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How Google can help nurse managers


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Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, April 26, 2011

Has Google cracked the secret of how to be a good boss? The data geeks at Google have come to some surprising conclusions about what makes a good manager and the findings can be applied by managers in any industry, even healthcare.

In fact, the news struck me as particularly reassuring for nurse managers, who are so often promoted into the role with no experience in managing or leadership training, then left to sink or swim as they figure out how to manage a whole unit (sometimes more) of nurses. Some are naturals, some are not. But Google's data says, the most important thing for managers to do is just be accessible for employees.

This sounds overly simplistic and it surprised the Googlers, who assumed the best managers would be those with high technical expertise who really understood what their teams were working on and could provide technical knowledge to help that. No. What the teams really needed was someone who was accessible, who could listen and help them figure out the answers themselves. It didn't matter whether the manager had as high technical knowledge as the team, just that they could go to the manager for support.

This is encouraging for nurse managers. They are removed from the clinical side of patient care as they spend much of their days in meetings, thinking about the business side of providing care. They do not need to be the font of all knowledge for clinical issues; staff nurses should have access to charge nurses, clinical nurse specialists, clinical nurse leaders, physicians, pharmacists, or simply the library, for that kind of information. The nurse manager is there for the business side, for running the unit, for strategic thinking, for performance improvement and career development. The most important side of that, from the staff perspective, is taking time talking to staff and being available when needed.

The Google mission to build a better boss was profiled in The New York Times. Back in 2009, according to the article, Google launched a team to analyze employees' perceptions of their managers, who was considered a "good" or "bad" manager, and why.

To do so, they analyzed performance reviews, feedback surveys, and anything else that provided data. Once they started digging into the reams of data, they came to a surprising conclusion. What employees valued were even-keeled managers who helped employees work through problems, rather than imposing solutions, who made time to talk with employees, and who took personal interest in their employee's lives and careers.

Although the worlds of Google and healthcare seem a long way apart, these findings make just as much sense in a hospital setting as in Google's high-tech world. Nursing is a stressful profession, filled with hierarchies and bureaucracy. Managers who care about employees' lives and careers and who are supportive are the managers who will work to remove needless obstacles and create positive workplace environments based on civility and respect.

Google realized that its best managers had employees who performed better and who stayed longer. Helping nurse managers value and spend time on these important topics should achieve the same results.