Do managers matter? Google launched Project Oxygen

In an article on Harvard Business Review, Professor of Business Administration David A. Garvin describes a Google's innovative management initiative called Project Oxygen.


Born as a multiyear research program around the relevance of managers inside the company, Google’s Project Oxygen grew into a comprehensive initiative aimed at measuring key management behaviours, as well as nurture them through communication and training.

To begin, the company applied sophisticated statistical techniques, which Google’s Neal Patel says showed that even “the smallest incremental increases in manager quality were quite powerful.”

To act on that finding, Google carried on interviews inside the organisation to figure out what its best managers did. “It took several months to code and process all this information,” writes Garvin.

Ultimately, the company identified eight key behaviours which were common among the high-scoring managers. These include developing and motivating direct reports, communicating strategy and eliminating roadblocks, “all vital activities that people tend to overlook in the press of their day-to-day responsibilities,” notices Garvin.

The descriptions of the eight behaviours were then incorporated into tailored training programs for managers to improve their skills in those areas were they were most lacking. The whole process also implied Google’s employees to evaluate their own managers on a set of activities.

In terms of results, Garvin writes that managers took Project Oxygen as a constructive feedback and that “the lowest-scoring managers improved the most, particularly in the areas of coaching and career development.”

The article concludes by suggesting that managers do matter. This “is a delicate balancing act to keep employees happy and motivated through enthusiastic cheerleading while helping them grow through stretch assignments and carefully modulated feedback. When the process works well, it can yield extraordinary results.”