Clear vision, consistent feedback among hallmarks of better bosses

A breath of fresh air

People typically leave a company for one of three reasons (or a combination of them).

The first is a disconnect between the company’s purpose and their personal contribution. The second is interpersonal conflict with their co-workers. And the third, and biggest, is being stuck with a bad boss. 

In 2009, Google hired a group of statisticians to devise something far greater than a better algorithm or a cooler app. 

Their mission was to design better bosses.

And as only a data-mining powerhouse like Google can do, it began analyzing manager reviews, feedback surveys, performance appraisals and a slew of other data points. Collectively, over 10,000 pieces of information were gathered over 100 variables that would give insight into the purpose of their quest, which was named Project Oxygen.

What Google found was no less than a Homer Simpson “D’oh!” forehead-slapping moment. 

Google’s Project Oxygen found that the best managers:

•are good coaches;

•empower their teams and do not micromanage;

•express interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being;

•are productive and results-oriented;

•are good communicators, listen and share information;

help with career development;

•have a clear vision and strategy for the team; and

•have key technical skills that help them advise their teams.

As a result of Project Oxygen, Google changed its feedback surveys and implemented leadership training with the aim of instilling those eight qualities. The result? Today, Google consistently ranks among the best companies in the world to work for.

How this applies to your company

Like all great insights in life, it is the simplest ones that are often the most profound – and the hardest to implement.

To create a great culture at your workplace, start by redefining the criteria by which managers are chosen. Far too often, people become managers based on (1) longevity in a position and (2) technical ability. What Project Oxygen reveals is that having technical abilities is just one-eighth of the managerial puzzle. The other seven qualities have everything to do with interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and prowess in strategy and execution.

Create a culture of feedback

Long gone are the days when it was acceptable to give feedback once a year in employees’ annual reviews (if they get one at all). What millennials have demanded from the ever-changing workplace (and indeed this is supported by the best social research out there) is that that feedback needs to be frequent and rooted in your company’s core values. 

When giving feedback to someone, start with what you have noticed (positive or negative) about his or her behaviour. Explain how that behaviour affects the organization (positively or negatively) as it relates to your organization’s core values. Use “I” language. Ask for the other person’s thoughts on your observations. Offer constructive feedback.

Get to know your team

John Gottman, a relationship psychologist from Seattle, Washington, has been studying the components of long-lasting, healthy marriages for over 50 years. His findings offer a lot to the corporate world.

Gottman has found that the longest-lasting relationships are those in which both partners take an active role in acknowledging and advancing the other person’s interests. In the workplace, this means taking the time to connect with all members of your team, and making their priorities your own. Not surprisingly, this ranked third out of eight in Google’s Project Oxygen’s findings. 

Casey Miller (casey@sixandahalfconsulting.com), president of Six and a Half Consulting, is a leadership and team development specialist. His consultancy teaches organizations the skills needed to create motivated and inspired workplaces.