The world needs better managers. Or at least the tech industry does.
In few places is that more apparent than at car-hailing company, Uber. On Tuesday, they released the results of an in-depth investigation into their corporate culture, which culminated in a 47-item to-do list assembled by former US Attorney General Eric Holder and his law firm, Covington & Burling LLP.
Dubbed “The Holder Report,” this document is making its rounds on the internet and headlining many major news publications. Meanwhile, Uber is deep in company-wide meetings, planning just how to tackle the outlined changes (and sharing some staff-wide hugs?).
All 47 of the recommendations in The Holder Report were unanimously accepted by Uber’s leadership. Needless to say, the next few months will be busy at Uber HQ
Interestingly, in the 5955-word document, “Manager” is mentioned 23 times, and “management” comes up 18 times. “Human Resources” is written 30 times. Fully five out of the 47 recommendations have “Human Resources” in their titles.
That means approximately one in every 100 words in this document is either related to HR or management.
And this should come as no surprise. The challenges that Uber has been facing can almost all be traced back to a lack of those two things. CEO Travis Kalanick has been quoted stating that the function of Human Resources should simply include hiring and firing, as needed.
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Unfortunately, Kalanick is not alone in that belief. Human resources, as well as management, have long histories of being undervalued in organizations. What The Holder Report accomplishes is to showcase the fact that organizations can’t ignore those functions any longer.
We know that we need better managers — but how do we actually do that?
“Most companies are better at exhorting you to be a great manager, rather than telling you how to be a great manager,” says Todd Safferstone, managing director of the Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board, in this New York Times article.
What it really takes to be a great manager is something that data scientists and researchers have been exploring for decades. Few studies are bigger or more in-depth than Google’s Project Oxygen, which they began in early 2009 and involved evaluating years of Google’s data.
“Most companies are better at exhorting you to be a great manager, rather than telling you how to be a great manager Todd Safferstone
“In Project Oxygen, the statisticians gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers — across more than 100 variables, from various performance reviews, feedback surveys and other reports. Then they spent time coding the comments in order to look for patterns.”
Interestingly, several of the core skills that Google identified as integral to manager success overlap with The Holder Report’s suggestions.
“As with leadership, we recommend significant training for managers, particularly new or first-time managers,” the report suggests. “Uber should adopt a comprehensive, live, required training program for all managers that is updated and repeated at regular intervals.”
In addition to focusing on diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias, the report also suggests that training covers the “fundamental skills necessary for effective management,” including:
- How to communicate with and value all employees
- Maintain a proper managerial relationship
- Provide constructive feedback to employees
- Help employees set personal career goals
- Appropriately evaluate employee performance according to the company’s values
- Consistently apply the company’s transfer and promotion policies
- Handle performance-related issues and complaints of unfair treatment
Here are Google’s eight core management skills (via this Business Insider article):
- Be a good coach
- Empower your team and don’t micro-manage
- Express interest in employees’ success and well-being
- Be productive and results-oriented
- Be a good communicator and listen to your team
- Help your employees with career development
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
- Have key technical skills, so you can help advise the team
What’s striking about both of these lists — Holder’s and Google’s — is how straightforward they are. Listen. Communicate. Give feedback. These are not new or groundbreaking “secrets” to management. They seem almost obvious.
Despite that, great managers are still so rare.
Research by Gallup finds that managers account for more than 70% of variance in employee engagement scores. That statistic is especially striking when taken alongside the fact that only 30% of employees in the United States currently report that they’re engaged at work.
So what can Uber do?
Emphasize the importance of management
What Google has done through Project Oxygen and in the years that followed is to truly emphasize the importance of managers.
Back in 2002, they experimented with getting rid of managers altogether. That didn’t last long. They quickly realized that managers play an integral role in an organization and, rather than eliminating them, they should be valuing their role more strongly and giving them the training they need to be better.
Rather than seeking alternative organizational structures that eliminate hierarchy, they’ve made the hierarchy work for them by isolating management as a pillar of company success and optimizing it.
The Holder Report is the first step for Uber to do just that. Even more, it’s a call to arms to all organizations who may be struggling with engagement, satisfaction, or turnover. It’s a plea to companies the world over: managers are important!
Train managers more effectively
One of Project Oxygen’s more striking findings was that “technical expertise” — a trait that Google’s researchers initially believed would be paramount to a manager’s success — was actually far less important than the “softer” management skills.
A manager’s skillset, it seems, is only as strong as their ability to engage their team.
Knowing that, Google altered how they promote their managers. High-performers were denied promotions if their management skills weren’t up-to-snuff, and were instead entered into coaching programs to help them improve on those core areas.
And improve they did. When managers were given the resources and coaching they needed, their teams were reporting marked improvements within six-months to a year.
“You don’t actually need to change who the person is,” says Google’s former VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock in the New York Times. “What it means is, if I’m a manager and I want to get better, and I want more out of my people and I want them to be happier, two of the most important things I can do is just make sure I have some time for them and to be consistent. And that’s more important than doing the rest of the stuff.”
HR and management can work together
More than just emphasizing management and HR in isolation, The Holder Report shows how important it is for those two functions to work together.
Google’s Project Oxygen is practically a case-study in that kind of multidisciplinary collaboration. Human Resources — called ‘People Operations’ at Google — worked alongside data scientists to totally refresh how the company approaches management.
The Holder Report underscores this need for collaboration and communication, especially in relation to handling complaints, ensuring diversity, and embedding the culture and core values.
But HR and management can work together on many things. Human resources is the department ensuring that managers have the training and resources they need. They’re assisting in the hiring of new managers, as well as their direct reports.
Human resources is an integral, strategic function in any organization that assists managers and senior leadership as well as every single employee in an organization. By illustrating that, The Holder Report represents one big step for Uber, and an even bigger step for HR professionals and managers everywhere.