Technology giant Google has always been known for its inspiring workplaces which are geared towards fostering creativity. Many start-ups have since gone on to replicate the look, Google’s unconventional approach to the workplace also extends to how it manages people. The New York Times recently covered Google’s practice of recruitment and management policies. Two things stand out. The first is how they identified good managers.
“We found that, for leaders, it’s important that people know you are consistent and fair in how you think about making decisions and that there’s an element of predictability. If a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom, because then they know that within certain parameters, they can do whatever they want. If your manager is all over the place, you’re never going to know what you can do, and you’re going to experience it as very restrictive”.
The second was that when it came to engineers, formal qualifications meant very little. For Google, it was important that leaders were consistent and fair in their dealings with employees and also seeing as they are a tech company, they always insisted on an element of predictability. The firm has spent a great deal of time reviewing human resources and the accompanying data that goes along with that in order to determine what makes a great leader.
David Garvin in a Harvard Business Review article examines leadership inside of Google, where for a company with 37,000 employees there are just 5000 managers, 1000 directors and a mere 100 vice presidents. I think it is important to differentiate the differences between a manager and a leader, since the typical manager has a short-range view while the leader will always hold the long-range perspective. Leaders are innovators. (Most of the Time)
HBR’s research identified eight behaviors shared by high-scoring managers which they have institutionalized in the firm:
1. Managers should be good coaches and mentors
2. Can inspire and empower the team and is not a micromanager
3. Expresses interest in and has a genuine concern for staff’s success and personal well-being
4. Is productive and results-oriented
5. Is a good communicator—listens and shares information
6. Offers unbiased career development
7. Possesses a clear vision and strategy
8. Possesses key technical skills
Garvin writes “Google gives its rank and file room to make decisions and innovate. Along with that freedom comes a greater respect for technical expertise, skillful problem solving, and good ideas than for titles and formal authority. Given the overall indifference to pecking order, anyone making a case for change at the company needs to provide compelling logic and rich supporting data. Seldom do employees accept top-down directives without question“.
Not a bad approach, how many firms would voluntarily give employees the ability to question important directives? Google has shown it is possible to create a small but highly effective management culture, within a ‘techno-utopia’. This is something startups should pay close attention too, albeit that Google went about it in its unique manner. Garvin concludes, Data driven cultures, Google discovered, respond well to data-driven change”. Big Data startups pay attention.
Image credit via Google