Yeah, But We're Different

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.”
-- Margaret Mead

There was an article in the March 13 New York Times titled Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss. It describes Project Oxygen where Google studied why many of their bosses were so bad and the impact that had on employees’ performance and voluntary turnover. True to their roots, Google performed a rigorous analysis of reviews and feedback from employees, and derived a set of eight behaviors that characterize good managers at Google. The surprise (for Google, anyway) was that technical expertise was last on a list of abilities mangers needed to be effective. Well good for them. It turns out that subject matter expertise is important in becoming a good boss. It’s just that the subject requiring the expertise is Management, and not necessarily the functional domain for which the manager has responsibility. And the management domain includes both the hard stuff (that is, tangible things like processes and systems) and the soft stuff (people, culture, communications). Except the soft stuff is hard (difficult) and the hard stuff is soft (easy by comparison).

Google went through a process that worked for them. They analyzed data and synthesized its relevance and purpose. It’s most common that people don’t accept a new idea (or product, or service, or whatever) until they can see (not imagine… see) their world reflected in it. So Google needed to understand what it means to be a good manager at Google before they could embrace principles the NYT Editor Adam Bryant described as ‘forehead-slappingly obvious’. I love the quote from the late Douglas Adams: ‘Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.’

Almost every organization falls back on ‘yeah, but we’re different’. And true enough, no two organizations are alike. All are distinct, yet retain fundamental similarities, especially that they are comprised of people: diverse people, drawing from and operating in different cultures, but all members of the same club.

The best management system is generative, not prescriptive. It allows you to find your way to create the organization and the future you want to have. Google found a key part of theirs.

Has your organization?