What Managers Can Learn From Google

Google is the place where great managers are made
Google is the place where great managers are made
Image Credit: methodshop .com

As managers, where we work will probably play a big role in how we develop our manager skills. If we could all choose where we worked, I’m pretty sure that a lot of us would all agree that working for Google would probably be a good choice. Once upon a time Google was a small start-up company. Since then, they have grown and they now employ over 70,000 workers. It turns out that all those people needed leaders. And not just any leaders, but people who can do it in an environment of incessant change and planetary scale. Just exactly how has Google gone about providing this kind of manager training?

How Google Builds Great Managers

There has been a lot written about how Google goes about hiring people. However, of more interest to us is how they turn the supremely talented people it found into elite managers. Their ability to do this has enabled them to maintain and extend its dominance over two decades – a very long period of time in internet time.

If you need proof that Google creates good managers, all you have to do is to take a look at who is running things In Silicon Valley today. Google veterans can now be found at some of the biggest internet companies out there (Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Tim Armstrong at AOL/Oath) and they have also established some of the biggest new ones (Pinterest’s Ben Silbermann, Twitter’s Evan Williams, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom). Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Dropbox COO Dennis Woodside, Asana president Justin Rosenstein, and Taskrabbit CEO Stacy Brown-Philpot are among the many other notable “Xooglers.”

As managers what we need to realize is that its really not all that surprising that so many people who became managers at Google have been able to go on and do great things. While they were at Google they were able to experience a real breadth of experience that they were able to bring with them to their next job. Google has always been a fertile training for managers , particularly in its early years. The company’s unique culture and practices helped make their managers who they are.

Managers Have To Think big. No, Bigger. No – Really, Really Big.

In most of the companies that we work for, the phrase “underpromise and overdeliver” is something that we hear a lot of the time. However, it turns out that this is not what they say at Google. There, overdelivering meant you weren’t setting your targets high enough. What managers were told to do was to be super-ambitious and build in some margin for failure. That philosophy was baked into the way managers handled objectives and key results (OKRs). What managers at Google realize is that if they can only achieve 75% of one of their goals, then as long as they are aiming high enough the results will still be pretty spectacular.

To Be A Leader, You Must First Inspire

One of the challenges that all managers face is that when they need to accomplish something, they generally can’t get it done by themselves. What this means is that they are going to have to reach out and get some help. Google has always had an unusual, flat corporate structure organized by job function rather than business unit. What this means is that to get anything meaningful done, a manager has to be able to recruit help from far-flung parts of the company rather than just issuing orders to those further down his or her food chain.

This puts a premium on the ability to communicate effectively. The secret to getting something done when you’re depending on other people who don’t work for you is that you reason with them. The managers who succeed at Google are the leaders that are inspiring. The idea that it’s the manager’s job to inspire rather than the underling’s responsibility to follow orders teaches managers humility.

Managers Know That Words Are Important

As a manager you need to understand that how you talk to your team is going to have a big impact on how they perform. Using terms that sound big, like “moonshot” and “10X” can inspire your team to accomplish great things. Even though your team may stretch across the company and may be located in many different locations, if you use the right motivational catchphrases you can motivate them.

Managers need to understand that storytelling is an important part of being a good leader. The reason that this is so important to learn how to do well is because the narrative is how we all learn. As managers, when we tell stories what we want to do is to find ways to allow our team to feel connected to what the company is trying to accomplish and to allow them to share in the company’s vision of the future.

What All Of This Means For You

As managers we’d all like to think of ourselves as being world class. However, in order to reach that status, we’d first have to work for a world class company. It turns out that some of the best managers out there are currently working for Google. Google has long been known for hiring some of the best and the brightest; however, it turns out that they also know how to turn their workers into really good managers. Just exactly how do they go about doing that?

One of the things that Google teaches its managers is that they need to learn how to “think big”. What this means is that they don’t want to under promise and over deliver. Instead they should set lofty goals and even if they can only deliver part of their goals, that will still be impressive. In order to be a successful manager at Google you need to be able to get help from many different sources. This means that you need to be able to communicate effectively. The way that you communicate is to use words that inspire and motivate your team and can help in accomplishing team building. Good managers are good storytellers.

We all want to become great managers. What we need to do is to find out where good managers are being created and then study how it is being done. It turns out that Google is one of the places that good managers are made. If we take the time to study how Google creates its excellent managers, then perhaps we can use this knowledge to become better. I guess that our new goal should be to find ways to become as good of a manager as those that work at Google are!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that it might be possible to think too big?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So what makes a manager a great manager? For the longest time companies have believed that personality characteristics such as charm and charisma are the manager skills that made a manager successful. Guess what – it turns out that they may have been wrong. New studies are showing that the thing that can make a manager great is something that everyone has been overlooking – humility. This new insight is starting to change how people look at managers and understand what it takes to be a great manager.