Is Google Breathing Their Own Exhaust?

Is Google really that special when it comes to developing leaders?

In a noble quest to build a better boss, executives at Google have embarked on a plan code-named Project Oxygen. While this may sound like a plan to create the next search engine algorithm or app, it was instead Google’s way of unraveling the genetic code for determining the make-up of exceptional bosses at Google.


The company began by analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards. They combed over all this data to come up with The New York Times refers to as the Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.

Here are four of their findings:

1. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
2. Help your employees with career development
3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being.
4. Empower your team and don’t micromanage.

Sound familiar? I don’t know how many hours were invested into Project Oxygen, but I’m betting that number would be lots! I’m wondering why Google felt the need to conduct this analysis when well-respected organizations like Gallup have already done the research.

But here is what is really worrisome. Out of Project Oxygen, came some management pitfalls including the fact that sometimes, fantastic individual contributors are promoted into management without the necessary skills to lead people. This happens everywhere, including Google, where they now have statistical evidence this is happening in their organization. However, it’s what you do with the information that matters.

Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for people operations (code name for human resources) tells the tale of a manager whose people despise him. Bock refers to this manager as brilliant, but he did everything wrong when it came to managing his team. This manager was denied the promotion he wanted and was told this was because of his management style, or lack of it.


Google supported this manager with in-house one-on-one coaching and six months later, employees gave this manager high enough ratings to position him for a promotion. It’s hard to know if they did this in an attempt to rid themselves of this manager or if he did indeed improve enough to move to the next level. But here’s the kicker. According to Bock, this manager a year later is actually quite a bit better. “It’s still not great. He’s nowhere near one of our best managers, but he’s not our worst anymore. And he got promoted,” stated Bock.

Why go through all this analysis if you are going to ignore the data you collect? I’m wondering why they even promoted this manager. Surely a place like Google can attract and afford the best of the best, so why settle for anything less? I’m thinking that they are breathing their own exhausts and just prior to passing out someone said, “promote this guy!”

© 2011 Human Resource Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and author of the new book, Suddenly in Charge! Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, January 2011). Visit Roberta’s Blog at Generations at Work or her Linked-in Group Suddenly in Charge! Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta’s monthly newsletter, HR Matters.


About the author

For more than 25 years, Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Matuson Consulting, has helped leaders in Fortune 500 companies, including Best Buy, New Balance, The Boston Beer Company and small to medium-size businesses, achieve dramatic growth and market leadership through the maximization of talent. She is known world-wide as “The Talent Maximizer®.” Roberta, a leading authority on leadership and the skills and strategies required to earn employee commitment and client loyalty, is the author of the top-selling book, Suddenly In Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, 2011), a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book For Leaders