Are Managers Obsolete? A Look at Google’s Project Oxygen

Meghan-Maher by

Earlier this month, members of OpenView’s Talent Team attended the Talent Strategy Summit in San Francisco. While there, we were fortunate enough to be able to attend a rare session with Google. People Analytics Manager Tina Malm spoke to us about collecting and using data to hire, manage, and maintain top talent.

One project she talked about was Project Oxygen, a study done in 2009 to determine the effectiveness of their managers. It was found that middle managers were perceived as obsolete, so they tested the removal of managers with one business unit. When that didn’t work, they dug deeper.

It all started with a question, “What if every Googler had an awesome manager?”

From there, the team set off to prove whether great managers truly made an impact. They started by collecting data:

  • They found that higher scoring managers had happier teams, longer retention, and better performance within those teams (seems obvious, right?).
  • They then compiled performance reports for managers every six months. To ensure candid responses, these reports were separated from formal performance reviews that were tied to promotions and raises.

Through this data they were able to determine the behaviors of the most effective managers. Next, Google sprang to action by:

  • Launching people management courses.
  • Sending resources describing effective manager behavior to all new managers.

Soon, they began to see results — all initiatives improved manager scores by 5%, career conversations by 10%, and managing as a coach by 13%.

So, Are Managers Obsolete? If the Data Said Yes Would You Really Do Anything About It?

The moral of the story is not simply that people managers do matter and that great ones do make a positive impact. It’s also that you have to utilize and act on data in order to make it worthwhile. Google’s Project Oxygen is a great example of how proactively using data really can change the way your company hires and maintains its people (see this post for more!). With the right data and motivation to act on it, you can better prepare for attrition, forecast hiring demands, optimize the interview process — the list goes on and on!

How does your company use data for HR and talent acquisition? Share your examples with me below!

Senior Talent Manager, Engineering