Case solution for the Google's Project Oxygen case study. After several years of utilizing the comprehensive program to help employees become effective managers, Google saw important developments in terms of managerial effectiveness and performance. Executives are now contemplating on how to replicate the same project to its senior leaders, teams, and other staff.
David A. Garvin, Alison Berkley Wagonfeld, Liz Kind
Harvard Business School (313110-PDF-ENG)
Apr 3, 2013 (Revision: Oct 15, 2013)
Case questions answered:
Case study questions answered in the first solution:
- What kinds of people work at Google? How does this relate to the organizational culture? What should be the role of HR? What should be the role of managers?
- What is your assessment of Google’s Project Oxygen 8 attributes? Do you think there may be a source of sustainable competitive advantage (superior long term performance) for Google? Are they generalizable to other organizations?
- What should Setty’s priorities be going forward? What criteria should he use to decide which project to pursue? Which of the proposed initiatives should he pursue and why?
Case study questions answered in the second solution:
- Could an Oxygen approach be used to study: Upper management and executives; Complete life cycle of managers; or Teams?
Case study questions answered in the third solution:
- Is it a good idea to have a set of “expected managerial behaviors”? As mentioned in pg. 12 of the case: “My biggest fear is that Project Oxygen is constraining. Are we boxing people in?”
- Do you think that the managerial behaviors espoused by Project Oxygen will work for any managerial setting in any organization? Why? Why not?
- Look at the section “Looking Ahead” of the case. Select three options for further work that Mr. Setty could concentrate on performing, and express their advantages and disadvantages. Select the option that you believe would be most advantageous for Google to follow. NOTE: you may also select a “Do Nothing” option, which leaves the Project Oxygen work as-is.
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Case answers for Google's Project Oxygen: Do Managers Matter?
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1. What kinds of people work at Google? How does this relate to the organizational culture? What should be the role of HR? What should be the role of managers?
Google is a company full of engineers. Software engineer Eric Flatt stated that “We are a company built by engineers for engineers. (Garvin 2)” Google also conducts operations to ensure that they hire top-level talent. Google reviews resumes looking for key factors for doing well at the company, including excluding high levels of cognitive ability (Garvin 3).
Google is looking for employees that contribute to the company’s human capital. Human capital includes the knowledge, skills, health, and values of an employee (Becker). In addition, Google looks for four things from someone during an interview: leadership, role-related knowledge, how you think, and googleyness. Google has many young, high achievers who crave autonomy (Garvin 3). Google has hardworking, ambitious people that are perfectionists (3).
Google has a culture in which good ideas are celebrated, and authority is derived from peer respect. (3). This type of respect is also known as referent power. Referent power is based upon identification with, attraction to, or respect for the leader (Zemsky). Additionally, Google hires people who are smart and determined, and they favor ability over experience (Google).
Google’s organizational culture encourages a very free and creative environment that allows employees to feel comfortable with sharing ideas and opinions (Google). Google holds a flat organizational structure. A flat organizational structure does not place an emphasis on hierarchy and it promotes a culture of teamwork. Lisa Wirthman of Forbes says, “Flat structures work best when a company’s main point of differentiation is innovation. (Wirthman).
This applies directly to Google because innovation is exactly what they have done since their launch. Innovation deals with what is desirable to users, what is viable in the marketplace, and what is possible with technology (Smith 19). Firms must innovate to survive and this is one thing that Google has done well (Smith 19).
Google is constantly looking for new ways to innovate, create new products on the web, and make searching faster. This is why Google recruits creative employees because they stimulate an innovative environment. Furthermore, Google practices the marketing concept. The marketing concept consists of the total company effort, profit, and customer satisfaction.
Google is concerned with all of these features. In regards to profit, Google’s total revenue and operating income have increased every year between 2001 and 2012. It is clear that Google has the customer’s wants in mind because they are the leading search engine in the world.
The total company effort is visible through Google’s Project Oxygen 8 attributes. Google fosters a teamwork setting and they believe that teamwork leads to better ideas because there is input from more people. Google applies the marketing concept to their organizational culture as well.
The role of Human Resources should be to continue to find these employees, develop them, and keep them working for Google. This is beneficial because it is less costly to retain employees than to hire new ones. One way that Google does this is by offering its employees one day a week to work on whatever they choose to. Benefits such as this boost employee’s view of the company and inspire them to stay with Google.
The role of Google’s managers should be to oversee operations and facilitate production. Google’s managers should make sure that everyone in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society (Garvin 4). Managers should also continue to innovate their relationship with their employees and figure out the best things they can do for them (Garvin 4).
2. What is your assessment of the Google’s Project Oxygen 8 attributes? Do you think these may be a source of sustainable competitive advantage (superior long term performance) for Google? Are they generalizable to other organizations?
The Oxygen 8 attributes are Google’s version of the Air Force’s core values. Although the Oxygen 8 is derived from feedback, it lists the eight key attributes essential to the success of Google’s managers, much like core values do in the Air Force. Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do are the pillars for how the Air Force wants its members to perform and behave. Google’s Project Oxygen 8 provides the same guidance, just in a different manner. As far as content goes, the Oxygen 8 attributes are very good standards to build a company on. All of the attributes are ethical and promote a good environment that employees want to be a part of.
Additionally, these attributes allow Google to accomplish their positioning statement: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful (Google). This positioning statement gives Google international opportunities and does not limit them to one geographical region.
Google’s Project Oxygen 8 attributes are certainly…