Google made a profit of $9.18bn in the second quarter of this year. In the past decade or so it
has emerged as one of the most innovative organizations to have ever existed but this was not
always the case. Traditionally google has always been skeptical of managers. According to a
recent HBR article ‘How Google Sold its Engineers on Management’, Google’s engineers
believed that “management is more destructive than beneficial, a distraction from ‘real work’
and tangible, goal-directed tasks.”
In 2002 google experimented with a completely flat organization, eliminating all managers
and tried to replicate the college like environment they experienced in graduate school. This
obviously did not work. People started going to the founders for even mundane tasks and it
became pretty clear that management was important. But managerial systems could not be
implemented on a whim without date driven evidence in a company like Google. Google did
this in 3 stages Unfreezing, Changing and Refreezing.
Unfreezing (Taking on the status quo)
Google gave a small team in the ‘peoples analytics’ department the task to do rigorous
analysis on what made the highly rated managers at Google different from the lower rated
managers. This team was called “Project Oxygen”. They looked at 3 main factors when
analyzing these managers:
The analytics team did double blind interviews and tried to understand what these managers
did that made them so much more effective. After tabulating the results, they found out that
management actually makes a difference but this was just step one.
Changing (Rolling the findings into organizational practices)
Google first changed its feedback surveys to exhibit the traits that they discovered in their
research. They developed training programs and began to work with leading managers in
their functions and started convincing people that coaching, empowering et cetera mattered.
The Project Oxygen team gave in depth presentations to thought leaders in the organization
in order to bring them on-board this new vision of change. They essentially ‘socialized the
findings’ of the research. This leads us to the third stage of the change process.
Refreezing (Institutionalizing the changes)
Google took the practices discovered in their research, and made them a part of award
systems, performance reviews and the like. They essentially made people a lot more
promotable if they had certain traits. Google by taking these measures turned a culture that
was skeptical of management into a culture that was more open to the idea of management.
The research conducted by Google concluded that good managers are good coaches, they
empower individuals, they do not micro manage, they are results oriented, they are clear
communicators et cetera. But this begs the question, why would Google spend all these
resources to find out traits that are already well known? Any reputable management textbook
would list down these behaviors and a lot more. The simple answer is credibility.
Every organization believes that it is unique in a certain way. In order to bring out
meaningful change, evidence of the benefits of that change initiative should come from
within the organization. That is what Google did and this gives us a blue print on what needs
to be done when systems and status quos need to be challenged in organizations.