8 Attributes of Top-Performing Managers, According to Google

googleOne day when our lean consultants are bots, we will ask our smart devices what we need to do to be a top performer in our chosen work. For now, we’ll have to Google it. An interview in Knowledge@Wharton with Brian Welles, the director of People Analytics at Google, describes what that organization has found to be the eight key attributes, based on hard data.

A top performing manager is

  1. a good coach;
  2. empowers the team and does not micromanage;
  3. expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being;
  4. productive and results-oriented;
  5. good communicator — listens and shares information;
  6. helps with career development;
  7. has a clear vision and strategy for the team;
  8. and possesses key technical skills that help him or her advise the team.

Before rushing to apply these to your own organization, it is well worth noting that Google has a strong culture of making decisions based on data and evidence. I would go as far to say that lacking this, it is very difficult to have a productive leadership conversation around attributes of successful managers and how to develop them in people. The following quote from Welles illustrate this

We codified that set of eight, and we give every Google employee the chance to rate their manager on those eight attributes, and we provide them with the feedback. That is an example of a set of eight rules that is empirically based. We know it drives good outcomes, and if you can prove that a set of rules is leading to better outcomes, people will listen to that. It just needs to be based on data and evidence.

The following observation by Welles should ring true to anyone striving to bring lean practices into the organization by developing top-performing people

The amazing thing about organizations is, as human beings we all know how to do the basics. We know how to interact with each other. We can get through the day. We can work in teams relatively productively, but there is so much room to optimize all of that. If you can take a step back and understand the dynamics, you can actually help the system work better. You can give people the tools they need to self-regulate. You can put rules in place when you need to. There are so many opportunities for efficiency that a lot of organizations don’t even know they need, because they’re people who say, “I know how to do all of this stuff because I’ve been doing it my entire life.”

Summary of above: Things work pretty well, but there is a lot of room to improve. People need to step back and study the system, and put rules and checks in place. The illusion of competency that comes from familiarity with current ways of working leads to resistance to change.

That in basic terms is what we see organizations struggling with when striving to raise performance and sustain it at high levels; a combination of blindness to how they can improve and a belief that they are more competent than they really are, because of lack of understanding of cause-and-effect, process and results. Organizations that look at the facts of how people interact with each other, how this affects performance, and make data-driven changes, see positive results. This insight coming from a decade of study by a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology is not surprising but is reassuring support for the “respect for people” pillar of lean management.