Q: What is the best way to get analytical engineers to be “squishy”?
A: Project Oxygen is a good first step
It’s a stretch for most people to think about “analytics” and “human resources” in the same meme. Those “people people” are so extroverted and those “geeks” are so introverted that it seems that never the twain shall meet. But what if you combined the thinking of the geek with the empathy of a personnel manager? Et voila! You get Project Oxygen.
Project Oxygen is an effort by Google to find out what makes a boss “good”. In a company of engineers, they assumed it was engineering skills. But they were wrong.
Google managers had a much greater impact on the performance of employees and how those employees felt about their jobs than they imagined. And it wasn’t engineering expertise that made the managers well-regarded; it was their people skills.
How did they find this out? Well, they did what Google does best; they mined their data. Google’s vice president for people operations, Laszlo Bock, applied an analytical approach to their people management. And what he found out surprised him. He learned that his engineers valued “the ability to code” last in a list of desired manager attributes, and “even-keeled” bosses who made time to talk with their team members and took an interest in employees’ lives as the most valuable attribute.
Once Google understood – from their own data – what the problems were in managing their employees, they began training programs targeted to those findings. Google began to offer coaching and performance review techniques for managers and within six months found improvements in management behaviors.
While none of this sounds like rocket science, the money this potentially saved Google was probably substantial, as turnover costs undoubtedly decreased. Google, as usual, has been a step ahead in understanding and using business analytics to manage their human resource strategies and has applied the same rigor to H.R. that they use for business development. It’s a lesson for us all. Time for a whiff of oxygen.
For more information about business analytics for talent management, visit MEP’s webpage.
 Bryant, Adam. Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss. New York Times. March 12, 2012.