On management: Googling ‘better management’

I almost never do reviews, but I think everyone who would like to be a great manager or build a team of great managers ought to read “The Quest to Build a Better Boss” in the March 13 Sunday New York Times, written by Adam Bryant. It is the story of how Google Inc. drew out of its own people a definition of just what a manager should be for Google Inc.

“As only a data-mining giant like Google can do, it began analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards,” Bryant wrote. “They correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints” and came up with a list of eight preferred management traits and three management pitfalls.

We are not going to list them all here. You should read them in context in the NYT article. But I have a favorite from each list that I’ll share in a moment.
Called Project Oxygen at Google, it was designed to define something more important to Google than the next technological advance. It found that this engineering-oriented company valued good management more than anything else.

I can tell you from personal experience that helping (read: saving) bad managers is extremely difficult. For example, one time we had an outstanding salesman who we promoted to sales manager. (A fairly common thing to do; the man deserved and wanted a better job. The only place for him to go in our company was to management.)

He turned out to be a poor manager. After a year his people were at the point of rebelling. He became frustrated and just drove them harder. We had long talks with him, trying to get him to lighten up, to be more interested in his people and their goals. It didn’t work. “I just don’t want to do it,” he said. He ended up back in a territory until he left the company.

According to the NYT article, Lazlo Bock of Google says, “We were able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75 percent of our worst performing managers.” Significant improvement indeed.

My favorite from the Good Behavior list:

• Be a good communicator and listen to your team. This sounds like it came off the list of “most mentioned” ideas for management for all time. But I think it deserves to be on this list and everyone’s list because without it a person can’t manage well. A good manager will communicate like there is a big prize for no surprises. You also need to listen more than you talk.

• Be sure to read all the bullet points under this Behavior.

From the list of Pitfalls of Managers:

• Spend too little time managing and communicating. This seems like the inverse of the other one I picked. My thought would be that being a good manager is a full-time job, and we need to see it that way. An engineering manager is much more a manager than an engineer. An engineering manager performs at a really high level in getting things done by a group of engineers. To be successful one must spend time with each of the managed.

If you are a student of management, look up this article. It will be worth your time.
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