Google Just Revealed What They Do to Select, Train, and Develop Their Successful Managers

In a recent podcast at Google’s Re:work, Sarah Calderon, a manager at Google who oversees Google’s Manager Development curriculum, revealed some nifty secrets about how they train and develop great managers.

She shares five lessons that will give your organization an edge in management training and development.

1. High-performing employees don’t necessarily make good managers. 

It’s a mistake to think that a high-performing individual contributor should be promoted to management; it’s often a different skillset to lead people that so many are unfit or unqualified to do.

Calderon says to find great managers, you should look at how someone works with others and how they get things done. Do they adjust their style to work with others? Do they clarify roles and responsibilities for team members? Can they provide feedback in a meaningful way?

But equally important is to determine whether they enjoy managing. Do they actually like the relational aspects of dealing with different people and personalities, and meeting the needs of employees? If an existing manager is miserable in his job wishing he had his old job back, it’s time to cut him loose from that role.

2. The best time to train new managers is a few months into the job. 

Companies often make the mistake of identifying high potentials to place into management roles, then put these people into a management training program before they get their “noses bloodied” by becoming actual managers in a real world setting.

Calderon says the best thing to do is to give them a few basic resources that they can find when they need them during the first few months on the job, and then wait until they’ve been managing for a couple months before you put them through a formalized management training.

And don’t wait too long — too much time may allow for too many mistakes to be made and bad habits to form — but wait long enough so they actually start to understand what the job is and get through some real life challenges, otherwise it becomes a theoretical exercise. At Google, it’s usually three months.

3. Don’t overwhelm new managers. 

The last thing Google wants to see is new managers experiencing burnout. The approach, says Calderon, is to think about what new managers need in those first six months on the job and give them just enough so that they can remember what they learned and go back and practice and build on it later. At Google, training focuses on four specific areas:

  • Providing feedback
  • Being a good coach.
  • Developing a growth mindset (a culture of learning for the individual manager and for their teams)
  • Developing emotional intelligence (and more specifically, self awareness and awareness of your team). One of the features of training related to EQ has to do with helping managers know their own triggers so that they can take on challenging situations with self-awareness. An example Calderon gave is how uncomfortable it can be to give someone feedback; in order to do that well, managers have to know how to manage themselves and their emotions first.

4. Training isn’t the only way to support your managers. 

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your managers have to learn from experts. At Google, managers learn from each other, a lot. They are encouraged to conduct peer coaching, helping each other get feedback and find ways to improve on their day to day activities.

Calderon emphasizes the importance of creating a “culture of learning, practice, feedback and reflection” so managers continuously know what they’re doing well and what they need to do to get better. 

From an organizational standpoint, it’s important for senior leaders to encourage their managers to talk to each other to solve their own challenges; they need to invest in the systems and processes, such as tools for collecting feedback, that support their managers.

5. Give managers the feedback they need to get better. 

Once a year, “Googlers” fill out a survey on their manager’s performance to provide them feedback. Their performance is measured against what Google scientifically found to be the eight management behaviors that consistently produced happier teams, better results, higher retention and the best teams

But what works for Google managers doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for any organization. To determine what makes managers great in your establishment, consider these questions:

  • Do managers matter at your organization? 
  • If managers matter, whom do you need to convince and how? 
  • What makes a great manager at your organization? 

Conclusion

I found that there’s a redeeming quality to Google’s approach to training their managers. Calderon was asked: What happens if someone doesn’t pass the management training? Maybe they excel in some areas but struggle on emotional intelligence. How do you handle that?

Her response gave me a clear indication that empathy is not only a strong value at Google, but upon further investigation, it’s a manager behavior expected of all managers. Calderon said:

Its important to know that somebody is not going to walk out of training and be a great manager right away. Sometimes when you learn a new skill, it actually gets harder before it gets easier. The most important thing is to be open, supportive, and create a learning environment; be specific about how that manager can improve and give them resources to get better; and then measure that over time. If progress isn’t made, have a conversation about whether or not this is the right role, the right team, but again have some empathy for your managers as they go through some growing pains. 

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