In the early days of Google, they had a problem. The operative Google “truth” was that people throughout the company, including founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, were openly hostile to the role and value of managers. Google was a technocracy…a company built by and for engineers. Managers and management? Bah! Who needs them/it?
Indeed, in 2002 Brin and Page experimented with a completely flat organization in an effort to break down barriers to rapid idea deployment and to replicate a collegial, informal environment. Unfortunately, the experiment was a bust. As the company grew, a parade of engineers began to traipse into the offices of Brin/Page with trifling questions about expense reports and interpersonal conflicts.
Google soon relented. They realized that mangers were important in dealing with issues such as: communicating strategy, helping others prioritize projects, facilitating collaboration, supporting career development, ensuring that individual goals were aligned with company goals, etc.
Google then faced a second problem. With a company of highly-skilled, hand-picked managers who did not believe in management, how could they run the place effectively? More importantly, how could they turn Doubters into Believers?
The answer was blindingly obvious. By applying the same analytical rigor and tools that were the underlying precepts of Google itself. In a multi-year research project, Google examined a wide cross-section of high-scoring and low-scoring people managers based upon a combination of Googlegeist ratings and performance review scores. This project, dubbed Project Oxygen was the basis for answering the questions: “Do managers matter?” and "What are the traits of the best Google mangers?" The results can be seen below.
Google’s 8 Key Management Attributes
1. Be a Coach. Give specific and constructive feedback on performance, with a balance between the good and the bad. And, have regular individual meetings with those you manage, identifying how employees’ can progress based on their strengths.
2. Empowerment and Being There. Avoid micromanaging but be available for advice. Provide freedom and stretch assignments to help your group tackle big stuff.
3. Be Interested in your Employees. Show you care about people’s success and well-being. Know what their whole lives consist of, not just their work lives. Focus on integrating new team members well.
4. Don’t be a sissy. Be productive and results-oriented.
5. Listen and Communicate. Listen to your team members and share information with them. Hold team meetings; be clear about messages and the goals of the team. Don’t hide the ball but connect dots for your team. Encourage open dialogue and listen to your employees’ concerns and issues.
6. Career Development. It’s your job to help your people develop their careers.
7. Strategy. You have a clear vision and strategy for your team, and you keep the team focused on goals and strategy. The team is involved in setting the vision, the evolution of the vision and the progression towards it.
8. Technical Chops. With solid technical skills, you understand the specific challenges employees face and can advise based on knowledge. You are willing to pitch in.
The Financial Advisor as Coach
Although we can’t claim to duplicate Google’s rigorous analytical prowess, as a coaching company who serves the financial advisory community, we can anecdotally corroborate the findings as they apply to successful financial advisors. Especially Attribute #1: Be a coach.
We have observed that coaching skills have a direct correlation to the success and well-being of high-achieving financial advisors with respect to how they interact with their clients, team, and colleagues. In the coming weeks, we’ll address these observations with greater specificity and detail.