Inside the Recruiter’s Head: What He’s Really Asking You During the Interview- by Jayne Mattson

Jayne Mattson is Senior Vice President at Keystone Associates, a leading career management and transition services consulting firm in Boston, Massachusetts. Mattson specializes in helping mid-to-senior level individuals in new career exploration, networking strategies and career decisions based on corporate culture fit.
You applied for a new job, and you’ve been called in for an interview. During the interview process, there are three main questions that need to be answered to help the HR person determine if you’re the right fit for the job:
  • Can this person do the job?
  • Will he do the job?
  • Will he fit in with the company culture?

By asking what I call “the question behind the question,” hiring managers have a better chance to making the right hiring decision. As job seekers, your task is to answer them honestly and fully. Here are 10 top questions that the interviewer might ask, along with the hidden agenda behind each one. Tread carefully — the way you approach the answer might tell more than what you actually say.

1. As you reflect back at your last position, what was missing that you are looking for in your next role?

This question gets at the heart of why you’re leaving the current job or, in the case of a reduction in workforce, it helps the interviewer understand what was missing. If you answer with, “I didn’t have access to my boss, which made it difficult to get questions answered,” then the interviewer might follow up with, “Can you give me a specific example where you had to make a decision on your own because your boss was not available?” This follow-up question will help the interviewer determine your level of decision making and how much access to the manager you’ll need.

2. What qualities of your last boss did you admire, and what qualities did you dislike?

This is precarious territory because your answer needs to have a balance of positive and negative feedback. It will show if you are tactful in answering a tricky question and if your leadership style is congruent with the admired or disliked ones. If you name a trait the interviewer dislikes or that’s not in line with company culture, then you might not be a fit for the position.

3. How would you handle telling an employee his position is being eliminated after working for the company for 25 years, knowing they would be emotional?

This question is not unrealistic in today’s job market, since companies continue to downsize as a way of conducting business. Knowing that you might have to deal with this situation, the interviewer wants to know how you would tell the long-term employee the bad news. Would you tell the business reason why the company is downsizing, and would you thank the person in a genuine, heartfelt way for years of service?

4. How do you like to be rewarded for good performance?

As simple as this question is, it helps the interviewer get a sense of what motivates you — is it money, time off or more formal recognition? If you’re interviewing for a management role, the follow-up question could be: How do you reward the good performance of employees who work for you? Are you a “do as I say, not as I do” type of manager? The interviewer is looking for congruency in behaviors, because if you don’t practice what you preach, then it might not be a cultural fit.

5. Can you give me an example of when your relationship with your manager went off track and how you handled it?

The interviewer is listening for the reasons why the relationship went off track. Are you taking responsibility for your own actions first or placing blame on the manager? The interviewer wants to learn more about your communication style and how you approach conflict.

6. When a person says “I have integrity,” what does that mean to you?

The follow-up question is: “How have you demonstrated integrity in your work?” Integrity is broad, and most people think they have it, but can you really articulate what it looks and sounds like? The interviewer is looking for congruency of words and actions with this question.

7. Can you tell me about your experience working with the generation X or Y? What are the three qualities you admire about them?

There’s been much talk about the work habits of various generations. At a startup, you’ll likely be working with younger people, and employers want to know how you will integrate with this population. And young people will be working with baby boomers at bigger companies, like Dell and Apple. The interviewer will be looking for ways you’ve collaborated with workers of all ages and used each others’ talents to achieve a goal — do you have the energy, drive and attitude to work well with others?

8. Do you think age discrimination exists in the job market and if so, why?

Some job seekers use “age discrimination” or “I make too much money” as the reasons why they did not get the interview or the job. In reality, they have applied for a job for which they are overqualified. They have too many skills for this particular job and the employer can find someone who has the exact skill and salary that commensurate with the job. Don’t make that mistake.

9. Can you convince me you are the most qualified person for this role based on what we have discussed?

The interviewer wants to make sure you clearly understand what the problems are and what would be expected of you in the event of your hire. This is the opportunity for you to sell yourself effectively for the job.

10. As you look at your previous companies, can you describe in detail which company culture did you excel in the most and why?

The interviewer is looking for a culture fit, which is one of the essential criteria for job satisfaction. They want to hire someone who will do his best work for you, so do your research before you go in for the interview.

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JAYNE MATTSONJayne Mattson is Senior Vice President of Keystone Associates, specializes in helping mid-to-senior level individuals in new career exploration, networking strategies and career decisions based on corporate culture fit

Encourage Your Employees to Talk About Other Job Offers – by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh

Why can’t employees speak honestly about their career goals with their managers? It’s because of the reasonable belief that doing so is risky and career-limiting if the employee’s aspirations do not perfectly match up with the manager’s existing views and time horizons. It seems safer to wait until another job offer is in hand, so that if one’s manager reacts badly to one’s ideas, there’s no danger of being passed over for on-going professional development, or worse, left unemployed. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: once an employee has gone far down the road with another potential employer, it’s hard for her to maintain a positive relationship with her current company.

Neither manager nor employee necessarily wants the current employment relationship to end, but because of the lack of trust and honesty, that’s precisely what becomes likely to happen with talented employees.

If you want to forge a high-trust alliance with your workforce, take a page from a popular clause in founder employment agreements — the “Right Of First Refusal” (ROFR). When a founder wants to sell stock in the company and has an offer to purchase some or all of the shares, the company has the right to exercise its ROFR and buy the stock at the offered price. This compromise reassures the founder (or employee) that the company can’t block the sale of stock while allowing the company to make sure it isn’t saddled with investors it doesn’t want.

We believe that an equivalent compromise can help improve the employer-employee relationship: the “Right of First Conversation” (ROFC). If an employee decides she wants to explore other career options, she commits to talking with her current manager first, so that the company, if it so desires, has the opportunity to define a more appealing job or role. This doesn’t mean that the employee informs her manager every time she receives a call from a headhunter—this kind of disclosure would be onerous for both employee and manager. Rather, the employee should initiate a conversation when she is seriously considering alternate job offers or career paths. Similarly, the employee should also approach the manager if she felt strongly that her current tour of duty no longer fits, and that without a change, she would feel obligated to start looking for another employer.

As with other aspects of the employer-employee alliance, the ROFC isn’t a binding legal contract. It’s an understanding between manager and employee that carries moral weight if violated.

Because the employer typically holds the power in the relationship, it’s up to the company to take the first step towards building the necessary trust. Managers need to say, “We don’t fire people for talking honestly about their career goals,” and truly mean it. Once employees believe that the company will live up to those words, managers can point out the benefits to the employee of granting them the Right of First Conversation.

First, an employee can benefit from frank career advice from a manager on specific industry opportunities. In a high trust relationship, a manager will not reactively denigrate competitors or “say anything” to keep an employee.

Second, perhaps the current company can upgrade the quality of the employee’s existing tour of duty. An employee who provides advance notice allows the company the time necessary to explore and develop more possible options and offers. If the company has weeks to match or exceed an offer from a rival, it has a much better chance of pulling together a counter than if it only had twenty-four hours to respond.

Finally, even if the company can’t present a compelling counter or the employee chooses to switch firms, the ROFC helps preserve the long-term relationship. The split can be made amicably, and on a timetable that works for both parties, honoring the mutual obligations and investment they have made in each other.

As a manager, would you rather manage a planned separation from an employee who has completed her final tour of duty? Or would you rather scramble to perform damage control on a sudden departure?

As an employee, would you rather depart amicably and become a valued member of the company’s alumni network? Or would you prefer to depart under a cloud of acrimony?

The Right of First Conversation represents a major departure from business as usual, but that’s precisely the point. The lack of trust between employer and employee is costing both parties. Adopting the ROFC helps both parties build trust and a longer, more fruitful relationship.

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Reid Hoffman is cofounder and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, and partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock. He is a co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

 

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Ben Casnocha is an award-winning entrepreneur and bestselling co-author, with Reid Hoffman, of The Start-up of You. He is a frequent speaker on talent management, and is a co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

 

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Chris Yeh is an entrepreneur, writer, and mentor. He helps interesting people do interesting things as VP of Marketing at PBworks and general partner at Wasabi Ventures. He is a co-author of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

Why Recruiting Isn’t Over When an Employee Accepts Your Offer – by Mark Suster

Recruiting. It is the bane of every startups existence because it takes up so much time, it is so competitive to sign people and it feels like unproductive time because it’s not moving the ball forward on product, engineering, sales, marketing, biz dev, fund raising. It consumes time and energy and the payoff doesn’t come for a long time.

But of course great teams build great companies and great startup leaders know that they must always be recruiting.

Yet most startup companies I’ve ever worked with or observed make one crucial mistake: They assume that their recruitment process for a candidate is over when that person accepts his or her offer. The truth is the process isn’t over until after the employee starts with the company, updates her LinkedIn profile and emails all her friends.

In fact, it’s worse than that. The moment your future head of sales, marketing, product or even junior developer says “yes” is the moment you’re most vulnerable of losing them. I’ve written about this before relating to any sales process – You’re Most Vulnerable After You’ve Won a Deal – and the same is true in recruiting.

Recruitment is war and the enemy (people competing for talent) won’t accept defeat easily. Don’t fight 90% of the war. You must win.

Here’s specifically what happens:

  • The employee gives you a verbal commitment, an email accept or in some cases even a signed offer letter
  • You high-five your team for all the hard work, the hard fought persuasion and the new superstar that will soon come help solve your problems
  • If they are as good as you think it is highly likely her existing employer will work hard to keep her. So the moment she notifies her boss is the moment that the other side is pursuing a full-court press while you are celebrating and getting back to work.
  • If the person knew she was going to leave her employer and was talking to multiple companies to be sure the next company was the right fit, the moment she notifies the other companies that she’s not accepting their offer they, too, will begin an assault of persuasion
  • So ironically at the moment it seems everything is all sunshine for you is the moment you’re completely vulnerable

So what to do?

1. Acknowledge that recruiting doesn’t stop until the employee has joined your company

2. The moment you get an “accept” you should have all of your key employees email, call or even grab lunch/drinks/coffee with the new recruit to welcome her to the team. Your goal is to create emotional bonds with the company and also to think twice about the perception that will be formed of her for accepting and then backing out (which in case you didn’t know is more common than it should be)

3. I like to create an even stronger emotional tie by making public announcements where possible. I’d want to secure permission from the employee to issue a press release. It’s a combination of the pride you take in this new recruit and it’s a way to lower the odds that they bail on you. Yes, you could get egg on your face if she still backs out afterwards but you’ve now massively lowered the risk she backs out. The candidate will look worse for backing out than you will. Obviously press releases only work if the employee isn’t junior. But it doesn’t really matter if the press wasn’t big enough for TechCrunch – it just matters that it’s in the public sphere and gets amplified through social channels.

4. I also like to give some evening homework to the new employees. To the extent she starts problem solving on your behalf and working as part of your team she will feel more commitment to you, more excitement about the new role and, again, a stronger emotional bond to not backing out.

5. Finally, if possible get your investors involved if it’s a reasonably senior position. Set up calls for VCs to welcome her to the team. The more people she has spoken with about joining the more emotional bond and the less likely of her backing out.

Summary

Recruiting is brutal. If you put in a Herculean effort to get employees and then lose them after you’ve crossed the finish line you will waste enormous energy. It’s a shame that you have to launch a welcoming committee to bear hug your incoming hire and to run an external communication plan because an acceptance should be final but reality is reality. Trust me – I’ve seen it happen time again.

You’re never done til you’re done.

And follow on reading. You’re really not even done then. If you don’t look out for your top people they, too, stay in jeopardy. It’s why I remind people – never roll out the red carpet when your best employees are on their way out the door.

What tactics do you use to make sure employees don’t bail after the offer?

Why You Hate Work – by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath

THE way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

Increasingly, this experience is common not just to middle managers, but also to top executives.

Our company, The Energy Project, works with organizations and their leaders to improve employee engagement and more sustainable performance. A little over a year ago, Luke Kissam, the chief executive of Albemarle, a multibillion-dollar chemical company, sought out one of us, Tony, as a coach to help him deal with the sense that his life was increasingly overwhelming. “I just felt that no matter what I was doing, I was always getting pulled somewhere else,” he explained. “It seemed like I was always cheating someone — my company, my family, myself. I couldn’t truly focus on anything.” Mr. Kissam is not alone. Srinivasan S. Pillay, a psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School who studies burnout, recently surveyed a random sample of 72 senior leaders and found that nearly all of them reported at least some signs of burnout and that all of them noted at least one cause of burnout at work.

More broadly, just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.

Demand for our time is increasingly exceeding our capacity — draining us of the energy we need to bring our skill and talent fully to life.

Increased competitiveness and a leaner, post-recession work force add to the pressures. The rise of digital technology is perhaps the biggest influence, exposing us to an unprecedented flood of information and requests that we feel compelled to read and respond to at all hours of the day and night.

Curious to understand what most influences people’s engagement and productivity at work, we partnered with the Harvard Business Review last fall to conduct a survey of more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across a broad range of companies and industries. We also gave the survey to employees at two of The Energy Project’s clients — one a manufacturing company with 6,000 employees, the other a financial services company with 2,500 employees. The results were remarkably similar across all three populations.

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

THE more effectively leaders and organizations support employees in meeting these core needs, the more likely the employees are to experience engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy at work, and the lower their perceived levels of stress. When employees have one need met, compared with none, all of their performance variables improve. The more needs met, the more positive the impact.

Engagement — variously defined as “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy” — has now been widely correlated with higher corporate performance. In a 2012 meta-analysis of 263 research studies across 192 companies, Gallup found that companies in the top quartile for engaged employees, compared with the bottom quartile, had 22 percent higher profitability, 10 percent higher customer ratings, 28 percent less theft and 48 percent fewer safety incidents.

A 2012 global work force study of 32,000 employees by the consulting company Towers Watson found that the traditional definition of engagement — the willingness of employees to voluntarily expend extra effort — is no longer sufficient to fuel the highest levels of performance.

Willing, it turns out, does not guarantee able. Companies in the Towers Watson study with high engagement scores measured in the traditional way had an operating margin of 14 percent. By contrast, companies with the highest number of “sustainably engaged” employees had an operating margin of 27 percent, nearly three times those with the lowest traditional engagement scores.

Put simply, the way people feel at work profoundly influences how they perform. What our study revealed is just how much impact companies can have when they meet each of the four core needs of their employees.

Renewal: Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day. They also report a nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being. The more hours people work beyond 40 — and the more continuously they work — the worse they feel, and the less engaged they become. By contrast, feeling encouraged by one’s supervisor to take breaks increases by nearly 100 percent people’s likelihood to stay with any given company, and also doubles their sense of health and well-being.

Value: Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior by a leader. Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged.

Focus: Only 20 percent of respondents said they were able to focus on one task at a time at work, but those who could were 50 percent more engaged. Similarly, only one-third of respondents said they were able to effectively prioritize their tasks, but those who did were 1.6 times better able to focus on one thing at a time.

Purpose: Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any variable in our survey. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.

We often ask senior leaders a simple question: If your employees feel more energized, valued, focused and purposeful, do they perform better? Not surprisingly, the answer is almost always “Yes.” Next we ask, “So how much do you invest in meeting those needs?” An uncomfortable silence typically ensues.

How to explain this odd disconnect? The most obvious answer is that systematically investing in employees, beyond paying them a salary, didn’t seem necessary until recently. So long as employees were able to meet work demands, employers were under no pressure to address their more complex needs. Increasingly, however, employers are recognizing that the relentless stress of increased demand — caused in large part by digital technology — simply must be addressed.

Still, the forces of habit and inertia remain powerful obstacles to better meeting employee needs. Several years ago, we did a pilot program with 150 accountants in the middle of their firm’s busy tax season.

Historically, employees work extremely long hours during these demanding periods, and are measured and evaluated based on how many hours they put in.

Recognizing the value of intermittent rest, we persuaded this firm to allow one group of accountants to work in a different way — alternating highly focused and uninterrupted 90-minute periods of work with 10-to- 15-minute breaks in between, and a full one-hour break in the late afternoon, when our tendency to fall into a slump is higher. Our pilot group of employees was also permitted to leave as soon as they had accomplished a designated amount of work.

With higher focus, these employees ended up getting more work done in less time, left work earlier in the evenings than the rest of their colleagues, and reported a much less stressful overall experience during the busy season. Their turnover rate was far lower than that of employees in the rest of the firm. Senior leaders were aware of the results, but the firm didn’t ultimately change any of its practices. “We just don’t know any other way to measure them, except by their hours,” one leader told us.

Recently, we got a call from the same firm. “Could you come back?” one of the partners asked. “Our people are still getting burned out during tax season.” Partly, the challenge for employers is trust. For example, our study found that employees have a deep desire for flexibility about where and when they work — and far higher engagement when they have more choice. But many employers remain fearful that their employees won’t accomplish their work without constant oversight — a belief that ironically feeds the distrust of their employees, and diminishes their engagement.

A truly human-centered organization puts its people first — even above customers — because it recognizes that they are the key to creating long-term value. Costco, for example, pays its average worker $20.89 an hour, Businessweek reported last year, about 65 percent more than Walmart, which owns its biggest competitor, Sam’s Club. Over time, Costco’s huge investment in employees — including offering benefits to part-time workers — has proved to be a distinct advantage.

Costco’s employees generate nearly twice the sales of Sam’s Club employees. Costco has about 5 percent turnover among employees who stay at least a year, and the overall rate is far lower than that of Walmart.

In turn, the reduced costs of recruiting and training new employees saves Costco several hundred million dollars a year. Between 2003 and 2013, Costco’s stock rose more than 200 percent, compared with about 50 percent for Walmart’s. What will prompt more companies to invest more in their employees? Pain is one powerful motivator. Often companies seek out our services when they’ve begun losing valued employees, or a C.E.O. recognizes his own exhaustion, or a young, rising executive suddenly drops dead of a heart attack — a story we’ve been told more than a half dozen times in just the past six months.

In a numbers-driven world, the most compelling argument for change is the growing evidence that meeting the needs of employees fuels their productivity, loyalty and performance. Our own experience is that more and more companies are taking up this challenge — most commonly addressing employees’ physical needs first, through wellness and wellbeing programs. Far less common is a broader shift in the corporate mindset from trying to get more out of employees to investing more in meeting their needs, so they’re both capable of and motivated to perform better and more sustainably.

THE simplest way for companies to take on this challenge is to begin with a basic question: “What would make our employees feel more energized, better taken care of, more focused and more inspired?” It costs nothing, for example, to mandate that meetings run no longer than 90 minutes, or to set boundaries around when people are expected to answer email and how quickly they’re expected to respond. Other basic steps we’ve seen client companies take is to create fitness facilities and nap rooms, and to provide healthy, high-quality food free, or at subsidized prices, as many Silicon Valley companies now do.

It also makes a big difference to explicitly reward leaders and managers who exhibit empathy, care and humility, and to hold them accountable for relying on anger or other demeaning emotions that may drive short-term results but also create a toxic climate of fear over time — with enormous costs. Also, as our study makes clear, employees are far more engaged when their work gives them an opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.

The energy of leaders is, for better or worse, contagious. When leaders explicitly encourage employees to work in more sustainable ways — and especially when they themselves model a sustainable way of working — their employees are 55 percent more engaged, 53 percent more focused, and more likely to stay at the company, our research with the Harvard Business Review found.

Mr. Kissam, the Albemarle chief executive Tony first met more than a year ago, has taken up the challenge for himself and his employees. He began by building breaks into his days — taking a walk around the block — and being more fully focused and present during time with his family. He now sets aside at least one morning on his calendar every week for reflection and thinking longer term. He has also made it a practice to send out handwritten notes of appreciation to people inside and outside the company.

Mr. Kissam has also championed a comprehensive rethinking of his organization’s practices around meetings, email, flexible work arrangements, conflict resolution and recognition. By the end of 2014 more than 1,000 of his leaders and managers will have gone through a program aimed at helping them more skillfully meet their own needs, and the needs of those they oversee.

“I can already see it’s working,” Mr. Kissam told us. “Our safety record has improved significantly this year, because our people are more focused.

We’re trusting them to do their jobs rather than telling them what to do, and then we’re appreciating them for their efforts. We’re also on the right path financially. A year from now it’s going to show up in our profitability.

I saw what happened when I invested more in myself, and now we’re seeing what happens when we invest in our employees.” Tony Schwartz is the chief executive of The Energy Project, a consulting firm. Christine Porath is an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and a consultant to The Energy Project.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 1, 2014, on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Why You Hate Work.

© 2014 The New York Times Company

How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management – by David A. Garvin

A few years into the company’s life, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin actually wondered whether Google needed any managers at all. In 2002 they experimented with a completely flat organization, eliminating engineering managers in an effort to break down barriers to rapid idea development and to replicate the collegial environment they’d enjoyed in graduate school. That experiment lasted only a few months: They relented when too many people went directly to Page with questions about expense reports, interpersonal conflicts, and other nitty-gritty issues. And as the company grew, the founders soon realized that managers contributed in many other, important ways—for instance, by communicating strategy, helping employees prioritize projects, facilitating collaboration, supporting career development, and ensuring that processes and systems aligned with company goals.

Google now has some layers but not as many as you might expect in an organization with more than 37,000 employees: just 5,000 managers, 1,000 directors, and 100 vice presidents. It’s not uncommon to find engineering managers with 30 direct reports. Flatt says that’s by design, to prevent micromanaging. “There is only so much you can meddle when you have 30 people on your team, so you have to focus on creating the best environment for engineers to make things happen,” he notes. Google gives its rank and file room to make decisions and innovate. Along with that freedom comes a greater respect for technical expertise, skillful problem solving, and good ideas than for titles and formal authority. Given the overall indifference to pecking order, anyone making a case for change at the company needs to provide compelling logic and rich supporting data. Seldom do employees accept top-down directives without question.

Google downplays hierarchy and emphasizes the power of the individual in its recruitment efforts, as well, to achieve the right cultural fit. Using a rigorous, data-driven hiring process, the company goes to great lengths to attract young, ambitious self-starters and original thinkers. It screens candidates’ résumés for markers that indicate potential to excel there—especially general cognitive ability. People who make that first cut are then carefully assessed for initiative, flexibility, collaborative spirit, evidence of being well-rounded, and other factors that make a candidate “Googley.”

So here’s the challenge Google faced: If your highly skilled, handpicked hires don’t value management, how can you run the place effectively? How do you turn doubters into believers, persuading them to spend time managing others? As it turns out, by applying the same analytical rigor and tools that you used to hire them in the first place—and that they set such store by in their own work. You use data to test your assumptions about management’s merits and then make your case.

To understand how Google set out to prove managers’ worth, let’s go back to 2006, when Page and Brin brought in Laszlo Bock to head up the human resources function—appropriately called people operations, or people ops. From the start, people ops managed performance reviews, which included annual 360-degree assessments. It also helped conduct and interpret the Googlegeist employee survey on career development goals, perks, benefits, and company culture. A year later, with that foundation in place, Bock hired Prasad Setty from Capital One to lead a people analytics group. He challenged Setty to approach HR with the same empirical discipline Google applied to its business operations.

Setty took him at his word, recruiting several PhDs with serious research chops. This new team was committed to leading organizational change. “I didn’t want our group to be simply a reporting house,” Setty recalls. “Organizations can get bogged down in all that data. Instead, I wanted us to be hypothesis-driven and help solve company problems and questions with data.”

People analytics then pulled together a small team to tackle issues relating to employee well-being and productivity. In early 2009 it presented its initial set of research questions to Setty. One question stood out, because it had come up again and again since the company’s founding: Do managers matter?

To find the answer, Google launched Project Oxygen, a multiyear research initiative. It has since grown into a comprehensive program that measures key management behaviors and cultivates them through communication and training. By November 2012, employees had widely adopted the program—and the company had shown statistically significant improvements in multiple areas of managerial effectiveness and performance.

Google is one of several companies that are applying analytics in new ways. Until recently, organizations used data-driven decision making mainly in product development, marketing, and pricing. But these days, Google, Procter & Gamble, Harrah’s, and others take that same approach in addressing human resources needs. (See “Competing on Talent Analytics,” by Thomas H. Davenport, Jeanne Harris, and Jeremy Shapiro, HBR October 2010.)

Unfortunately, scholars haven’t done enough to help these organizations understand and improve day-to-day management practice. Compared with leadership, managing remains understudied and undertaught—largely because it’s so difficult to describe, precisely and concretely, what managers actually do. We often say that they get things done through other people, yet we don’t usually spell out how in any detail. Project Oxygen, in contrast, was designed to offer granular, hands-on guidance. It didn’t just identify desirable management traits in the abstract; it pinpointed specific, measurable behaviors that brought those traits to life.

That’s why Google employees let go of their skepticism and got with the program. Project Oxygen mirrored their decision-making criteria, respected their need for rigorous analysis, and made it a priority to measure impact. Data-driven cultures, Google discovered, respond well to data-driven change.

Making the CaseProject Oxygen colead Neal Patel recalls, “We knew the team had to be careful. Google has high standards of proof, even for what, at other places, might be considered obvious truths. Simple correlations weren’t going to be enough. So we actually ended up trying to prove the opposite case—that managers don’t matter. Luckily, we failed.”

To begin, Patel and his team reviewed exit-interview data to see if employees cited management issues as a reason for leaving Google. Though they found some connections between turnover rates and low satisfaction with managers, those didn’t apply to the company more broadly, given the low turnover rates overall. Nor did the findings prove that managers caused attrition.

As a next step, Patel examined Googlegeist ratings and semiannual reviews, comparing managers on both satisfaction and performance. For both dimensions, he looked at the highest and lowest scorers (the top and bottom quartiles).

“At first,” he says, “the numbers were not encouraging. Even the low-scoring managers were doing pretty well. How could we find evidence that better management mattered when all managers seemed so similar?” The solution came from applying sophisticated multivariate statistical techniques, which showed that even “the smallest incremental increases in manager quality were quite powerful.”

For example, in 2008, the high-scoring managers saw less turnover on their teams than the others did—and retention was related more strongly to manager quality than to seniority, performance, tenure, or promotions. The data also showed a tight connection between managers’ quality and workers’ happiness: Employees with high-scoring bosses consistently reported greater satisfaction in multiple areas, including innovation, work-life balance, and career development.

In light of this research, the Project Oxygen team concluded that managers indeed mattered. But to act on that finding, Google first had to figure out what its best managers did. So the researchers followed up with double-blind qualitative interviews, asking the high- and low-scoring managers questions such as “How often do you have career development discussions with your direct reports?” and “What do you do to develop a vision for your team?” Managers from Google’s three major functions (engineering, global business, and general and administrative) participated; they came from all levels and geographies. The team also studied thousands of qualitative comments from Googlegeist surveys, performance reviews, and submissions for the company’s Great Manager Award. (Each year, Google selects about 20 managers for this distinction, on the basis of employees’ nominations.) It took several months to code and process all this information.

After much review, Oxygen identified eight behaviors shared by high-scoring managers. (See the sidebar “What Google’s Best Managers Do” for the complete list.) Even though the behaviors weren’t terribly surprising, Patel’s colead, Michelle Donovan, says, “we hoped that the list would resonate because it was based on Google data. The attributes were about us, by us, and for us.”

The key behaviors primarily describe leaders of small and medium-sized groups and teams and are especially relevant to first- and second-level managers. They involve developing and motivating direct reports, as well as communicating strategy and eliminating roadblocks—all vital activities that people tend to overlook in the press of their day-to-day responsibilities.

Putting the Findings into PracticeThe list of behaviors has served three important functions at Google: giving employees a shared vocabulary for discussing management, offering them straightforward guidelines for improving it, and encapsulating the full range of management responsibilities. Though the list is simple and straightforward, it’s enriched by examples and descriptions of best practices—in survey participants’ own words. These details make the overarching principles, such as “empowers the team and does not micromanage,” more concrete and show managers different ways of enacting them. (See the exhibit “How Google Defines One Key Behavior.”)

The descriptions of the eight behaviors also allow considerable tailoring. They’re inclusive guidelines, not rigid formulas. That said, it was clear early on that managers would need help adopting the new standards, so people ops built assessments and a training program around the Oxygen findings.

To improve the odds of acceptance, the group customized the survey instrument, creating an upward feedback survey (UFS) for employees in administrative and global business functions and a tech managers survey (TMS) for the engineers. Both assessments asked employees to evaluate their managers (using a five-point scale) on a core set of activities—such as giving actionable feedback regularly and communicating team goals clearly—all of which related directly to the key management behaviors.

The first surveys went out in June 2010—deliberately out of sync with performance reviews, which took place in April and September. (Google had initially considered linking the scores with performance reviews but decided that would increase resistance to the Oxygen program because employees would view it as a top-down imposition of standards.) People ops emphasized confidentiality and issued frequent reminders that the surveys were strictly for self-improvement. “Project Oxygen was always meant to be a developmental tool, not a performance metric,” says Mary Kate Stimmler, an analyst in the department. “We realized that anonymous surveys are not always fair, and there is often a context behind low scores.”

Though the surveys weren’t mandatory, the vast majority of employees completed them. Soon afterward, managers received reports with numerical scores and individual comments—feedback they were urged to share with their teams. (See the exhibit “One Manager’s Feedback” for a representative sample.) The reports explicitly tied individuals’ scores to the eight behaviors, included links to more information about best practices, and suggested actions each manager could take to improve. Someone with, say, unfavorable scores in coaching might get a recommendation to take a class on how to deliver personalized, balanced feedback.

People ops designed the training to be hands-on and immediately useful. In “vision” classes, for example, participants practiced writing vision statements for their departments or teams and bringing the ideas to life with compelling stories. In 2011, Google added Start Right, a two-hour workshop for new managers, and Manager Flagship courses on popular topics such as managing change, which were offered in three two-day modules over six months. “We have a team of instructors,” says people-development manager Kathrin O’Sullivan, “and we are piloting online Google Hangout classes so managers from around the world can participate.”

Managers have expressed few concerns about signing up for the courses and going public with the changes they need to make. Eric Clayberg, for one, has found his training invaluable. A seasoned software-engineering manager and serial entrepreneur, Clayberg had led teams for 18 years before Google bought his latest start-up. But he feels he learned more about management in six months of Oxygen surveys and people ops courses than in the previous two decades. “For instance,” he says, “I was worried about the flat organizational structure at Google; I knew it would be hard to help people on my team get promoted. I learned in the classes about how to provide career development beyond promotions. I now spend a third to half my time looking for ways to help my team members grow.” And to his surprise, his reports have welcomed his advice. “Engineers hate being micromanaged on the technical side,” he observes, “but they love being closely managed on the career side.”

To complement the training, the development team sets up panel discussions featuring high-scoring managers from each function. That way, employees get advice from colleagues they respect, not just from HR. People ops also sends new managers automated e-mail reminders with tips on how to succeed at Google, links to relevant Oxygen findings, and information about courses they haven’t taken.

And Google rewards the behaviors it’s working so hard to promote. The company has revamped its selection criteria for the Great Manager Award to reflect the eight Oxygen behaviors. Employees refer to the behaviors and cite specific examples when submitting nominations. Clayberg has received the award, and he believes it was largely because of the skills he acquired through his Oxygen training. The prize includes a weeklong trip to a destination such as Hawaii, where winners get to spend time with senior executives. Recipients go places in the company, too. “In the last round of promotions to vice president,” Laszlo Bock says, “10% of the directors promoted were winners of the Great Manager Award.”

Measuring ResultsThe people ops team has analyzed Oxygen’s impact by examining aggregate survey data and qualitative input from individuals. From 2010 through 2012, UFS and TMS median favorability scores rose from 83% to 88%. The lowest-scoring managers improved the most, particularly in the areas of coaching and career development. The improvements were consistent across functions, survey categories, management levels, spans of control, and geographic regions.

In an environment of top achievers, people take low scores seriously. Consider vice president Sebastien Marotte, who came to Google in 2011 from a senior sales role at Oracle. During his first six months at Google, Marotte focused on meeting his sales numbers (and did so successfully) while managing a global team of 150 people. Then he received his first UFS scores, which came as a shock. “I asked myself, ‘Am I right for this company? Should I go back to Oracle?’ There seemed to be a disconnect,” he says, “because my manager had rated me favorably in my first performance review, yet my UFS scores were terrible.” Then, with help from a people ops colleague, Marotte took a step back and thought about what changes he could make. He recalls, “We went through all the comments and came up with a plan. I fixed how I communicated with my team and provided more visibility on our long-term strategy. Within two survey cycles, I raised my favorability ratings from 46% to 86%. It’s been tough but very rewarding. I came here as a senior sales guy, but now I feel like a general manager.”

Overall, other managers took the feedback as constructively as Marotte did—and were especially grateful for its specificity. Here’s what Stephanie Davis, director of large-company sales and another winner of the Great Manager Award, says she learned from her first feedback report: “I was surprised that one person on my team didn’t think I had regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings. I saw this person every day, but the survey helped me realize that just seeing this person was different from having regularly scheduled individual meetings. My team also wanted me to spend more time sharing my vision. Personally, I have always been inspired by Eric [Schmidt], Larry, and Sergey; I thought my team was also getting a sense of the company’s vision from them. But this survey gave my team the opportunity to explain that they wanted me to interpret the higher-level vision for them. So I started listening to the company’s earnings call with a different ear. I didn’t just come back to my team with what was said; I also shared what it meant for them.”

Chris Loux, head of global enterprise renewals, remembers feeling frustrated with his low UFS scores. “I had received a performance review indicating that I was exceeding expectations,” he says, “yet one of my direct reports said on the UFS that he would not recommend me as a manager. That struck me, because people don’t quit companies—they quit managers.” At the same time, Loux struggled with the question of just how much to push the lower performers on his team. “It’s hard to give negative feedback to a type-A person who has never received bad feedback in his or her life,” he explains. “If someone gets 95% favorable on the UFS, I wonder if that manager is avoiding problems by not having tough conversations with reports on how they can get better.”

Loux isn’t the only Google executive to speculate about the connection between employees’ performance reviews and their managers’ feedback scores. That question came up multiple times during Oxygen’s rollout. To address it, the people analytics group fell back on a time-tested technique—going back to the data and conducting a formal analysis to determine whether a manager who gave someone a negative performance review would then receive a low feedback rating from that employee. After looking at two quarters’ worth of survey data from 2011, the group found that changes in employee performance ratings (both upward and downward) accounted for less than 1% of variability in corresponding manager ratings across all functions at Google.

“Managing to the test” doesn’t appear to be a big risk, either. Because the eight behaviors are rooted in action, it’s difficult for managers to fake them in pursuit of higher ratings. In the surveys, employees don’t assess their managers’ motivations, values, or beliefs; rather, they evaluate the extent to which their managers demonstrate each behavior. Either the manager has acted in the ways recommended—consistently and credibly—or she has not. There is very little room for grandstanding or dissembling.

“We are not trying to change the nature of people who work at Google,” says Bock. “That would be presumptuous and dangerous. Instead, we are saying, ‘Here are a few things that will lead you to be perceived as a better manager.’ Our managers may not completely believe in the suggestions, but after they act on them and get better UFS and TMS scores, they may eventually internalize the behavior.”

Project Oxygen does have its limits. A commitment to managerial excellence can be hard to maintain over the long haul. One threat to sustainability is “evaluation overload.” The UFS and the TMS depend on employees’ goodwill. Googlers voluntarily respond on a semiannual basis, but they’re asked to complete many other surveys as well. What if they decide that they’re tired of filling out surveys? Will response rates bottom out? Sustainability also depends on the continued effectiveness of managers who excel at the eight behaviors, as well as those behaviors’ relevance to senior executive positions. A disproportionate number of recently promoted vice presidents had won the Great Manager Award, a reflection of how well they’d followed Oxygen’s guidelines. But what if other behaviors—those associated with leadership skills—matter more in senior positions?

Further, while survey scores gauge employees’ satisfaction and perceptions of the work environment, it’s unclear exactly what impact those intangibles have on such bottom-line measures as sales, productivity, and profitability. (Even for Google’s high-powered statisticians, those causal relationships are difficult to establish.) And if the eight behaviors do actually benefit organizational performance, they still might not give Google a lasting edge. Companies with similar competitive profiles—high-tech firms, for example, that are equally data-driven—can mimic Google’s approach, since the eight behaviors aren’t proprietary.

Still, Project Oxygen has accomplished what it set out to do: It not only convinced its skeptical audience of Googlers that managers mattered but also identified, described, and institutionalized their most essential behaviors. Oxygen applied the concept of data-driven continuous improvement directly—and successfully—to the soft skills of management. Widespread adoption has had a significant impact on how employees perceive life at Google—particularly on how they rate the degree of collaboration, the transparency of performance evaluations, and their groups’ commitment to innovation and risk taking.

At a company like Google, where the staff consists almost entirely of “A” players, managers have a complex, demanding role to play. They must go beyond overseeing the day-to-day work and support their employees’ personal needs, development, and career planning. That means providing smart, steady feedback to guide people to greater levels of achievement—but intervening judiciously and with a light touch, since high-performing knowledge workers place a premium on autonomy. It’s a delicate balancing act to keep employees happy and motivated through enthusiastic cheerleading while helping them grow through stretch assignments and carefully modulated feedback. When the process works well, it can yield extraordinary results.That’s why Prasad Setty wants to keep building on Oxygen’s findings about effective management practice. “We will have to start thinking about what else drives people to go from good to great,” he says. His team has begun analyzing managers’ assessment scores by personality type, looking for patterns. “With Project Oxygen, we didn’t have these endogenous variables available to us,” he adds. “Now we can start to tease them out, using more of an ethnographic approach. It’s really about observations—staying with people and studying their interactions. We’re not going to have the capacity to follow tons of people, but what we’ll lose in terms of numbers, we’ll gain in a deeper understanding of what managers and their teams experience.”

That, in a nutshell, is the principle at the heart of Google’s approach: deploying disciplined data collection and rigorous analysis—the tools of science—to uncover deeper insights into the art and craft of management.

David A. Garvin is the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. This article draws on material in the HBS case study “Google’s Project Oxygen: Do Managers Matter?” (case number 9-313-110, published April 2013).

When Two of Your Coworkers Are Fighting – by Amy Gallo

What the Experts Say
Whether or not you get involved will depend on how enmeshed you are in the situation. If either person approaches you to complain or to enlist your help, you have to respond in some way. And while you may not be their manager, you have a responsibility to make sure work gets done. “If it’s getting in the way of teamwork, then talk to them,” says Anna Ranieri, a career counselor, executive coach, and coauthor of How Can I Help?.

But intervening is not always a straightforward prospect. “Peer-to-peer conflict is often fuzzy,” says Roderick Kramer, a social psychologist and the William R. Kimball Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. It’s not always clear who’s responsible and you may not know what to do. “People often find themselves in over their head. They think they can intervene, make suggestions, feel good about themselves, and move the conflict forward in a constructive way. But that’s not always possible,” says Kramer. Here’s how to respond next time you find yourself in the middle of a coworker battle.

Allow venting
It can be hard to listen to people complain but sometimes that’s exactly what they need. “Allowing colleagues the space and time to talk it out is a real luxury in workplaces,” says Ranieri. “People often just want a safe place to vent and in doing so, may figure out on their own what they want to do.” Kramer agrees: “There are times that people are just frustrated and need to express that. Venting isn’t an effective long-term strategy.  “Encourage people not to get caught in the trap of venting, ruminating, and gossiping about the situation,” says Kramer, because that won’t move things forward. “But there’s nothing wrong with tolerating a few complaints in the short term.” If you’re worried that by hearing one person out, you’ll upset the other (on small teams, it’s often obvious who’s talking to whom) make an effort to get both sides of the story. “At a minimum, you should keep a cordial relationship with the other person, but a better strategy is to demonstrate that you’re fully open to all your colleagues,” says Ranieri.

Empathize
While listening to your colleague, show that you understand how hard the situation is. You can say, “I’m sorry this is happening,” or “It’s tough when two people can’t see eye to eye.” But you don’t have to — and shouldn’t — take sides. “Don’t endorse one person’s point of view,” says Ranieri. Stay neutral instead and speak from your own experience. Offer observations like, “It seemed like Jane was stressed out and didn’t mean what she said,” or “I know that Joe is a direct person and can sometimes come off as harsh.” The key, Ranieri says, is to “show that you know where your colleague is coming from but not go as far to say, ‘You’re right and he’s wrong.’”  If you’re being pushed to choose a perspective, make it clear that you won’t: “You seem hurt but I can’t take sides because I have to work with both of you.”

Explain the impact of their fighting
After you’ve demonstrated your concern, make clear how the fighting is affecting the team. Ranieri suggests something like, “You two not getting along is hard for everyone and it’s preventing us from doing good work.” Help both parties see how the skirmish is hurting others so they are motivated to do something productive about it.

Offer advice cautiously
Before you give your two cents, ask your coworkers if they want your help. “We tend to offer unsolicited advice because we think we know better,” says Ranieri. But people might not want your opinion, so start by saying something like: “Would it be helpful if I suggested some ways to work this out?” Remember too that your particular perspective may not be helpful. “Maybe you’ve been through a workplace fight and the way you resolved it worked for you but it may not work for this situation,” Ranieri explains.

Problem-solve together
If your colleagues do want your advice, focus on making observations about what they might do, rather than concrete suggestions. Kramer suggests you think with each of them, or just the person confiding in you, about all the possible options and lay out a decision tree. “You should be more in problem-solving mode than gossip mode and together you can decide on the right intervention,” he says.

Broker a détente
Don’t rush to sit them down together, however. “Getting people into a room and letting them duke it out is not responsible,” says Kramer. “There are likely be asymmetries in their power or their abilities and you risk causing further damage to the relationship.” Of course, if the conflict has reached a crescendo — perhaps people are yelling — then you may have no option but to pull them into a meeting and quickly get to the root of the problem.

Beware resistance
Ranieri points out that there are some people that can’t and won’t be helped. She says that psychotherapists call these “Yes, but” clients. “Yes, I could approach Jane but I think she should approach me first.” “Yes, I want things to be better, but that will never work.” So despite your best attempts, you may not see progress. If one person insists she’s right or refuses help, it may be time to retreat. In those cases, you can push back the next time she approaches you: “We’ve talked about this multiple times and it doesn’t seem like you’re ready to resolve it, so I guess it is what it is right now.”

Don’t escalate
Kramer and Ranieri agree that it’s rarely a good idea to involve the sparring coworkers’ boss (or bosses) unless the problem is truly intractable and impeding work. “That would escalate the situation and possibly make one or both people feel like a victim,” says Kramer. Also, once you’ve raised it to other people, you may now be seen as part of the problem in their eyes, though you might consider approaching your own superior for advice as a last resort.

Know your limits
“Remember that you aren’t a psychologist or a mediator,” says Kramer. “If the situation is outside your comfort zone or you think the disagreement is juvenile, there’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘This is not my problem.’” Adds Ranieri: “When you’re in the helping role, you need to make sure you take care of yourself. You don’t have to be an unpaid referee.” But always give one or both of your coworkers a next step to take. You may want to say, “I’m not sure I’m the right person to help you with this but you might want sit down together or find someone else.” Suggest a dispassionate third party who’s not part of the team hierarchy, perhaps an ombudsman, or someone from HR.

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Allow your coworkers to vent
  • Empathize without taking sides
  • Refer them to someone else if you feel you can’t help

Don’t:

  • Throw your two cents in without checking that your advice is wanted
  • Try to play peacekeeper if you don’t have the skills or the time
  • Go to your coworkers’ boss unless the argument is untenable and disrupting work

Case study#1: Proceed cautiously
About a year ago, Rajit Kumar noticed that there was a problem brewing with two of his peers. It wasn’t overt — no yelling or banging tables — but Rajit saw that they often avoided each other and started to sit apart in meetings. The tension was affecting his team’s work so he wanted to get to the bottom of it. “I knew both of them reasonably well and I knew they were sensible, mature professionals,” he says, so  “I tried to understand the issue first.” He invited one of them out for a drink and learned through casual conversation that the problems didn’t stem from one incident but a mix of things: “There was a great deal of misunderstanding that snowballed and led to mistrust and dislike towards each other,” he explains.

Over the next several months, Rajit talked to both parties about what had happened. “I had at least three or four discussions with each of them to understand the real nature of conflict,” he says. These conversations gave him the confidence to agree when the two people asked him to serve as a formal mediator. “We had a good discussion but I didn’t focus on the conflict or their personalities or behaviors,” he says. “I focused on our common goal of being an effective team.” He also suggested that the three of them continue to meet casually so they could work on building trust.  It took time but eventually the two repaired their relationship, allowing the whole team to work well together again.

Case study #2: Defuse a tense situation
Vittoria was sitting at her desk one day when she heard loud voices coming from another part of the office. Two of her coworkers — let’s call them Alex and Brian — were having a heated argument. “They were very loud. Some people gathered around them and began to watch,” she says. “I didn’t know the specific reason for the fight but I knew there was a lot of tension at that time.” The firm, which offered legal advice and services to people and companies in debt, was in financial trouble, and there had been sporadic conflicts between Alex and Brian but nothing this serious.

Everyone else was frozen. “I realized that no one knew what to do and no one else was going to intervene,” Vittoria said. So she took action. “I slowly approached them and asked them to follow me,” she says. At first, they continued to yell but then she gently put a hand on each of their arms and repeated her request. The three of them went to a private corridor. “I didn’t ask anything at first. They were still too excited. I just offered them a glass of water,” she says. Once things were calmer, Vittoria pointed out that that the overall situation at the company was tense. “I described the conflict from my point of view to give them awareness of the tone in which they spoke. Then I told them that regardless of the reason for their fight they could deal with the issue in a different way,” she says. She also suggested that they might talk to the department head if there was a problem that couldn’t be resolved. “They did not react aggressively towards me. On the contrary, they realized that they had lost control,” she says. They thanked Vittoria and apologized to one another.

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Amy Gallo is a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review. Follow her on Twitter at@amyegallo.

Is Germany’s World Cup Triumph, a Triumph of Management? – By David Bach

 Yale SOM’s David Bach finds five key factors behind Germany’s victory at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil—and they’re all about smart management.

“Portugal has Ronaldo, Brazil has Neymar, Argentina has Messi, but Germany has a team!”This tweet made the rounds after Germany’s unprecedented 7:1 thrashing of host country Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. Indeed, the narrative that quickly gained hold-even more so after Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final and lifted the cup for the fourth time in the tournament’s history-is that “Die Mannschaft” triumphed thanks to extraordinary team spirit, a triumph of the collective over individual stars.

Yet this narrative is wrong. Germany’s squad was studded with stars. Granted, Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar are, respectively, the first-, second-, and sixth-best-paid soccer stars in the world, and Germany’s top-ranked player on the list, Mesut Özil, ranks a relatively paltry 13th1 but Germany had the world’s best goal keeper, Manuel Neuer; eight players who played in the 2013 Champions League final; and four players who ended up among the 10 nominees for the tournament’s best player award. All of them are multimillionaires and many anchor some of the world’s most prestigious club lines.

Germany’s win was instead a triumph of management. Sound management cultivated a deep and broad pool of stars. And sound management forged them into a team with a mission and a plan. Peter Drucker reminds us that the task of management is to “make people capable of joint performance.”2 A key to this, according to Drucker, is a “commitment to common goals and shared values.” “The mission of the organization,” he explains, “has to be clear enough and big enough to provide common vision.” Since “[e]very enterprise is composed of people with different skills and knowledge…[i]t must be built on communication and on individual responsibility…. All [members] have to think through what they owe to others-and make sure that others understand.” Equally importantly, “management must also enable the enterprise and each of its members to grow and develop as needs and opportunities change. Every enterprise is a learning and teaching institution. Training and development must be built into it on all levels- training and development that never stops.”

The mission-to become world champion-was certainly clear enough and big enough. But it was hardly unique. It motivated all teams, or at the very least the ones with a realistic shot at going all the way. For instance, no other team seemed more driven by the goal of winning the cup than Brazil. One might even say that it became an obsession that ultimately did the team in as the players crumbled under immense public pressure. Important as the mission was, it did not set Germany apart. What distinguished “Die Mannschaft” was a combination of five factors: long-term capability development, meticulous planning, an inclusive culture based on open communication and individual responsibility, competitive intelligence, and the confidence to deviate from the plan when circumstances required it.

Long-term capability development. The seeds for Germany’s World Cup victory were planted a decade ago. In 2004, a mere two years after losing the World Cup final to Brazil, German soccer stared into an abyss when the team was eliminated during group stages of the Euro Cup, having scored only two goals and failed to win a single match. Two years later loomed the World Cup in Germany and the risk of humiliation at home. It was what change management scholars call a “burning platform” moment that enabled sweeping change. A new coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, and his assistant, Jogi Löw, brought in fresh players, modernized preparation methods to stress physical fitness and mental strength, and emphasized youth and skill over experience. “[Klinsmann] risked alienating fans and players alike by turning aside the more experienced players of generations past in exchange for going younger and faster in a competition with a large amount of pressure,” noted one observer. (Incidentally, Klinsmann did the same in the 2014 World Cup as U.S. coach by leaving popular veteran Landon Donovan at home).3 Löw stuck to this formula after taking over as German head coach in 2006. His 2010 squad was the third youngest of the competition at 25.0 years and this year’s championship team came in at 26.31 years, making it the sixth youngest among the 32 teams-Argentina, incidentally, was the oldest at 28.92 years. The ability to repeatedly replenish and rejuvenate the team was made possible by systemic talent development across the country over the past decade led by the country’s soccer federation. Six of Germany’s starters against Brazil were part of the starting lineup that won the European under-21 championship in 2009 (another player on that team, incidentally, was Fabian Johnson, who played for Klinsmann’s U.S. squad in the World Cup). Capability development has not been limited to players, however. Under Klinsmann’s leadership, the team also developed a second-to-none scouting capability that provides competitive intelligence on opponents (see below), a coaching staff that includes several sports psychologists, and a separate management arm in charge of planning.

Meticulous Planning. Oliver Bierhoff assumed the newly created job of manager for the national team in 2004 as part of the Klinsmann revolution. A former German standout forward who scored the winning goal of the 1996 Euro Cup, Germany’s last triumph prior to this World Cup, Bierhoff not only manages sponsorships and PR, but was also the source of perhaps the most visible manifestation of the team’s ambition in Brazil: the team base, “Campo Bahia.” Germany’s soccer federation and private investors invested about $42 million to build a sports resort specifically for the use of Germany’s national team during the World Cup, a facility that will now become a luxury holiday resort. “The Germans just came in and did their own thing,” explained Guto Jones of the Bahia tourist board.4 With a location chosen to be “within two hours flight of the team’s group games to minimize travel” as well as to “allow acclimatization to the weather,5 the resort has a soccer pitch with the exact 22 mm World Cup pitch grass length and within walking distance of the luxury villas that housed the players.6 In contrast, “teams such as England simply checked themselves into a hotel in Rio-and then faced a daily battle through traffic for training.”7 Fitting every stereotype about German meticulousness, the soccer federation “shipped 23 tons of luggage and equipment for Germany’s stay in Brazil, including mountain bikes, billiards and table-tennis tables, and even dartboards.”8

An inclusive culture based on open communication and individual responsibility. The purpose-built facility not only provided ideal training conditions, it also cultivated the much-lauded team spirit. According to left-back Benedikt Höwedes, “[t]his village has been a major factor in building up the special team spirit in the group today.”9 As a German soccer observer pointed out, “The idea of living together in this way has been very good for team spirit. You have your own space but the players are always bumping into each around the resort. It’s different to a hotel where you just have a room.”10 It was in this open environment, conducive to communication and exchange, that the team grew together. The team itself was of course already inclusive in many ways. It included players of Polish, Turkish, Moroccan, and Ghanaian origin and thereby reflected a modern and much more diverse Germany. The players’ families and partners were part of the team and traveled to Brazil courtesy of the German soccer federation. And when the team learned that the Brazilian hosts would supply buses and drivers, the squad quickly made its longtime bus driver a member of the equipment staff so he could come along. However, all the emphasis on community never replaced individual responsibility and accountability. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s post-game interview after the quarterfinal match with France was one visible manifestation. Congratulated by a reporter on a stunning save in stoppage time that prevented a goal that could have sent the game to overtime, Neuer first credited his defense with taking away Karim Benzema’s passing options, adding that this forced the French striker to aim for the near post-“and if it goes in there it’s a goalkeeper error,” he concluded with a smile.

Competitive intelligence. Beginning with Klinsmann and especially under Löw, Germany transformed traditional scouting into sophisticated competitive intelligence. The scouting team, led since 2005 by Urs Siegenthaler, compiles detailed analyses of Germany’s opponents, develops strategic options, and prepares materials to brief coaches and players ahead of every game. Even though Siegenthaler and his right-hand man Christopher Clemens traveled to São Paulo to watch the second semifinal between the Netherlands and Argentina, the team had long finished compiling detailed dossiers on both teams and how to beat them. According to Siegenthaler, it is a process that takes months and years; the trip to the stadium to watch future opponents live is mostly so people cannot later claim the scouts did not even bother to go function function function function function function function watch.11The raw material for Siegenthaler’s analysis is supplied by 40 students at the Sports University of Cologne and consists of statistics, articles, and video footage of every player and every team the German squad might encounter. American sports fans are of course familiar with such sophisticated analysis and game planning since it is a pillar of American football in the NFL. And at least since Moneyball, the exploitation of large amounts of sports data to gain competitive edge has become an open secret. But in soccer, a game that only this year saw the introduction of goal-line technology and where a referee continues to decide how long 90 minutes actually is, Germany’s embrace of data, analysis, and systematic game planning based on competitive intelligence is radical.

Confidence to deviate from the plan. One of Siegenthaler’s pre-tournament conclusions was that the climatic conditions in Brazil would make it impossible for left- and right-backs to continuously sprint up and down the sideline, playing crosses on offense and then being back on time to thwart opposing wingers. This led to Löw’s unusual and highly controversial strategy to play with four interior defenders in a line while moving Philipp Lahm, arguably the best right-back in the world, into the defensive midfield. After holding firm through the round of 16 despite tremendous criticism, Löw surprised many when he modified the plan and moved Lahm back to right-back for the match against France and the remainder of the tournament. “I am not immune to advice,” he declared and thereby exemplified the role of management in fostering learning and adaptation that Drucker stressed.

Stars? Yes. Team? Also. But the discernible difference appears to have been superior management-developing talent and brining it together around a shared mission, values, and a plan. After all, in Drucker’s phrase, management “makes people capable of joint performance.” This is precisely what Germany did, and the team’s success could become a case study for the difference sound management can make in hypercompetitive settings.

1  “Top 10 Highest Paid Soccer Players 2014,” Sporteology.com, 12 June 2014.Back
2  Peter F. Drucker, “Management as Social Function and Liberal Art,” in Peter F. Drucker, The Essential Drucker (New York: Harper, 2001). Back
3  Matt Lichtenstadter, “How Jürgen Klinsmann’s World Cup Squad Decisions Mirror Germany 2006,” worldsoccertalk.com, 22 May 2014. Back
4  Simon Hart, “World Cup 2014: Germany’s self-built home from home, The Independent, 20 June 2014. Back
5  “Campo Bahia,” wikipedia.org (last accessed 14 July 2014). Back
6  Simon Hart, “World Cup 2014: Germany’s self-built home from home, The Independent, 20 June 2014. Back
7  Jeremy Wilson, “Germany’s purpose-built training camp has given them extra edge,” The Telegraph, 12 July 2014.Back
8  Ibid. Back
9  Ibid. Back
10 Ibid. Back
11 “Urs Siegenthaler: Der Mann, der die deutschen Matchpläne vorbereitet,” Lübecker Nachrichten, 13 July 2014. Back

Brave Men Take Paternity Leave – by Gretchen Gavett

“Fathers with even a short work absence because of family obligations are recommended for fewer rewards and receive lower performance ratings,” write Amy J. C. Cuddy and Joan Williams in their2012 HBR article, citing two separate studies. While other research has shown that fathers are held to lower performance standards and are more likely to be hired and promoted than childless men with the same qualifications, these studies showed that effect was reversed when fathers played an active role in their children’s lives. As a result,  “Men are being driven out of caregiving roles,” write Cuddy and Williams.

Many people would like to change that. But there is a long way to go: According to a recent Boston College Center for Work and Family survey, “the majority of fathers take only about one day of leave time to bond with their new children for every month the typical mother takes.” In total, 76% of fathers go back to work after one week or less after the birth of a child, and 96% after two weeks or less.

But research from economists Gordon B. Dahl, Katrine V. Løken, and Magne Mogstad, published this month in The American Economic Review, shows that, when paid paternity leave is made available by law, fathers do use it. Importantly, this isn’t just because the law exists; rather, it’s because when some brave souls take leave, that seems to reduce the stigma and encourage peers to take time off, too.

Using data from Norway, which implemented a law allowing four weeks of paid leave for dads in April 1993, the researchers first isolated how many eligible men took leave across the board. The rise, from 3% prior to 1993 to 70% in 2006, is considerable.

Paternity Leave Taken in Norway

But when they specifically isolated the influence of peers — and in particular, a male coworker or a brother — a more complex story began to emerge. The figure below is similar to the one above, showing that “from 1993 to 1999, program participation went from a little over 50% to over 70% of eligible coworkers.” However, as Gordon Dahl points out, the influence of peers — both direct combined with the snowball effect — accounts for 21% of the total increase in participation in the parental leave program from 1993 to 1999. And as time goes on, the snowball effect becomes more pronounced.

Peers Influence Paternity Leave chart

The top line represents the actual use of leave by coworkers after the first father paved the way; the bottom subtracts the estimated peer effect (derived from a regression discontinuity design based on the cut-off date of April 2013) from the total take-up to show “how much lower leave take-up would have been in each year had the original peer father not influenced any of his coworkers, either directly or indirectly.”

In the end, Dahl says, “coworkers and brothers who were linked to a father who had his child immediately after the reform — versus immediately before the reform — were 3.5% and 4.7% more likely, respectively, to take parental leave.” But when a coworker actually takes parental leave, “the next coworker to have a child at his workplace is 11% more likely to take paternity leave.” Slightly more pronounced, the next brother to have a child is 15% more likely to take time off.

And while any male coworker taking leave can reduce stigma, the effect of a manager doing so is more profound. Specifically, “the estimated peer effect is over two and a half times larger if the peer father is predicted to be a manager in the firm as opposed to a regular coworker.”

Also worth noting: the economists didn’t find statistically significant differences in pay and future employment prospects between fathers who did and did not take leave — though they did see less than a 2% reduction in total earnings.

The researchers note a few important caveats, however: For one, because of their methodology, they only measured peer effect in smaller companies because those employees are more likely to interact directly. Two, there’s not much of a peer effect in companies where the average tenure is 10 years or more; in firms where there’s a lot of turnover, the effect was much greater. These results “suggest the benefit of workplace-specific information is more valuable where there is more job uncertainty.” Peers can provide information and help reduce that uncertainty among dads who are on the fence about taking leave.

Third, there’s no evidence that weaker peer ties have any effect on paternity leave. For example, the researchers were unable to find peer influence between brothers-in-law or in a geographical neighborhood.

Lastly, they found no indication that Norway’s 1993 reform improved gender equality across workplaces in general.

Regardless, these findings represent an important bridge between public policy and organizational (and familial) behavior. As the economists note, “advocates of… public interventions often argue that traditional gender roles in both the family and labor markets can be changed or modified via peer influence.” This study seems to confirm this argument.

As calls for family-friendly work policies increase, particularly for men — and as companies like Yahoo, Bank of America, and PwC instate paid paternity policies — it’s worth keeping in mind that a law or on-the-books rule is just the first step in encouraging dads to take time away from work. Just as important are those fathers who are willing to actually use their paid time off; their actions can set a lasting and meaningful precedent for other men, even many years down the road.

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Gretchen Gavett is an associate editor at the Harvard Business Review. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenmarg.

How Germany’s 14-Year Plan Destroyed Brazil – by Brendan Greeley

Brazil certainly underperformed on Tuesday and throughout the World Cup. Its wins have all been lucky, barely, or both. But Brazil didn’t just fall apart against Germany (although it certainly did fall apart). Germany beat them with the precise and inspiring soccer it’s played all month in Brazil. This is not an accident, a golden blessing of a generation of talented fussballers. It follows a 14-year plan to find all the kids among 80 million Germans who can really play soccer, train them young, and get them attached to a professional team.

All countries do this, kind of. Belgium does it really well. After tonight’s game you could argue that Germany does it best.

In the 2000 European Championship, Germany didn’t make it past the group stage. Imagine the anger and soul-searching in New York if the Yankees finished last in the American League East. So the Deutscher Fussball Bund, the organization responsible for Germany’s national team, came up with a plan. Traditionally in Europe, club teams had been responsible for their own talent development. Some, like Barcelona in Spain and Ajax in the Netherlands, have become known for their youth academies. But the DFB decided that talent was too precious to leave unfound, and so in 2002 launched a national program to find all of it.

The Guardian wrote a great piece on the German program last year, or you can read the DFB’s own chest-thumping self-assessment from 2011 (PDF). Germany’s standardized national program starts teaching the same skills to 6-year-olds all over the country. It’s run in every town by coaches who have to get a license from the DFB. Then by age 8, as training continues, scouts are watching for the kids good enough for the club programs.

This spring I watched my German godson, Paul, play a soccer game with his youth team. He’s 8 years old. German kids at that age don’t play herd ball. They play their roles, make clean passes, and pick their shots. None of this is left to chance. His youth club, TV Rodenkirchen, is part of the national program. And standing on the sidelines—for a league game between 8-year-olds—were professional scouts.

Every professional club team in the first and second division of Germany’s Bundesliga now has to fund its own soccer high school. Between 2002 and 2010, the amount that professional club teams spent on youth development almost doubled, to about 85 million euros a year. We can already see what this spending has helped create. Last year’s Guardian article listed them:

Joachim Löw, Germany’s coach, is blessed with a generation of gifted young players—Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Sven Bender (24), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Ilkay Gündoğan (22), Mario Götze (20), Marco Reus (23), Toni Kroos (23) … the list goes on.

Müller, Kroos, Schürrle. These are the guys who scored five of Germany’s seven goals on Tuesday. And Germany’s talent machine is only now just starting to produce. A 6-year-old German in 2002 is still only 18 now. (My godson is pretty good, actually.)

We love the World Cup, in part, because it offers us a clear contest between nations with winners and losers. Except with an actual war, this clarity is hard to come by in international relations. Some nations get lucky. Did Argentina deserve its Lionel Messi or Portugal its Cristiano Ronaldo? But a national soccer team is a kind of mobilization, the end of a long plan, sustained over decades, with many moving parts, to find and train talent.

Germany was not blessed with Leo or Ronaldo. But sustaining a complex national plan over years, and committing to it as both a metaphorical and literal investment? Perhaps we should not be surprised that Germany has done this very, very well.

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Greeley is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

Why Salaries Shouldn’t Be Secret – by Felix Salmon

No one knows exactly why Jill Abramson was fired as editor of the NYT. But one thing is clear: she was fired not long after she started asking questions about the amount that she had been paid, over the course of her career in NYT senior management, compared to the amount that her male predecessor was paid.

Very few people like to talk about how much money they make — especially not people who earn a lot of money. Since companies tend to be run by people who earn a lot of money, the result is a culture of silence and secrecy when it comes to pay. Such a culture clearly served the NYT ill in this case. If the salaries of senior NYT management had not been a closely-guarded secret, then Abramson would not have been shocked when she found out how much Bill Keller made before her, and Arthur Sulzberger would not have reacted badly to Abramson’s questions about pay.

Indeed, secrecy surrounding pay is generally a bad idea for any organization. Ben Horowitzhas the best explanation of why that is: it can’t help but foment poisonous internal politics. But there are other reasons, too.

For one thing, secrecy about pay is bad for women, who are worse at asking for raises than men are. If men secretly ask for raises and secretly get them, while women don’t, then that helps to explain, at least in part, why men end up earning more than women.

Secrecy around pay is also a great way to allow managers to — consciously or unconsciously — play favorites with their staff. When you’re deciding how much to pay your employees, you want to be as transparent as possible. A not-great way of being transparent is the civil service method: set narrow pay bands for every level of seniority, and then declare that the only way to get a substantial raise is to get a promotion. The problem with this kind of system is that it begets the Peter Principle: everybody gets promoted to a position of incompetence.

Still, there’s quite a lot to be said for a system, like the civil service, in which everybody knows what everybody else is making. It makes conversations around pay much easier, and reduces craziness like this:

He sat down opposite me and then he told me the job was mine. “Do you want it?” Yes, I said, a little startled. The job, he explained, came with a guaranteed salary for three years. After that, I would be on my own: I’d make what I brought in from my patients and would pay my own expenses. So, he went on, how much should we pay you?

After all those years of being told how much I would either pay (about forty thousand dollars a year for medical school) or get paid (about forty thousand dollars a year in residency), I was stumped. “How much do the surgeons usually make?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Look,” he said, “you tell me what you think is an appropriate income to start with until you’re on your own, and if it’s reasonable that’s what we’ll pay you.” He gave me a few days to think about it.

More generally, a system whereby salaries are set internally, according to the value of the person and the position, is a system which doesn’t find itself constantly buffeted by unpredictable exogenous factors.

We’ve all worked in companies, I’m sure, where the only way to get a substantial raise is to confront management with a job offer from somewhere else. That’s clearly a dreadful way to run a company, since it gives all employees a huge incentive to spend a lot of time looking for work elsewhere, even if they’re very happy where they are.

One of the problems is that virtually everybody in corporate America — from senior management all the way down to entry-level employees — has internalized the primacy of capital over labor. There’s an unspoken assumption that any given person should be paid the minimum amount necessary to prevent that person from leaving. The simplest way to calculate that amount is to simply see what the employee could earn elsewhere, and pay ever so slightly more than that. If a company pays a lot more than the employee could earn elsewhere, then the excess is considered to be wasted, on the grounds that you could get the same employee, performing the same work, for less money.

How is it that most Americans still believe in this way of looking at pay, even as we reach the 100th anniversary of Henry Ford’s efficiency wages? Ford was the first — but by no means the last — businessman to notice that if you pay well above market rates, you get loyal, hard-working employees who rarely leave. Many contemporary companies have followed suit, from Goldman Sachs to Google to Bloomberg: a well-paid workforce is a happy workforce, which can build a truly world-beating company.

Such companies are, sadly, still rare, however. That’s bad for employees — and it’s bad for the economy as a whole. We need wages to go up: they’ve been stagnant, for the bottom 90% of the population, for some 35 years now. We also need employee turnover to go down: employees become more valuable, in general, the longer they stay with a company — and it takes a long time, and a lot of human resources, to train a new employee up to the point at which they really understand how their new employer works.

There are two things I look for, then, in any company. The first is high entry-level wages. They’re a sign that a company values all of its employees highly; that it likes to be able to pick anybody it wants to join its team; and that it considers new employees to be a long-term investment, rather than a short-term source of cheap labor.

The second thing I look for is a system whereby managers regularly earn less money than the people who report to them. You shouldn’t need to get promoted to a position of incompetence just in order to earn more: you should get paid well for doing the job you do best, even if that doesn’t involve managing anybody. The whole “I work for you” rhetoric of touchy-feely CEOs is actually true, or should be true: value is created by talented workers on the front lines, not by middle management, and it’s management’s job to support those workers any way they can, including by paying them as much as possible.

If you have a company with high entry-level wages and where the front-line talent often gets paid better than the managers, then you’re probably in a pretty efficient industry with relatively low turnover. (One good example: professional sports teams.) On the other hand, if you have a company with low entry-level wages and where pay invariably rises the higher you go up the org chart, then you probably have a company where managers spend altogether too much time hiring and training people to do jobs they could probably do better themselves.

If you work for a company where everybody knows what everybody else is earning, then it’s going to be very easy to see what’s going on. You’ll see who the stars are, you’ll see what kind of skills and talent the company rewards, and you’ll see whether this is the kind of place where you fit in. You’ll also see whether men get paid more than women, whether managers are generally overpaid, and whether behavior like threatening to quit is rewarded with big raises. What’s more, because management knows that everybody else will see such things, they’ll be much less likely to do the kind of secret deals which are all too common in most companies today.

So let’s bring pay rates out into the open, where they belong. Doing so will create better companies, staffed with better-paid and more productive employees. Which is surely exactly what America needs, in a world where it can never compete by racing to the bottom.

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