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Friday, May 26, 2017

Build a Better Boss – Don’t Buy Them

 Project Oxygen started at Google in 2009 with basic assumptions
·         People typically leave a company for one of three reasons, or a combination of them;
·         The first is that they don’t feel a connection to the mission of the company, or sense that their work matters;
·         The second is that they don’t like or respect their co-workers;
·         The third is they have a terrible boss — biggest variable;
·         Google, saw huge swings in the performance reviews ratings that employees gave to their bosses; and
·         Managers had a much greater impact on employees’ performance and how they felt about their job more than any other factor.

In Project Oxygen Google made it all about data
·         the statisticians gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers across more than 100 variables, from various performance reviews, feedback surveys and other reports;
·         Then they spent time coding the comments looking for patterns;
·         Once they had some working theories, they interviewed managers to gather more data looking for evidence that supported their notions; and
·         The final step was to code more than 400 pages of interview notes and then they spent time rolling out the results to employees.

8 Qualities Identified by Project Oxygen to build a Better Boss

The final result was eight behaviors -- things great managers do that make them great. They are, in order of importance:

1. Be a good coach.
2. Empower; don't micromanage.
3. Be interested in direct reports, success and well-being.

4. Don't be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.
5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
6. Help your employees with career development.
7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team.

Once Google had its list, the company started teaching it in training programs, as well as in coaching and performance review sessions with individual employees. It paid off quickly. Google was able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75 percent of its worst-performing managers,

What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

From Worst Boss to Better Boss
One manager who employees seemed to despise because they found him bossy, arrogant, political, secretive, became a turn-around story. Many wanted to quit his team. They said he was brilliant, but he did everything wrong when it came to leading a team. Because of that heavy hand, this manager was denied a promotion he wanted, and was told that his style was the reason. But Google gave him one-on-one coaching, rather than hiring from the outside. Six months later, team members were acknowledging in surveys that the manager had improved and was a much better boss.

Common Sense Counsel: the great message from Project Oxygen is that better bosses can be built not bought. Combined with the lessons from Project Aristotle in my Column last week on Building Great Teams, the decision is yours. Start investing in both today and reaping the rewards! 

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and can be contacted at or 334-246-2901 and blog at