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Employees Quit Managers, not Companies (as Proved by Google)

Editor’s Note: The author, Dwight Mihalicz, is a subject expert matter on effective management and hosting a free webinar for Flevy’s audience on Empowerment 4.0.   The focus of Empowerment 4.0 is to help managers of managers understand the elements that need to be in place for effective teams.  Most management training focuses on the “soft skills,” whereas the teachings of Empowerment 4.0 are more fundamental and can help managers deal with root-cause issues of why they are not getting the team performance they desire and should be able to expect.  You can sign up for the free webinar here.

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Most of our information on manager effectiveness comes from surveys and monitoring workplace metrics. However, it is a problematic category of data to evaluate and analyze, because while good management practices exist, a lot will depend on what the employees perceive as beneficial.

But can a manager’s effectiveness at his job significantly affect whether an employee will stay with the company or quit? To answer this, we can take a look at Google’s Project Oxygen, which set out to prove that managers weren’t necessary, especially for a company with a flat organization. However, they managed to show the opposite.

Google’s Project Oxygen

Google started their Project Oxygen in 2008 as a way to measure whether their engineers benefited from managemer effectiveness. However, over the years the project turned into an effort to identify good management practices and describe them comprehensively and measurably. It has significantly contributed to the company culture while keeping it unchanged at its core.

Even though the project was carried out by Google, using only their stats and for their use; it still provided some insights that managers in any industry could use. The decade-long project identified traits that good managers possessed and bad ones didn’t. It clearly showed that the absence of these traits could make an employee want to leave.

How Employees Describe a Good Manager

It comes as no surprise that these positive traits had the manager-employee relationship at their core. Google found that an effective manager is:

  • A good coach — using problems as teaching moments and opportunities to provide guidance, rather than trying to solve it instead of the team;
  • Not a micromanager — exhibiting trust in their group and giving them the freedom to develop their working style and experiment;
  • A builder of psychological safety — making sure no employee will be punished or embarrassed if they ask a question, come forth with their ideas or admit to a mistake;
  • Savvy at emotional intelligence — understanding how to motivate employees and help them strive for better results;
  • A great communicator — listening and understanding problems of employees, sharing knowledge and giving both positive and negative feedback;
  • Interested in employees’ career development — providing career guidance and being invested in the future of the employees;
  • Always aware of the vision for the team — knowing where they’re going and making sure the entire team knows that as well;
  • Able to advise the team on technical issues — being skilled at the work they’re overseeing helps managers advise their employees if the need arises.

Traits that Make Employees Leave

On the other hand, the data gathered by Google also helped identify the critical characteristics of managers that failed to keep their employees at the company. They:

  • Had trouble adjusting to the team;
  • Didn’t have a consistent approach to managing employee performance and showed no interest in their career development;
  • Didn’t communicate well enough.

These traits lead to managerial behavior that fails to foster employee engagement and causes low motivation. Then, once a certain point is reached, an employee would rather leave an organization than continue working in an environment where one of the rarest decisive moments is their paycheck.

Even though not all companies work in the same sector and conditions as Google, they can still benefit from these observations. Your enterprise might be facing different challenges, but the methodology of making your managers better often involves similar principles. If a manager can trust in the employees, delegate works effectively and spend enough time developing a good relationship with them; employees will be happier and more motivated to do good work.

About Dwight Mihalicz

Dwight Mihalicz has over 40 years’ experience helping local, national, and international organizations achieve greater productivity, efficiency, and performance. He is also teaching a 7-week Flevy Executive Learning (FEL) program on effective management called Empowerment 4.0, as well as giving a free webinar by the same title. Sign up for the webinar here.

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