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Harvard business case analysis- Google's Project Oxygen: Do Managers Matter?
UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON-VICTORIA
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This paper starts out by exploring on the Harvard business case scenario of Google’s project
oxygen that evaluates whether managers matter. The paper then evaluates Google’s culture,
the characteristics of people who work at Google, Pilab implementation of project oxygen,
assessment of oxygen 8 attributes, evaluates Setty’s priorities moving forward and then
highlights the various challenges of creating truly amazing managers and finally gives outs
During the early days of Google many people who worked within the company used
to greatly question the usefulness of managers. According to Gravin, Wagonfeld & Kind,
2011, Google Company has been built and developed by qualified engineers and the same
qualified engineers should be used to maintain Google operations. Therefore, management
was unnecessary and a diversionary approach that hinders the company from realizing its
tangible goals. The founder Larry Page and Sergey Brin at some point in time wondered what
the importance of managers was. As a result, they decided to experiment practically by
removing managers’ in order to break down hindrances to ideal development and growth.
(Gravin, Wagonfeld & Kind, 2011).
In an effort to prove the worth of managers Page and Brin in the year 2006 brought in
Laszlo Bock to spearhead the human resource operation. The human resource operation
managed review of performances, conducted employees analysis on career development,
analysed benefits, other packages and also the culture of the company. In the same year, they
hired Prasad Setty from Capital One to spearhead the team of analysts. Setty recruited PHDS
who undertook intensive researches. The analytical team formed a small team to focus on
employee’s sustainability and productivity. In the year 2009 the similar question that had
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been asked previously surmised again, whether managers mattered? In an effort to fully
answer this question Google launched Project Oxygen a long term research initiative
intending to measure management behaviours (Gravin, Wagonfeld & Kind, 2011).
Google Company did not regard hierarchical order of seniority but believed in power
among individuals when recruiting employees in order to exercise the right cultural fit. The
company utilized data driven processes in hiring of its employees hence, it was able to attract
young and focused individuals with the right creativity abilities. The challenge that
confronted Google was the fact that its hiring system did not value management. Therefore,
the main question that arose was how then could it run the organisation efficiently and
effectively? Turning those people who were doubters to become believers or convincing
them to manage others was a great hindrance. The plan did not materialize because many
people approached Page in regards to expenditure reports, internal conflicts and other
important details. It is from this lesson that they learnt that managers contribute immensely to
important details (Garvin, 2013).
For instance, managers contribute by assisting in implementation of communication
strategies, prioritization of projects, enhancing collaboration and aiding development of
careers and making sure that systems and programs align well with Google’s human resource
at various layers and levels. It has over thirty seven thousand employees, five thousand
managers, one thousand directors and over one hundred presidents. To prevent
micromanaging the company for instance, they recruited thirty direct reports engineering
managers. The company has recorded statistical improvement in several areas because of
managerial efficiency and good performance (Garvin, 2013).
The culture of Google is based on its principles of organizing world information in a
coherent manner to make it globally accepted and useful. In line with Google’s culture, the
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employee’s value and satisfaction is a priority. The employees freely access a conducive and
friendly environment through exercises of employee retention and motivations through
incentives, rewards and promotions (Hill, 2014).
Google ensures that employees are creative, innovative, and good risk takers. For
instance, one Vice President of the company in charge of advertising made a terrible mistake
that made the company lose billions of money and she had no option but to apologize.
However, through encouragement of the virtue of being risk takers, Larry Page positively
appreciated her effort and said it is good to make a mistake in trying to make more money for
the company and expeditiously rather than doing too little and not making any mistake thus
encouraging risk taking (Cascio & Boudreau, 2012).
Google has also the culture of utilizing data that has helped it realize its effective
implementation of management strategies. Google uses analysts to spearhead its human
resource management strategy and value chains in action plan implementation. In enhancing
these data culture, Google uses six steps of analytical value chain to make sure it realizes and
makes the most from the data culture (Sullivan, 2013).
The analytical step includes opinion, data, metrics, analysis, insight, and action. In the
aid of analytics, Google people and innovation lab commonly denoted as PiLab demonstrated
that any given team could perform well when they have a very good performing manager.
Google also used the analytics to plan how to chart forward the hiring strategy. Therefore,
PiLab team of Google, through the use of analytics disregarded the opinion that only some
specific employees receive promotions compared to others. Therefore, Google’s culture
highly supports inclusion of managers in Google human resource (Sullivan, 2013).
Characteristics of people who work at Google
According to Gravin, Wagonfeld & Kind, 2011 to enhance this, project oxygen team,
highlighted various important characteristics of people who work at Google, namely:
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Google employees are prone to the culture of innovation and changes. The employees
are competent, dedicated, and passionate about innovation and creativity. This helps
them to become productive and focus on positive results only. The employees
appreciate each other’s innovation and creativity and help each other achieve good
results. They also appreciate anybody who helps them prioritize on their goals and
The leaders depict high level of honesty and regard their roles as empowering,
coaching, and countering imminent obstacles. It is possible through accessing free
advisory services. They engage in external assignments, which prepare to handle
major problems thus empowering them.
The employees and leaders practice the culture of innovation recognition and
incentives system. This is possible through their beliefs in individual career
development, maintenance of clear visions and exercising right strategies. They
ensure that they remain focused despite challenges in achieving set goals. Those who
help realizing this goals and objectives are rewarded through incentives.
The people at Google have the mindset of dedication to continuous learning. The top
leadership is highly dedicated and prone to changes. They depict this through being
good listeners and practicing communication as a two way process through dialogues
and sharing of important information effectively and without discrimination. This
helps them enact required changes within the company.
The people who work at Google are of the view that good and new prospective ideas
comes from anywhere and from anybody. They therefore are able to express interest
in team member’s success and personal well-being. They also receive and handle new
employees very well.
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PiLab implementation of Oxygen 8
PiLab is a special subgroup that is only present in Google Company. The work and
purpose of the group is to conduct experiments in Google company to come up with the most
viable and healthy approaches that can be adopted by the company to maintain a competitive
edge in the market arena. One of the strategies is inclusion of managers in Google’s
operations. The team also maintains a pacific working environment of all the employees and
managers by discerning the types of rewards that makes them happy. The piLab team for
instance, during the implementation of Oxygen 8 improved employee and managers health
status by reducing their calorie intake at the Google eating facilities. The Pilab team
undertook this healthy approach through use of data and experiments and as result reduced
the sizes of the plates used by the employees (Dekas, 2011).
Through Pilab, project oxygen was expanded to help the senior manager’s acquire
necessary skills to motivate the employees through introduction of senior management
trainings. As a result there were multifaceted advantages realized which included having a
productive management team. The managers realized their strengths and weakness,
opportunities and treats. Training enabled senior management influence the subordinate’s
staffs to realize company goals and objectives. It also ensured interaction among the senior
management and the employee’s thus leading to effective running of the organization
(Cascio, & Boudreau, 2012).
Pilab also introduced guidance to select the best team members. This is because the
best team would help greatly in achieving company goals and also ensure good association
and collaboration among the team members because they are like-minded hence increasing
productivity. Through Pilab’s guidance provision, employees’ satisfaction is highly increased
(Cascio & Boudreau, 2012). This as result increases their morale hence freedom to undertake
their duties through innovation and creativity in line with company’s culture (Hill, 2014).
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Assessment of Oxygen 8 attributes
The project oxygen asserted that managers mattered. However, to fully support this
finding Google needed to figure out and evaluate what the best managers can do. In these
assessments the researchers undertook an interview by asking both the high performing and
low performing manager’s various questions. For instance, how often does a manager have
career growth discussions with the direct reports and what does the manager do to develop a
mission and vision for the team? The assessment included managers from various Google
department for instance engineering, global business and administrative departments. After
intensive analysis project oxygen identified eight behaviours that were found in the high
performing managers. The attributes identified came from Google managers thereby Google
asserted that they were based on its culture and therefore, effective and essential. The
attributes were about Google, by Google and for Google (Gravin, Wagonfeld & Kind,2011).
According to Gravin, Wagonfeld & Kind, 2011 the top eight Oxygen attributes of Google
Being a good coach
Empowering the teams without micromanaging
Allowing members to express interest in team groups and personal well beings
Being productive and always result oriented
Being a good orator and listener of the various teams
Helping employees with career development
Having a clear vision and mission strategies of the teams
Possessing technical skills of advising the teams
Through a team of analytsts, an evaluation of the highlighted eight habits was done ranging
from highest managers to lowest managers. It emerge before introduction of project oxygen
that people used to manage themselves and in case of any assistance requirement, one would
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seek assistance from technical people. Many managers had acquired managerial positions
because of technical abilities (Raines, 2012).
However their ability, to code and experience ranked last in reference to the
highlighted eight attributes of managers. It emerged that the employees were highly rated on
one on one meetings and prowess to solve problems (Kay, 2012). It therefore, emerges that
Google is highly aided by data approach in enhancing its human resource strategies. Other
companies use generic and conventional management strategies. The companies suffers
rejections due to lack of evidence and prioritization of important thereby making one as a
great manager instead of training one as a great manager goals but Google success is based
on the highlighted eight attributes that suit their employees(Kay, 2012).
Setty’s priorities moving forward
Prasad Setty realized the importance of managers within Google and thereby set
priorities of moving forward to continue building oxygen findings on the most effective
management practices. Setty prioritizes to establish the driving force for managers to move
from being good to being the best. Therefore, he set out to explore people interactions by
encompassing an accurate and precise data collection mode with tools of science that can
help him identify in-depth insight into the art and craft management. In doing so, Setty’s big
challenge was to accurately measure how the employees feel in regard to the company and
how best performers especially managers and employees can be retained in the company
Setty has the outstanding ability of in-depth understanding of data and can therefore
use it to build Google into one of the best organizations. The major responsibility of Setty is
to come up with what was on minds of the company employees also called the “googlers”
make sure the highest performers are retained and create new ideas to the company
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According to McIlvaine ,2010) to maintain competent managers Google is not
supposed to copy best practices from best companies but must instead highly rely on internal
data and discern what is feasible or not feasible. For instance, Setty oversaw the creation and
implementation of Pilab team responsible with developing and building decision making
systems devoid of cognitive errors, hence, easier to leverage employee’s talents. For instance,
Pilabs project oxygen has the ability to evaluate and measure impacts of good managers,
discern the characteristics of good and bad managers and then recommend the best managers
for the organization. Setty’s team prioritizes developing a firm spirit of “googlegeist” and
yearly evaluation of employees who hit the achievement level of over 85% among the
companies’ twenty thousand employees (Mcilvaine, 2010).
This has resulted in multifaceted initiatives based on the feedback acquired from
employees. However, Settty’s notes that he fails to focus on employee engagement a factor
he sets out to prioritize to make sure that it appeals all the human resource people as well as
the business leaders. Googlegeist asks all employees whether they plan to remain on
employment or plan to leave. Employees answered either anonymously or by displaying
their names. In doing this, setty is able to know whether company’s retention strategies are
operational or not effective. The results obtained may be shared on an annual basis by
company seniors and managers and also the employees are informed if their feedback is acted
upon or not (Mcilvaine, 2010).
Setty argues that if employees’ feedback is not acted upon, participation rates drops
because employees will feel demoralized to contribute again. Setty also sets out to ascertain
that all the best performers continue working productively within the organization while all
the unproductive and inefficient employees, who despite opportunities to improve fail to
show prospects of improvement are given alternatives in other places where they can thrive.
The setty’s team has also developed a system that analyses on quarterly basis all the poor
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performers and in most cases all those employees and managers who record continuous poor
performances. They are given training and coaching to aid them better their performance but
if such mechanisms fail these employees are given alternative employments elsewhere.
Setty’s team has realized the worth of managers in Google and aims to create a tremendous
team that can work efficiently to help Google realize its set objectives and goals of
continuous innovation and improvement (Mcilvaine, 2010).
To move forward Google Company must focus on senior managers because it can
highly help in building good relations with shareholders, ensure efficient communication
from employees (Fitzroy, Hulbert, & Ghobadian, 2012). The company must also come up
with the best employee recruitment and engagement methods to have the best employees who
can steer the company to coveted growth (Miller & Gordon, 2014). The company must also
make use of the Pilab implementation strategies to help managers realize their worth and
weakness, their opportunities and weakness and other guidance method to help the company
realize the set goals (Ralph, 2011).
The challenge of creating truly amazing managers
There are various aspects that pose multifaceted challenges to creating truly amazing
managers for Google Company as well as other companies. The challenges may be external
or internal, created by individuals or by the organization itself. These factors include
awareness, desire knowledge and ability (Manfred, Stroh, Northcraft, & Neale, 2002).
Lack of awareness creates negative attitude towards something simply because one
does not know. Sometimes people heed ideas very well and provide various advices but will
not exercise the ideas due to their negative attitudes posing challenge to create an amazing
team of managers. Awareness poses a great challenge to creating a truly amazing
management team in the respect that many managers who resist changes within the
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organization lack awareness hence the resistance. Therefore, in making any change within the
company awareness exercise must be done before a project begins to other team managers.
This helps to answer various questions for instance, the why question is often overlooked.
Any manager willing to undertake a new project will only stipulate what is to be done
without giving concrete reasons why it is to be done. Therefore, the other managers will lack
awareness and will in the end oppose the change hence undermining managers’ collaboration
(Manfred, Stroh, Northcraft, & Neale, 2002).
Lack of common desire causes indifference among managers. In most cases it is a
personal choice and decision to support a certain idea. For instance, in Google when new
changes are introduced different managers have different opinions and different desired
results therefore; they may not support each other to enhance the right strategy (Fitzroy,
Hullbert & Ghobadian, 2012). Although one may influence another person’s decision no one
has the ability to impart desire within another person. Therefore, if one team manager has a
very lucrative business idea or project that needs to be done he will lack the ability to
influence other managers to develop the desire to support this idea hence may resist such a
lucrative idea due to lack of desire. This indifference poses a great challenge to create
amazing team of managers. Therefore, the respective manager requires highlighting both
personal as well as organizational drivers for change by leveraging support from other high
level managers, supervisor and employees to create a desire (Manfred, Stroh, Northcraft, &
For instance, in Google some managers who viewed being experienced and very good
in coding was a good enough reason to term them as knowledgeable and competent enough
to become the best managers were shocked when they were rated very low. This made them
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feel isolated hence, less cooperative with the highly rated managers because in their view
they have the required knowledge and experience required creating a challenge to create an
amazing team of managers (Miller & Gordon, 2014). Some projects require extra knowledge
either to start or even continue. If the employees, supervisors and other team managers are
not taken to training and lacks the required knowledge to undertake the project may oppose
the project hence inability to create amazing team of managers (Manfred, Stroh, Northcraft,
& Neale, 2002).
Ability becomes a hindrance when organizations have no ability to sustain and
support project development. In addition, many changes and project opportunities happens
very fast that employees will lack the time to turn their knowledge in to ability hence inability
to create a good team of managers(Manfred, Stroh, Northcraft, & Neale, 2002).
Reinforcement is hindered by time and energy. In many organizations there are
multifaceted efforts underway that the organization lacks required time and energy to utilize
on reinforcement of changes. In addition, it emerges that during the planning process many
reinforcement changes are not included hence it might become an obstacle if required
because it had not been budgeted for. Reinforcement is usually undertaken when the initial
project is outlaid and during such a time the project team usually moves to another project
hence the likelihood of forgetting reinforcement making it an afterthought hence the inability
to create a truly amazing management team (Manfred, Stroh, Northcraft, & Neale, 2002).
First and foremost one must appreciate and accept the fact that management is vital,
necessary and unavoidable for any given company to succeed. For a company to succeed in
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management strategies it must emulate Google tactics. It can maintain a good culture for
instance like that of Google (Sullivan, 2013).
Having the right characteristics of people for instance Google employees and
managers are prone to the culture of innovation, creativity and changes, (Gravin, Wagonfeld
& Kind, 2011).
One also needs to use an appropriate implementation team like the Pilabs
implementation team used by Google which highly assisted in managers and employee’s
health improvement (Gravin, Wagonfeld & Kind, 2011). One also must practice the required
attributes like the top eight Oxygen attributes of Google for instance being a good orator and
listener of the various teams.
One also must set the priorities right for instance, Setty prioritizes to understand data
accurately (McIlvaine, 2010). One must also note and identify the existing challenges that
hinder institution of good management team for instance awareness, desire knowledge and
ability (Manfred, Stroh, Northcraft, & Neale, 2002). Based on these recommendation one can
institute a successful company.
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