July 18, 2019

How Google’s Project Oxygen Can Help Contingent Workforce Leaders Breathe New Life into Program Management

On June 18, Oloop will be sponsoring a ClubVMSA Meetup at Salesforce in San Francisco. We wrote about the importance of stakeholder engagement in MSP programs last week, and that’s going to be a central theme in the upcoming ClubVMSA meetup. The event organizers summarized the persistent dilemma that workforce solutions providers face, especially those handling complex enterprise-wide programs, by posing this question: “How do you as a Contingent Workforce Leader create visibility among your stakeholders in order to achieve success for all involved?” One answer is exceptional management practices. But what qualities define success? Well, Google discovered 10 traits of stellar management and engagement behaviors during its Project Oxygen experiment. And interestingly, the iconic tech giant did so by seeking the exact opposite. The research was expected to prove that managers are extraneous. Instead, Google discovered that strong managers drive value.

Project Oxygen

Are Managers Suffocating Us or Breathing Life into Our Programs?

It may seem odd that a company frequently lauded for its innovative leadership would attempt to prove that managers don’t matter, but that’s precisely what Google did.

“Google set out to determine what makes a manager great at Google,” the project team explained. “But first, a research team tried to prove the opposite: that managers actually don’t matter, that the quality of a manager didn’t impact a team’s performance. This hypothesis was based on an early belief held by some of Google’s leaders and engineers that managers are, at best, a necessary evil, and at worst, a layer of bureaucracy.”

The Google team used two quantitative measurements to determine the worth or potential waste of a traditional management structure. Primarily, the criteria involved quality. The first metric came from manager performance ratings. The second relied on manager feedback obtained from the company’s annual employee survey. Ultimately, the data didn’t just reveal that managers matter, it demonstrated that “teams with great managers were happier and more productive.”

But simply recognizing the value of high-caliber managers did little to solve the mystery Google had presented to its team. The initial results failed to uncover the qualities that made managers effective. Google had to dig deeper: “By going through the comments from the annual employee survey and performance evaluations, the team found ten common behaviors across high-scoring managers. The researchers also conducted double blind interviews with a group of the best and worst managers to find illustrative examples of what these two groups were doing differently.”

By incorporating these points into our own leadership framework, we can crack the case on stakeholder engagement. Let’s dive in.

Essential Program Management Behaviors

Enterprise workforce programs can become sprawling, disjointed, confusing, and sometimes contentious undertakings. There are a lot of gears turning the great machine: hiring managers, HR leaders, procurement officers, staffing suppliers, contingent workers, finance folks, and scores of other internal and external stakeholders. If the services of an MSP have been enlisted, then those lucky individuals may occupy an unenviable position at ground zero of the chaos. Regardless, the party responsible for leading the charge has some heavy managerial lifting to do. Google’s research may help ease the burden. We’ve whittled the 10 traits down to our top 5.

1. Be a Good Coach

Coaching isn’t reserved for a single person or group. In a contingent workforce program, there may be several stakeholder teams with their own people to mentor and support. The client organization, for instance, has hiring managers, procurement leaders, and HR professionals. They all have unique needs and mandates.

As ClubVMSA notes, “Everyone wants something different. Hiring Managers need talent (sometimes at any cost), the Legal Team wants compliance, Finance wants accountability, Procurement wants the best value and Talent Acquisition wants a sustainable and manageable process.”

  • Before kicking off the program and bringing in vendors, the client stakeholders should outline all the common objectives that the program must accomplish. The teams should coalesce, be aligned, and agree on the final set of milestones, targets, and deliverables. The project manager, armed with this roadmap, should take the time to coach the MSP on the blueprint.
  • Once educated on the program drivers and expectations, the MSP will have a smoother run at sourcing the best suppliers for the engagement. However, initial coaching should continue. Suppliers must thoroughly grasp the program needs, possible fluctuations, key performance indicators, service level agreements (SLAs), processes for tracking metrics, reporting structures, and all processes (e.g., invoicing, billing, time and attendance, insurance requirements, compliance protocols, etc.).
  • Suppliers must then engage their workers and coach them to success through a comprehensive onboarding and orientation experience where all policies, procedures, stakeholder relationships, and roles are clarified.

Of course, these are merely the preliminary steps for coaching, which must become an ingrained, ongoing, and ever-evolving facet of the program. That brings us to empowerment.

2. Empower Teams, Don’t Micromanage Them

Program managers are often tasked to achieve more with less. Haunted by the specter of maintaining and exceeding performance levels, these managers can fall into the trap of worrying perpetually about metrics. In the business of people, however, we must also keep people—not just numbers—at the forefront of our decisions.

Easier said than done, right? As demands pile up, there comes a natural tendency to begin policing suppliers and workers. Rather than mentoring, program leaders may end up behaving more like helicopter parents. And, given enough time and stress, the partnership can sour, turning into a restricting, oppressive, and limiting relationship.

Whenever followers outnumber collaborators, programs stagnate under the inertia. Innovation requires creative expression, coloring outside the lines, taking leaps of faith, and finding the motivation to continuously improve on past performance. Stakeholders who long to reveal a new concept may keep silent to avoid rejection or rebuke. Superior managers build a safe, judgment-free space where stakeholders are encouraged to brainstorm, toss around bold ideas, engage in healthy dissent, and embrace diverse perspectives.

3. Create Inclusive Teams

Even in MSP programs where clients enforce no-contact rules, teamwork remains pivotal, and inclusion still has room to flourish. No progress takes place without hearing from a chorus of opinions, which cultivates the diversity of thought we just referenced. If the program leader has access to client stakeholders, he or she must use this insight to bring the other teams together ideologically and procedurally.

  • Great program managers organize regular and recurring performance meetings to acknowledge achievements, redress errors, identify and correct potential problems, and glean new ideas for optimizing the program.
  • MSP managers should concentrate on coaching staffing suppliers by helping them to conceive dynamic, inspiring, and unconventional ways to develop talent and hone their skills.
  • MSPs have a duty to clients, spelled out in the black and white of a contract. Yet the strongest managers also recognize the importance of remaining aligned with suppliers and workers. They find opportunities for keeping these stakeholders engaged and informed, and provide training when necessary.

4. Have a Clear Vision and Strategy

Strong leaders establish a shared sense of purpose, direction, and collaboration across all stakeholder groups. Clarity and transparency are crucial.

  • Great managers convey a deep understanding of the value that each supplier and worker brings to the program’s mission.
  • They deliver a comprehensive list of priorities but with solid strategies for working together toward mutually rewarding outcomes.
  • They not only define the responsibilities of each stakeholder, they establish their own accountability as the manager of the process.
  • Effective managers solicit feedback, welcome input, communicate regularly, and offer transparent updates about program objectives, opportunities, and challenges.

5. Be Results Oriented But Collaborative

Staffing is often described as a numbers game, preoccupied with unfilled openings, placement volumes, metrics, financials, and so forth. Yes, figures matter. Data plays an instrumental part in the program. But results aren’t born from a spreadsheet alone. Collaboration, communication, and a commitment to growth should never be forsaken or sacrificed. How can program managers influence results?

  • They unify stakeholders through consistent, transparent, universally understood, and accessible communications on a platform that every stakeholder has adopted and been trained on.
  • They execute and adhere to development plans for their teams, the program, their supplier partners, and the workforce.
  • They present short-, near-, and long-term goals, not just static directives.
  • They allocate the time and resources to invest in their program, supplier, and talent teams.
  • They draw on knowledge sharing tools to empower stakeholders, build informational libraries for continuous improvement, educate stakeholders on rules and emerging trends, point out new learning avenues, and foster cohesion between teams.

It may sound corny and cliché, but collaboration truly fuels success. The old hierarchies simply don’t work in the modern era of virtualized offices, global communications, sharing economies, digital communities, the fierce race to innovate, and networked teams. What Google really found in its study of exceptional management is that everything comes down to collaboration rather than control—encouraging exploration, sharing ideas, developing teams, and working as a united front to fulfill a joint sense of purpose by attacking a common problem.

Every stakeholder has a part to play, a process to manage. The contingent workforce leaders that shine are those who bring people together, not trap them in silos or encase them in the catacombs of pyramids. After all, silos belong on farms. And pyramids weren’t constructed to be forums or meeting halls; they were always just tombs.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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