Lessons from Google on Coaching for Engagement


In early 2009, a group of statisticians at Google embarked on an ambitious study code-named Project Oxygen. Their mission was to find evidence-based ways to build better bosses.

Project Oxygen

They analyzed Google’s performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards. They correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints. When the dust settled, they produced what some affectionately now refer to as the 8 Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.

It validated many of the concepts and tools we wrote about in, “Coaching for Engagement”. Simply put, managers at Google had a much greater impact on employee engagement and performance than any other factor. The key to those relationships was the quality and frequency of conversations they had.

Where is the Disconnect?

So what gets in the way of managers coaching for engagement?

Let’s face it… most organizations try to take on more than they can handle. This leaves managers deluged with accelerated action plans, higher performance goals, shortened innovation cycles, and the simultaneous introduction of new or revised organizational systems. As a result, most managers are so busy focusing on their own work and whatever is most urgent, they have no time left over to focus on developing and coaching their people. Instead, they “manage by exception,” only dealing with problems, mistakes, and complaints about their employees. To sum up the problem most managers are facing: Too much work to do, no time to coach.

Given that the enormous time and performance pressure we all face is not going away, what’s a manager to do? Make the most of the time available. The less time employees have with their manager, the more positive and meaningful that time needs to be – the more each conversation needs to count.

Coaching For Engagement

That is essentially why we wrote Coaching for Engagement. By adopting a coaching stance rather than a directive one, managers get relief from the exhaustive and never-ending task of solving other’s problems and telling them what to do next. This is a huge benefit for most managers! Using coaching, managers also launch a positive spiral that invites more initiative, more productivity, and greater effectiveness from employees over time.

Over the next few months, I look forward to sharing more insights, tips and tools from Coaching for Engagement and how leaders are applying the concepts in their organizations.

Your Turn!

What do you think of Google’s Project Oxygen? Have you had an experience with a great manager? What qualities and attributes made that managers stand out?

Russell Hunter