Managers have a critical role to play in the learning and development of the people who report to them. In fact, that relationship is more critical than anything the HR or Training departments can do to improve performance. This is born out in Google's internal study of good management.

In this self-study, Google identified eight things that “good” managers should do. These imperatives are listed here in order of importance:

  1. Be a good coach
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage
  3. Express interest in team member’s success and personal well-being
  4. Don’t be a sissy [I don’t know what this means.]; Be productive and results-oriented
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team
  6. Help your employees with career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

Adam Bryant, in an article he wrote about this study for the New York Times, points out that while there is nothing new in this list, Google managers pay attention to these behaviors because they are based on Google data. Another important aspect of this internal research is that having technical skills, while important, is at the bottom of the list which might be surprising to some given the technical nature of the business. Bryant writes:

technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

Apparently, managers are successful in Google, not because of their technical expertise, although that’s important, but because of what they do to help team members learn and develop and achieve success. In the 5As Framework, we call this relationship: “alliance”. The alliance of manager with team member is a critical factor in employee learning and performance improvement.