms of importance, providing yet another illuminating beacon in terms of how you can prioritise the actions / plans to develop highly effective managers.
Why this is important - The overweighted yet severely underrated role that managers play in employee retention and performance
While it is an invariable fact of life that staff attrition is part and parcel of any organization of going concern, there is surprisingly little variance to the reason(s) behind why people choose to leave a firm - One, is that they (the employees) do not believe or feel for the mission and vision of the company, or that their work matters in the “grand scheme of things” in the organization. Two, is that they do not like or respect their colleagues. However, by far, according to Google’s Project Oxygen, the biggest factor was that the employees reckoned that they have a terrible boss or immediate supervisor. Correspondingly, the data also evinced that managers have a much greater impact on employees’ performance, and how they felt about the job (more than any other factor), which then can account for the attrition in cases where the employees felt like they have insufferable bosses / managers.
In this case, it then seems perfectly sensical, that apart from the ongoing efforts to build up the brand’s equity and efforts to develop a sense of camaraderie amongst colleagues, to then spend some time and efforts to ensure that the managers are trained to be highly effective in managing teams, thereby plugging the hole on staff attrition due to ‘bad bosses’ / poor management. To do so, the team needed to first identify the winning traits of highly effective managers, and that is exactly what Google set itself to do.
Based on the data, the 8 top traits of highly effective managers are (ordered by importance):
- Be a good coach;
- Empower your team and don't micromanage;
- Express interest in employee's success and well-being;
- Be productive and results-oriented;
- Be a good communicator and listen to your team;
- Help your employees with career development;
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team; and
- Have key technical skills, so you can help advise the team.
Emotional intelligence wins over technical skillsets
What came up tops may come as a surprise, even for Google; For one, the top trait that employees appreciated most about highly effective managers, are that they display an inordinate amount of emotional intelligence, who remain patient, poised and positive, even in stressful situations. This includes the ability to delegate effectively through empowering your staff members, and setting them on a clear path to success with clear measurable goals. Technical abilities, though seemingly important in a tech giant like Google, came in last amongst the top 8 traits, underscoring its importance nonetheless, but also alluding to the revelation that it is not the key determinant of an effective leader. Notably, effective managers take care of their people, with the core understanding that their people are the folks that will eventually be handling the work. This is fundamental, in understanding that people should come first, before the work, and also the key to scaling your technical-self as a manager.
The Good News : You don’t need a personality transplant in order to be a highly effective manager.
Former senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock, who was also involved in Project Oxygen, pointed out that quintessentially, one does not have to change his/her personality to be a highly effective manager -
“What it (the project analysis) means is, if I’m a manager and I want to get better, and I want more out of my people and I want them to be happier, two of the most important things I can do is just make sure I have some time for them and to be consistent. And that’s more important than doing the rest of the stuff.” - Laszlo Bock
Google Employees Weighed In on What Makes a Highly Effective Manager. Technical Expertise Came in Dead Last
Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss