Engineering Great Managers at Google via Social + Emotional Intelligence

In a fascinating article in the New York Times, Adam Bryant reports on Google’s initiative to engineer better managers, and it turns out that seven of the eight key competencies of great managers are squarely in the realm of social and emotional intelligence.

Two years ago, Google embarked on an in-depth research initiative to determine the characteristics that define the best bosses in the organization.  The study, called “Project Oxygen,” analyzed thousands of performance reviews, employee surveys, nominations for “top-manager” awards, and much more.

All the data analysis and research was boiled down to a list of eight key management competencies.

The top skills, called “Google’s Rules for Managers,” include:

  1. Be a good coach to your employees (have regular one-on-ones, maximize employees’ strengths, provide specific, clear feedback)
  2. Empower your team and don’t micro-manage
  3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal 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 help advise the team.

Interesting that a high-tech firm like Google includes having technical skills on the list of key competencies for managers, yet it’s dead last on the list.  The first seven all relate to social and emotional intelligence.

Google’s head of HR, Lazlo Bock (whose real title is  “Vice President for People Operations”), said, “The starting point [for the research study] was that our best managers have teams that perform better, are retained better, are happier – they do everything better.  So the biggest controllable factor that we could see was the quality of the manager.”

Having identified the top eight characteristics of highly-effective managers, Google put a training and coaching program in place, and found it more than paid for itself.

“We were able to have a statistically significant improvement in manager quality for 75 percent of our worst-performing managers,” Mr. Bock said.

Just more hard evidence that the soft skills count.  To learn more about coaching and training programs around social and emotional intelligence skills for managers and executives, come visit The Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence online or live – visit Booth 3460 at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference in Las Vegas June 26-28, 2011.

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