Please visit our sponsors by clicking on banner.
Please visit our sponsors:
By: James Brino, EIT
Are you a young professional newly promoted to an engineering management role or recently started a new job, and you are now responsible for a team of engineers? Do you have any idea how to manage a team of young and experienced technical minds? Are you struggling? Is Imposter Syndrome setting in?
I was in this exact situation just a few months ago. I started at a manufacturer of precision gearing and mechanical components as an Applications Engineer in August 2021, with no direct reports, working independently with new customer and applications. I was really enjoying my workload and responsibilities. I was in business school at the time, with about a year left in my MBA studies, knowing I wanted to manage a team one day. Fast-forward to May 2022, I was asked to take over applications, new product development and process development for PIC Design, with three engineers reporting directly to me, all three weeks before I graduated with my MBA, and less than eight months with the organization!
You may have found yourself in a similar situation, trying desperately to stay afloat and not drown in the new role. I have spoken to many new engineering managers who have described the exact or similar situation, from all walks of life, industries, with and without an MBA. The three areas of weakness for new engineering managers that have been consistently brought up in conversation after conversation are: 1. People Management, 2. Conflict Resolution, 3. Establishing Credibility.
Of the three, conflict resolution may be the easiest to learn how to handle as there are many resources available, through ASEM (EMBoK 5th Edition is a great place to start!) as well as other sources, that teach techniques, tips and tools to manage conflicts, and how to mediate conflicts to a positive resolution.
Establishing credibility with your team is not as easily achieved, especially as a young engineering professional with no other management experience, or as a new member of an organization. One trick I have used to establish credibility with my team is to communicate my expectations at the start of every project making sure to present examples of work I have done previously in order to show the quality I expect out of the deliverables.
People management is in a category all on its own. You can speak to seasoned engineering managers who say they still struggle with people management. Every company, department and team will have its own unique set of personalities and interpersonal conflicts. Try using a different leadership style with each member of your team. Unique people require unique approaches to leadership; there is no one size fits all leadership approach, as I learned the hard way!
As I always tell my team every morning, “It’s a great day to have a great day, let’s crush it”. Every day strive to bring a new and exciting possibility into your journey as an engineering manager. Many others are in the situation, so know that you are not alone in your struggles of transitioning into an engineering management role.
I would love to hear your stories on how you handled your transition into engineering management or would like a friendly face who is in the exact same situation you are in, email@example.com.
James Brino is currently the Engineering Supervisor – Applications, Product & Process Development at PIC Design, a division of RBC Bearings, located in Middlebury, CT. Before assuming responsibility of new product and process development, James was a Senior Applications Engineer at PIC Design/RBC Bearings. He graduated from the University of Hartford Barney School of Business (West Hartford, Connecticut USA) with his MBA in May 2022. James has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (May 2020) from the University of Hartford.
by Annmarie Uliano
According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report, a mere 21% of employees are engaged at work and 33% of employees are thriving in their overall wellbeing as measured by their hope for the future, feeling about self, and connection to meaningful work. Some coined phrases to describe this are "living for the weekend," "watching the clock tick," and newly "quiet quitting."
What is quiet quitting? “You’re not outright quitting your job but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor or productive output.” The original source is @zkchillin on TikTok, which even as a millennial I would say needs research back up. Somehow this video went viral and sparked a whole lot of scientific and fact-based debate so definitely check out some of the coverage if you haven’t seen it already.
I had been exposed to the concept of quiet quitting pretty early on into my career. I joined a department that had turned over about half of the resources in the 3 months leading up to me joining (no, I didn’t know before I joined). Quiet quitting was pretty obvious with the few that remained. While me and the 5 others that joined around the same time were passionate and excited, ready to make an impact in the organization, I watched those veteran’s come late to work and watch Netflix way past their lunch break. Eventually the energized outperformed the “quiet quitters,” which led to a newly defined department with mission, vision, and shared values.
A few years later, the pandemic hit and while all industry was hit with too much work with not enough resources, healthcare got the hardest blow. An already overworked and understaffed workforce was pummeled. There was no money to reward staff for their hard work either. One of the pandemic years, leadership told us they weren’t sure if we could get a COLA (luckily, we did). After a few months, I started to see “quiet quitting” get picked up by coworkers who shared my energy to rebuild our department years ago. This time we were working from home, and it could be hidden much more easily.
As my department dwindled due to burnout and new leadership took over, the ones that remained, including myself, were quietly quitting. One coworker got another job to make money, and worked both jobs side by side, mainly due to not getting fairly compensated or acknowledged. Another picked up a health and fitness hobby that seemed to run the schedule of their day. For me, I found my work/life balance became work/couch balance, and I no longer felt I was giving 100% in all of my tasks.
For some of us, the quiet quitting reaction is simply in response to lack of respect from the organization, i.e. “quiet firing”. According to the Washington Post, employers avoid providing all but the bare legal minimum, possibly with the intention of getting unwanted employees to quit, denying raises for years, failing to supply resources while piling on demands, giving feedback designed to frustrate and confuse, or granting privileges to select workers based on vague, inconsistent performance standards. Those who don’t like it are welcome to leave.
I realized perhaps, for me, a contributing factor to my quiet quitting was being an engineer in an organization where the role was rare, working in a sea of medical professionals, people with a different set of credentials. I always felt I lacked good mentorship in analytics and had to work extra hard to find someone to fill that gap when I needed it.
I recently learned about inclusive leadership and want to propose it as a possible solution to combat the quiet quitting/firing trend. The Harvard Business Review defines inclusive leadership as leadership that assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired. Another definition provided by Dr. Meghan Pollock from Engineer Inclusion is a set of leader behaviors that focus on facilitating group members feeling part of the group and retaining their sense of individuality while contributing to group processes and outcomes.
What I come to reflect on here is the effect of the leadership cascade on the members of my department. More inclusive leadership, as was demonstrated by my original boss in the original turnover of my department, is what was needed when things broke down over time. At various points in time, my department had interim leadership in place, and my organization went through a large merger and a pandemic. You can imagine that leadership at all levels could not keep up with steady and inclusive leadership with such a changing organization.
For employees and managers alike, if you are struggling with engagement in your work, try learning more about inclusive leadership. The six key traits for inclusive leaders are depicted in the diagram below.
Feel free to comment and engage on how you think these characteristics may or may not help with the quiet quitting phenomenon.
Annmarie Uliano is a Healthcare Systems Engineering in Boston, MA currently pursuing her CPEM certification. She is serving as ASEM Secretary and has loved being involved with ASEM since starting a student chapter during grad school at Northeastern University in 2016. Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter.
[This is a post by ASEM Fellow Donald Kennedy]
I have heard a recurring theme at ASEM conferences where academics talk about how to calculate earned value and the practitioners say they have never actually seen earned value calculated in the field. This is an article about a simple way to do earned value analysis that actually works! I have used this method in controlling a billion dollar project (and smaller ones), so it should work for you, too.
One question that Project Managers should try to answer is “are we above or below budget”. That is the question I am going to show how to answer here. The variables I mention in the title are those you find when you do a literature search on earned value, such as BCWP and ACWP. Every so often, I re-learn the meanings of these variables, but I find I quickly forget them through lack of actually ever using them. Earned value analysis determines which of the four permutations of over or under and schedule or budget reflects the status of your project (e.g. ahead of schedule and over budget). To figure out if you are ahead or behind schedule, you simply update the plan with the most current information and see what your new completion date is (that is all I will say about that topic here). For budget, you can simply do a similar exercise. The forecasted completion date is just the original plan updated to reflect the most current information. The forecasted cost at completion should also just be the original cost estimate updated with the new information. I have seen other project teams struggle with forecasts -- making it a focused task, perhaps done quarterly, going through an entire re-estimation of the entire project. This is not only time consuming, it results in getting information sporadically and too late to make any corrective changes.
Going into a project, you should organize your work breakdown structure (WBS) so that every piece of information you receive about cost (bids, quotes, invoices, or a payments, etc.) will be represented by an item in your budget / forecast. Accountants tend to group costs by asset type for depreciation and other long-term company purposes, so you probably cannot just rely on the standard coding practice. On the billion dollar project mentioned above, there ended up being over 30,000 transactions, so many people stated my method would be too difficult to use. However, in keeping with the Pareto principle, 4000 of these items represented 95% of the costs. Having a “Miscellaneous” line in my budget representing $50 million sounds rough to the inexperienced, but it proved quite manageable. Tracking 4000 items by sifting through the 30,000 transactions required a couple of hours a day, or about 10 hours a week. I will also note that due to the company’s ERP system set-up, the accounting data came in the form of a several inch thick hard copy printout. Items such as quotes and bids were sourced through phone calls to the responsible people. The point is this system is manageable if set up well to start.
So I will proceed with a demonstration using a simple children’s play area as an example. From the experience of others you hear that the type of play area you want to build will cost about $2200. Your estimating department provides the following estimate based on the scope you provided:
Now a common error that is well documented is that details provide a confidence that may not be well-founded. The problem comes from listing all the knowns, and there will be unknowns. The difference between the sum of knowns and the typical cost from experience can be called ‘contingency.’ This should then establish the budget. The tool you can use to manage your project will look like this:
In order to properly manage a project, you need to know the most accurate information. If you simply add a buffer to each item “just in case” or to avoid blame for being wrong, this distortion impedes understanding. Showing the uncertainty as contingency helps you remember it is there for that reason. Changing numbers to fool others (such as your management) comes with the risk of ending up fooling yourself. Let’s say you inflate each line to allow for some contingency on each item. Halfway through the project, your spreadsheet may look like this:
So far, every item has come in under budget. Things appear to be trending well and you are starting to feel comfortable. You may forget that you padded each line with a buffer, and the real costs are actually all coming in higher than you expected. Using my suggested format with an allowance for unknowns, the snapshot for the same real costs now becomes:
The false comfort from before now becomes concern as everything is clearly trending higher than you expected. Let’s say a new development is that you realize the wood you purchased was for the quantity required, forgetting that 20 feet of board in two 10ft pieces cannot be cut to make three 6ft lengths, even though the total required is 18ft (2ft less than the amount ordered). The order for the additional wood is $100. As well, you learn that you need to light the area and have the design stamped by a professional engineer under your jurisdiction’s local regulations. These unplanned items cost $327 total. You also get a rough estimate from a contractor engaged to provide the labor for $500. Based on past experience with this contractor, your best guess is that the final cost for the work will be 20% more than the rough guess. The snapshot of your cost performance now looks like this:
Every time you get new information, you enter it into the spreadsheet and you get a new forecast. At the point shown above, you now see that you have spent 1350/2200 = 61% of the budget, you have committed 4% more than the budget and you are forecasting an 11% overrun. What you actually report at any time within your organization or to other stakeholders is up to your discretion as the project manager, but at least you know yourself where you sit.
So just to lay out my rules explicitly:
1) The budget should be expressed as a detailed estimate. If this is not the first project of this type you are doing, the spreadsheets from the previous jobs can become the basis for this detailed estimate. Changes in quantity can be accommodated.
2) The budget for each item should be what you expect the costs to be. Padding the numbers misleads you on your original expectations.
3) The coding for the costs as they come in should parallel as much as feasible the structure of the estimate.
4) The difference between the approved budget and the total of the detailed estimate is your allowance for unknowns, or contingency. If the budget is lower, then you are in the situation often joked about by project managers: “I haven’t even started yet and I am already over budget!”
5) A common request I have heard from the team is that the contingency must be higher to cover inflation. If you know the costs are going to be higher than last time, then the budget for those items should be increased. If you are pretty sure an unknown is going to happen, then it is not an unknown by definition.
6) The forecast is the budget updated with the latest information.
7) The forecast for an item starts as its budget.
8) When new information comes in, the forecast for that item should reflect this new information. If a line item is tendered as a contract, the forecast can be changed at the time the bids are opened. The bid you expect to be the winner can be used as a basis for the new forecast amount (perhaps with some additional for expected cost extras on the contracted price).
Using this method provides the answer to where you sit on the cost performance of the project. Even if it does not look like Earned Value, that is what it really is. The forecast starts out as the budgeted amount and then it is replaced with the actual amount. The amount of work “earned” is the budget amount that is replaced by the actual cost.
[This post is by ASEM Fellow Donald Kennedy]
A common critique of my articles is that I often do not have a recipe to offer to avoid the pitfalls of events I discuss. Management is complex and therefore explicit instructions tend to have other pitfalls in execution as severe as the situation they intend to fix. Most often my point is to simply be aware of how things really work. Two people working physically close may have very divergent interpretations of the status of the processes in their organization. The one with a more accurate view will be the one that will consistently make better decisions.
I am going to provide an example of what I call “faux automation” to show how I intentionally provided false information to reach completion in the most effective route. I did not believe it was my role to inform the management above me that things are not always the way they believe they are. To stop processes and work through things would not add value to the current endeavour.
I was working on one of my $100 million projects. The chief inspector would provide progress from the contractor in terms of percent complete for the various elements of the work breakdown structure. These values determined the amount of the progress payment for the contractor on a lump sum contract. The reported progress had zero impact on the total money the contractor would receive at the end, it only set the amount of the partial payment for that period. The inspector derived the percentage complete basically by holding up a thumb and looking around the construction site. “Uhm, piping is 37% done.” The inspector would write the numbers on a piece of paper, scan it, and email it to the contracts clerk. The clerk would type the numbers into a spreadsheet and inform the contractor how much they could invoice that month. The VP learned of this method and we discussed it in a management meeting. I volunteered to automate the system.
Four months later, the project was completed. The VP asked the clerk how the automating of the invoicing went. The clerk said it worked perfectly as the step of manually transferring the inspector’s numbers was eliminated. Everyone was satisfied and the initiative was recorded in the list of items in the Continuous Improvement program that increased efficiency. At the bar on Friday afternoon, a coworker asked me how hard it was to automate the system. I said it looked like it would be very tough initially and would take around 40 hours to develop and debug a process. But I came up with a solution that took only 15 minutes of my time. Since there were only 4 more invoices to be processed, I just typed the numbers in, instead of the clerk. Problem solved!
Donald Kennedy is a Fellow of the ASEM. He is the author of the ebook “Improving Your Life at Work” available on Amazon. After working with over 50 companies, Donald has moved out of the Oil and Gas Industry with its boom and bust cycles and started a new phase in agricultural machinery manufacturing.
By Gene Dixon, MBA, PhD, CPEM, FASEM, Executive Director of ASEM
Author: Paul Rulkens
Title: How Successful Engineers Become Great Business Leaders
Publisher: Business Expert Express, 2018
Spoiler alert: According to Rulkins, engineers can become organizational leaders. Even without an MBA.
Now that that is settled, why should you read the book? You should read the book because, like the management methods summaries of Blanchard and Johnson’s One Minute Manager, this book provides high level overviews of methods that the author has experienced and then tuned for engineers. It is a well-written treatise offering insights for engineers in a path towards organizational leadership. Not to be naïve, Rulkens notes there is an element of opportunity meeting preparation, or what we all know as luck, involved. Rulkens propositions that engineers are endowed with three basic strengths, or talents, that enables them to succeed at the highest levels of the organization: reality-based thinking, process design, and accelerated thinking. In discussing the uses of these strengths, he offers monographs of methods accompanied by 30 challenging questions. The questions, if taken seriously, will direct the reader to look inwardly while addressing and overcoming organizational challenges. This may seem oversimplified for those who want textbook level details to becoming a leader but the proof is in application. And, Rulkens intersperses his observations with vignettes and interviews that make his points clear.
The book is an easy read. Figure 1-2 hours depending on the reader’s comprehension speed (remember that accelerated learning strength?). Still there is plenty of mental and practical process (re)design within the 148 pages to comprehend and apply. I benefitted from a second read, however. Eventually, the engineer turned leader must stop the (book) analysis and get on with decision-making and goal achievement. Let me see if I can turn this review into a tease that will entice you to explore Rulkens’ work.
Rulkens describes the engineer’s superpowers - he calls them super-talents-like this:
Reality-based thinking is the ability to make decisions driven by data, the ability to clarify assumptions, and the ability to overcome systematic thinking bias such as self-selecting bias.
Process design is the application of process thinking to business challenges and systematic behavior testing to get different results using different processes. Another way to think about this is to ask, “What should not work, but is working anyway?”
Accelerated learning is defined by the speed, frequency and size/depth of the feedback and only happens when feedback from actions and experiments is fast, frequent, and significant.
According to Rulkens, it is possible for engineers to become great leaders by applying those superpowers in addressing the usual business challenges such as overcoming obstacles, crossing the valley of (innovation/project/etc.) death, strategic (re)alignment, avoiding stupid mistakes, eliminating contrary habits, and building the client network.
I recommend two chapters for a careful read, Effective Leadership Behaviors (5), and Goal-Achieving Blueprint (9). Thankfully, Rulkens stays away from the normal self-help banter with his personal insights in both chapters.
When it comes to leadership behaviors, Rulkens crisply guides the reader through germane topics like boosting signal/decreasing noise, applying Poka Yoke, and putting the dead rat on the table. You’ll appreciate those more when you read the chapter. On a more serious note, Rulkens discusses 12 behavioral distinctions for attaining higher performance:
Playing to Win versus Playing Not to Lose
Demonstrating Ownership versus Victimhood
Acting like a Student versus a Follower
Moving from Symbolism to Substance
Being Committed and not just Involved
Understanding Serving as opposed to Pleasing
Focusing on Results over Process
Adding Value verses Taking Up Space
Speaking with Clarity and not Code
Honoring Your Word not just Giving your Word
Acting on evidence not Anecdotes
Building a Legacy verses Leaving a Trail
With each behavioral distinction, Rulkens provides a simple question or two that challenges the reader to think deeply about the behavioral distinction and how each distinction is important to leadership performance.
Rulkens’ blueprint for goal-achievement goes beyond usual plug-and-chug formulary with the overarching thought that for the organization, goal achievement is strategy execution, i.e., the two terms are synonymous and strategy execution is owned by senior leaders. From Rulkens’ experience, the way to execute strategy is to “…focus on the spear tip of a few initiatives”. He dissects strategy execution into simplicity and speed. Simplicity provides true north consistency. Speed is the energizing sense of urgency and the “…driving force for agility”. Rulkens recognizes the work of Drucker in that, “…executives should focus on only one strategic goal”, and all other strategic objectives are subordinate to that “…major definite purpose”.
Rulkens ties the engineer’s superpowers to achieving the one organizational strategic goal. For him:
Reality-based thinking enables simplicity in decision making related to achieving the one strategic goal.
Process design enables systematically building organizational behaviors that support achieving the one strategic goal
Accelerated learning provides a cadence to move the organization towards compound improvement and keeps the one strategic goal in front of executives and every member of the organization.
If you are nautical minded, you can think of this as what Rulkens labels trim tab leadership. When engineers apply their superpowers and the three building blocks of goal achieving-clarity, focus, and execution-they are trimming the organizational rudder. Finally, Rulkens calls attention to the clarion challenge for all engineering managers, to wit: your minimum effective behavior is the maximum effective behavior you should expect from others.
Give the book a read. Let’s get those superpowers working for you and for ASEM! Overachievers welcome here.
This post is by Dr. Donald Kennedy
I have a tendency to make short phone calls to get answers. But lately, I have been moving more and more towards email and other forms that leave a trail of the conversation. As I write this, much of the time spent in meetings revolves around supply chain issues of 2022, so my examples are also on supply chain this time.
With the high turnover of employees that most organizations now face, there is also a higher amount of time required to get a cultural understanding of the words used in that setting. As an example, in one meeting I once asked a purchaser for the status of our parts orders for one of my $100 million projects. The answer was that “everything was procured.” We had everyone in a room together and we all heard the same words. It is common to blame “communication” as a flogging boy for suboptimal processes. This seemed like a case where we had maximum communication. Many of us left the meeting feeling confident that we would not have any major materials issues. A few months later, we were getting our first reports of parts not being available. I went back to the person who provided the status and I learned that while I heard “we have everything we need,” the person saying the words meant “I have issued purchase orders for everything we need.”
In another organization, the leadership team decided that to get out of a current backlog of unfilled orders, a step forward would be to drop any “just in time” delivery policy the company had and switch to a “get everything done we can do as soon as we can do it.” This meant that some work in progress could sit for a year, but it would minimize shortages we were facing due to supply chain upsets. The costs and inefficiencies involved with over producing one component and the carrying costs paled in comparison to the costs of not getting product out the door in our current situation. A few days later, I was speaking with a coworker and the topic came up. I was surprised to hear that they were producing items to meet the forecast demand. That person heard “get everything done we can do as soon as we can do it – of course recognizing the inefficiencies and carrying costs of over producing too much too soon.” We had to reconvene a leadership team meeting to discuss again the exact same issue. It was clear to me that almost everyone left the original meeting with the understanding that what was actually said should be followed with “of course, do not take that literally.” And I recognize that there will be times that following rules literally will produce undesired results.
Because management is easy except for the part dealing with people, there is no simple solution to the issues I highlighted above. There are tools that help, such as paraphrasing what you heard back to the person who said something or “teach back” method. Learning these tools can help.
One of the first steps is to be vigilant to the concept that simple words can mean different things to different people. As another example, I had a hard time when I started at one company when people were discussing how to get items in and out of a warehouse. I thought the issue was resolved by having a big storage tent at the production site to store all the components. I eventually realized that to everyone else a “warehouse” was a field in their ERP system and none of the issues involved anyone actually touching a physical item. So be vigilant and do not assume that just because someone heard the same thing you heard that you both left with the same message.
Dr. Donald Kennedy CPEM, FASEM is a regular contributor to the Practice Periodical. He amazed many readers of the last issue by staying at one employer in three consecutive calendar years (22 months total). He is currently back working where his career started in shop floor fabrication at a multinational equipment supplier.
This post is by Jeff Perry
Negotiations are a fact of life. We cannot avoid them. Whether we are negotiating compensation for a new job, the price of something we are trying to buy, a large corporate agreement, or even what to eat for dinner, we are constantly negotiating.
One of the biggest problems with negotiations is many people do not even try! Usually this is because they think that issues are not open for negotiation. The truth is, unless there is some sort of ethics issue involved, it is always okay to ask if things are negotiable. This can have huge effects on your life and career.
Think simply if you negotiate an additional $5k/year in starting salary for your first job and an additional 1% increase in salary per year. The cost of not negotiating can be in the millions of dollars over the course of your career, even though it seems so small up front.
Just ask and see what happens.
Many of us have the wrong idea about the idea of winning a negotiation. We wrongly think that negotiations always result in winners and losers. Sometimes this is true, but it does not have to be.
We can get caught into the trap or perception that we are working with a “fixed pie” – that there are only so many resources to go around, and we must fight over them in negotiations. Often, there are mixed motives involved, where interests do not directly line up across parties.
Win-win negotiations are possible in many cases. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
To find those win-win opportunities, you will have to spend time deeply understanding the interests and desires of your negotiation partner(s). This is especially true if there are multiple items that are being negotiated.
Each of you may have different priorities or values associated with each item for negotiation. This is a good thing. This means that you each have opportunity to give up something of less value in order to receive something of more value.
Spend a lot of time asking questions that help you understand every interest of your negotiation partner. Being genuinely curious about what they care about will not only help you know what items you should focus on, but also help build trust.
Similarly, it is very important to share you interests or what you want in the negotiation. Being coy or failing to reveal your interests makes it such that the other side must guess your interests, and people do not often guess correctly. This means that you are less likely to get what you want.
Successful negotiation is like a puzzle that needs to be put together. It takes time to make the discoveries, but it can also be kind of fun!
It is hard to appropriately debrief and get feedback in real-life negotiations. Rarely will people share exactly how satisfied they were with the negotiation outcome. However, like anything else in life, if you are not continually seeking to learn and improve, you will not get any better.
Perform some personal analysis from each negotiation experience. Ask a friend who knows something about the issues at hand for their thoughts and ideas.
If negotiations are foreign or scary to you, learn more about them! Take a short course on negotiations, watch some YouTube videos, or find a coach who can help you through a negotiation situation.
Negotiations are a part of life – if you can focus more on what the other parties are trying to accomplish and help them do that without sacrificing what is most important to you, you can develop those win-win opportunities.
Jeff Perry provides engineering professionals and teams with transformational coaching and programs to help develop soft skills like leadership and mindset to unlock hidden potential and remove self-imposed roadblocks for career and life.
For years, he has had the pleasure of supporting engineers and software pros from new grads to executive levels. Having been on the front lines in the technical world, he has been able to map out the necessary skills for becoming a quality leader in the field.
You can connect with Jeff on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffcperry/ or visit his website, morethan-engineering.com.
This post is by Stephanie Slocum, P.E.
You’re frustrated because you’ve lost a key person you’re managing, and now you’re stuck doing more work with fewer people. The trouble is, you’re not exactly sure why they left. More overtime, more late nights, more interviewing a replacement, and more training of someone new. In short: more work for you.
85% of employees say they are not engaged at work. Employees who are not engaged are at risk of quitting. At the same time, employees who agree with the statement: “I have received meaningful feedback in the last week,” are almost four times more likely than other employees to be engaged at work. Frequent, meaningful feedback improves retention. Here are four ways to immediately improve it.
Don’t save up feedback for performance reviews. Giving and receiving feedback should occur a few times a week, as soon as possible after a feedback event. Practice giving impromptu, immediate feedback in small amounts (2 minutes) to make frequent feedback the norm. Feedback is critical because it helps employees improve their performance; don’t hoard it!
The purpose of meaningful feedback is to improve future performance and includes:
“Your communication skills need work” is poor feedback because it focuses on the person, not the behavior. This feedback is not specific, and there are no ideas for improvement.
Contrast this with good feedback, provided immediately after a presentation: “When you presented in that meeting yesterday, I noticed you kept talking after making your point, which seemed to confuse the client as you got too deep into the details. In contrast, you are concise when I talk to you informally and know this subject. What are your ideas to bring that clarity into your presentations?”
The feedback sandwich – sandwiching one negative comment between two positive ones – is ineffective and outdated. Provide both types of feedback immediately after they occur, such that the yearly performance review becomes a summary of the feedback that happened during the year. Aim for an initial goal of 1:1 in giving positive to negative feedback.
Provide constructive negative feedback using straightforward yet compassionate language, and include a clear action plan for improvement that demonstrates you are committed to the employee’s success.
In performance reviews, women are 1.4 times more likely to receive critical subjective feedback, while men receive critical constructive feedback. Women are 20% less likely than men to receive difficult feedback that helps them improve their performance. Top reasons managers cited for not giving women feedback include “concerned about seeming mean or hurtful,” “didn’t want them to dislike me,” and “concerned about an outburst.”
Women are also much more likely to receive personality criticisms when given feedback. Examples include phrases such as “watch your tone,” “stop being so judgemental,” “she’s coming on too strong,” “she’s too direct or abrasive”.
Giving feedback at similar frequencies and of similar types to everyone you’re managing means you are being fair to everyone. It benefits the team dynamic because no one is wondering where they stand. Provide constructive negative feedback using straightforward yet compassionate language, and include a clear action plan for improvement that demonstrates you are committed to the employee’s success. Want to go deeper on this topic with more examples and scripts for managers who need to give negative feedback? Check out two blogs on this topic: “How to Give and Receive Feedback that Doesn’t Suck” and “How to Get Actionable Feedback That Fuels Stem Career Growth.”
Stephanie Slocum, P.E., is on a mission to normalize engineering, technology, and STEM women in leadership. She helps women become influential leaders while having a life, and she helps organizations committed to gender equity in STEM create work environments that retain and engage their women. Stephanie Slocum is the author of She Engineers and Founder of Engineers Rising LLC. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at engineersrising.com
This post is by Anand Safi
Over the past decade, I've worked both as an individual contributor as well as leadership/ management roles. I also do a lot of Mentorship and Coaching for engineers who aspire to move to engineering management and early-tenure engineering leaders. Through this experience, I've learned that many engineers who want to make the move into management are unprepared for this transition, and there is very little training available to support them.
Through this article, I wanted to provide some guidance for new engineering managers and provide a couple initial focus areas that a first time EM can build upon.
When you are a new/ recent engineering manager (say, in your first 90 days) a quick thing you will realize is you need to gain trust, build relationships and rapport quickly -- not only with your fellow engineering talent, not only with your direct reports, but also with all the other discipline stakeholders. As an individual contributor, you might spend 80% of your time with your engineering team. But in an engineering management role, you might only spend 50% of the time with your engineers. The other 50% time is spent with people who are stakeholders representing other cross-functional disciplines, such as product, design, UX, or QA.
Additionally, there are other teams like people ops, recruiting, platform, customer support, customer success and deployments for example. Hence, you need to build relationships early on because your team cannot be successful unless everyone in each discipline is aligned on the common goal and plan to get there.
The amount of cross-communication and information that will be made available to you will continue to rise exponentially. Whether that is pre-set routine meetings, ad-hoc situations or some form of change management – there will be a plethora of details that you will hear, will need to act upon, or will need to pass around. The need to manage information will quickly become a core part of your day-to-day role as an engineering manager.
To manage the volume of information you can expect to receive, you should develop a structured way to capture and process all the information that you were going to be exposed to throughout the day. Important information can be conveyed through casual conversations in Slack messages and routine one-on-ones with your staff. Bearing this in mind, it's important to have your subconscious mind active in terms of recognizing the need to bring information to others, or to take some other action. You do need to make sure that you are staying at the top of all conversations.
Given the importance of sharing information mentioned above, an important skill as an engineering manager is being an active listener. Being an active listener is important because you can never be sure when important information is going to come to the surface and when that information will be needed. Modern organizations are very busy places, with many people working on many different things. If you don't pay close attention, it is going to be difficult for you to recall important information days, weeks, or months after the fact. To that end, keeping some sort of documentation system and an action item as a to-do list can help a lot.
Anand is a Senior Engineering Leader for Mark43 - a public safety SaaS company. Over the past decade, Anand has progressed from starting as an aspiring engineer to becoming an engineering leader. Anand also is a Startup Advisor, Volunteer Board Member and an established tech mentor outside of his role. He loves reading about engineering culture, team dynamics and new advancements in tech.
This post is by Joshua Plenert, PE, MS, MBA
The full potential of an intelligent workforce is being limited by outdated management systems.
The industrial age brought growth like never before. It allowed production to be scaled larger. The manager held all the knowledge, and the workers were given a simple task to perform repeatedly, day after day. The developed management style was focused entirely on control, and employees were nothing more than expendable cogs in the machine.
Throughout the 1900s, organizations continued to grow, and managers focused more and more on standardizing processes, optimizing outputs, and preventing variation. Workers were task-oriented, and the relationship between managers and workers was utterly transactional. But workers were gaining more knowledge and experience in their fields.
Modern organizations are still heavily influenced by the long and oppressive shadow the industrial age management style casts. But the manager-worker relationship is quickly changing. Workers today are highly educated, experienced experts in their industries. In most organizations, the expertise of the workers far exceeds that of the manager. This evolution has moved the manager’s role into a servant leadership role rather than the controlling authoritarian role of the past. Managers are coaches, mentors, administrators, and facilitators, but the workers are now the experts.
The transactional relationship of the past has changed into a transformational relationship. Workers expect more than just a paycheck. They hope to be part of an innovative organization with a genuine purpose. They expect to be valued members of a healthy community. They want to be free to be great at what they do without the belittling micromanagement systems of the past.
This shift is an exciting time for modern organizations. Workers are intelligent, driven professionals. They take ownership of their work and their careers. The challenge now is to re-learn what it means to be a manager. It’s no longer about controlling the individual tasks of the workers and more about providing strategic direction and organizational systems that will support them in their work.
As the way we do work has changed, so has technology. Most of the actual work done in organizations today is executed in virtual environments rather than physical ones. Electronic communication allows workers worldwide to cooperate and coordinate their efforts. The vast majority of the productive work we do is completed on computers tied to worldwide networks, and our physical location has become entirely irrelevant to our ability to be exceptional in our fields.
Even though technology has created a new virtual working environment, many organizations still hold tight to the physical office. But the COVID pandemic has disrupted the flow managers had become so used to. As we’ve learned to maintain high productivity levels while quarantined in our homes, we realized that our dependence on the physical office was a complete misconception. We’ve entered a new realization that organizations and managers are now frantically trying to cope with.
The reality is that remote work is here to stay. Intelligent professionals will never be happy encaged in a cubicle doing work they know very well they could be doing from their home office. They will never be satisfied working for an organization still operating under the micromanaged environment of the physical workplace. In fact, in recent surveys published by Owl Labs, 1 in 3 employees say they would quit their jobs if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely. More than half would expect a pay raise, and nearly half would be less willing to go the extra mile if required to return to the office.
It’s time for organizations to stop viewing remote work as a difficult challenge and start viewing it for what it really is, an exciting opportunity. It’s an opportunity to move your organization into a healthier and more rewarding work environment. It’s an opportunity to reduce to cost of doing business and enhance the value of a happy, productive workforce. It’s an opportunity to realize the full potential of modern technology and a global talent pool.
The competitive advantages of high-performance organizations of the future depend heavily on fully engaging a remote workforce. The organizations that take too long to figure out how to operate effectively and efficiently with remote teams will undoubtedly be left behind. But those that embrace this new way of getting work done will have opportunities to enhance their value and expand their operations in ways the world is just now beginning to imagine.
ASEM World Headquarters * 200 Sparkman Drive, Suite 2 * Huntsville, Alabama 35805