Project Oxygen

The research project helped Google identify practices and procedures that set apart good and not-so-good managers.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010
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Project Oxygen is among the projects being tackled by the Google Inc. HR department's PiLab team, a team made up of 25 scientists and researchers who focus on HR-related research designed to help the company continue to improve and innovate.

Project Oxygen is designed to measure the impact of good managers and help the company make more of them, says Director of People Analytics and Compensation Prasad Setty, one of the 2010 HR's Rising Stars.

The project got its name, says Setty, because "good managers are the lifeblood of Google, helping it grow and innovate."

"Project Oxygen is our attempt to verify here at Google the age-old HR statement that people leave organizations because of their managers," he says. "We wanted to see whether there's a huge variance in the quality of managers and if so, what kind of impact was it having on the company?"

Setty and his team examined the results from Googlegeist, the company's annual employee survey, as well as performance-management scores and other data on managers to identify good performers and poor ones.

Based on the data, the company's managers were grouped into four quadrants based on their quality.

Next, teams of researchers interviewed high-scoring and low-scoring managers to determine the practices and behaviors that separated the good ones from the not-so-good ones. It was a double-blind study: Neither the interviewers or the interviewees were told which quadrant the managers fell into, says Setty.

"We wanted to find out how frequently the managers met with their teams, how often they provided feedback to their direct reports," he says.

After conducting the interviews, Setty and his team were able to isolate the behaviors that separated the good managers from the bad, and were able to identify five negative behaviors that all managers should refrain from, he says.

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Although he declined to go into specifics about what those five behaviors were, Setty says this information -- along with the behaviors and practices employed by the highest-ranked managers -- has since been incorporated into Google's manager-training program.

"We wanted to have research-driven management practices, and Project Oxygen helped us do that," says Setty.

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* Editor's Note: According to Google: "We found that great managers shared eight common behaviors that help their teams perform at their peak and five pitfalls for managers to avoid."

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