Google Oxygen: Know this case of People Analytics and what we can learn from it

The Google Oxygen case study is an extraordinary example of applying People Analytics to solve concrete problems in a company. By getting to know you, as an employee, stakeholders see the key role of data analysis and gain valuable knowledge from this. After all, both the results and methods developed in the program are very useful in daily life. In this post, we break down the main points of the technology giant’s success case. However, as you will see below, the results can be applied to any business– it is simply necessary to manage people. Keep reading for valuable lessons, and to deepen your knowledge of People Analytics. In the end, you’ll be better able to confidently bring improvements to your business!


Founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google has always been, to some extent, a company made up of engineers. Whether it’s the head of a team or the person in charge of software– everyone is knowledgeable in computing and programming. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty. But it turns out that if a professional has 20 or 30 people below them, it might be necessary to go beyond technical knowledge, right? Or– will the team be able to walk alone? In 2008, the Google People Analytics team looked to answer these questions. A division of the HR operations of the company, created only a few years earlier, was tasked with verifying whether the current framework of the company relied on data, whether managers really mattered or whether the company could thrive with fewer managers. And thus– Project Oxygen, or Google Oxygen, was born.


Because People Analytics is, at its core, about putting forward good questions to guide useful data collection, the Google Oxygen case study begins by defining the key question that led the survey: Do managers really make a difference in a team?

The challenge came with having to build a reliable database on their workforce’s knowledge and skill base. That’s why Project Oxygen was designed to last 5 years – to ensure that it would provide long-term benefits to the workforce.

In addition, the data collection would happen right on the “factory floor”. To answer the key question, it was not helpful to simply have a top-down view of what was happening at the operational level, but they had to capture the reality of their workforce by collecting data directly from the source.

Not surprisingly, the research began with asking former workers their reasons for leaving the company, to find out if the employee turnover rates were related to dissatisfaction with management.

Subsequently, they sought to deepen the relationship between performance indicators and management involvement by interrogating managers at higher and lower levels of the company, in order to collect more data.

Finally, having studied the relationships between retention, performance, job satisfaction and management quality– a series of qualitative research was started to identify the present attributes and skill sets that were shared between successful teams.


By collecting this data, the researchers were able to show the relationship between the manager’s qualifications and performance indicators, satisfaction and employee retention. Thus, an information base was built to support relevant steps in recruitment, evaluation and training.


First off, the study concluded that leaders played a key role in employee performance, satisfaction, and retention. So, if the employee does not produce as expected, the blame should, sometimes, not fall solely on the employee’s shoulders.

While this feedback can be difficult for those in charge of teams to hear, poor leadership disengages employees, hampers productivity and greatly increases turnover rates.


These results helped refine the ideal characteristics a manager should have to lead a successful team. These so-called “8 Oxygens of Great Managers” are as follows:

  • being a coach
  • empowering staff and not micromanaging
  • being interested in and caring about the team
  • staying productive and focused on good results
  • being a good communicator having a strategic view of the team’s direction
  • having the technical ability to guide the team

Thus, the study not only concluded that managers make a difference in a team, but it also set forward key characteristics to help identify those most qualified to be in such a role– which requires a combination of both technical and behavioral skills.


The Google Oxygen case study produces insights that go beyond the technology giant’s scope. In fact, the researchers’ conclusions helped implement changes in the way other companies hire and empower their managers.

One main point that was illustrated was the need for a mix of technical and behavioral skills to be attached to the position for successful long-term recruitment. Not only are companies hiring solely based on hard skills, but they are also dismissing those because their lack of soft skills.

What is worse is that, in many cases, this issue is exacerbated by not taking into account all the qualifications needed to fill this position. When HR is in a hurry to fill a vacancy, or if there is only one person making the decisions, they give such positions to people who may not have the best qualifications for the job. Thus, these positions get filled by weaker candidates.

Likewise, this study also raised issues regarding training. The role of HR professionals and People Management is to help bridge the gap between already-existing and required skillsets for a job. The case study offers directions that can be integrated to company-specific workflows to create more efficient development programs for new recruits.


The lessons learned from this study affect both recruitment and training of managers, as well as the application of People Analytics in a productive workflow. As a reminder, here is a summary of the knowledge gained from this case:

  • HR and People Management need to support their data and management decisions, which should be implemented into recruitment, evaluation and training processes
  • People Analytics aims to uphold long-term benefits, basing itself on collecting reliable information and building upon historical data to predict the best actions to be taken
  • the research must be conducted by collecting information from the people in every level of the organization – not to simply analyze a top-down view of the team
  • managers are key to team metrics and a worker’s good job performance requires the combination of both hard and soft skills

In this sense, it is important that professionals search for technological solutions to facilitate the process of database construction. Climate research tools, for example, allow you to easily identify management issues.

Another tip is to seek out consulting programs to help address the challenge of bridging the gap between required and present skillsets. Know-how streamlines this process and provides safe guidelines for any changes in the company coming from these studies.

Now that you have received valuable insight into the Google Oxygen case study, it is advisable to search for tools and people who can contribute to these ongoing transformations.

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