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Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss Begins with Insight

Last week I outlined a 7-step path for Getting To Insight. This week, Google offers a real-world example of how steps 3 and 4 – “gather data” and “steep and percolate” – lead us closer to insight.

In “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss,” NY Times writer Adam Bryant describes Project Oxygen, an initiative by Google to improve management effectiveness by doing what Google does best: Mining data.  Project Oxygen teammates surrounded themselves with data associated with the worthy goal.

Google analyzed performance reviews and employee feedback surveys. They analyzed words and phrases, praise and complaints, and attempted to discern via the data what makes a better boss.

The output was a list of eight directives, “Google’s Rules” — Eight Good Behaviors and Three Pitfalls of Managers — for how to be a better boss, including:

  • Be a good coach.
  • Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being.
  • Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
  • Help your employees with career development.

Steep and Percolate: Immerse Yourself in Data in Pursuit of Insight

Google didn’t rely just on a mechanical gathering and analysis of the data, points out Duke University professor Cathy Davidson, co-founder of the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HĀSTAC):

“It took actual, human reading of the language of the reports to understand the nuances of the patterns and to formulate a Google management method based on those,” says Davidson in a recent blog post.

In other words, Google immersed itself in the data. It contemplated it, respected it, talked it up and talked it over.

The Project Oxygen team steeped and percolated, allowing the data to teach them about the goal.

Maturing from Instinct to Insight in Decision-Making

The Google example points out one of the key flaws in how leaders make decisions – instinct uninformed or undisturbed by contemplative emersion in relevant data. As Bryant writes:

“H.R. has long run on gut instincts more than hard data. But a growing number of companies are trying to apply a data-driven approach to the unpredictable world of human interactions.”

This intuition-based approach isn’t fatal, but it isn’t flawless either. And it isn’t constrained to human resources. Indeed, many failures of decision-making originate from a disconnect among values, perception, and authority – at the intersection between performance goals and personal well-being.

If we are to access insight at will, we need a game plan for getting there. Google shows that a methodical approach is possible, even in a “squishy” area like management.

What is your biggest hurdle to reaching insight?

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