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Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe
Seth Godin wrote an eloquent blog titled Tires, coffee, and people in which he reminds us that we as consumers tend to skimp on the wrong things in an effort to make things better. For instance, we seek to buy better cars without understanding the benefit that the right tires have on performance. We seek out newer and better coffee machines while ignoring the fact that the right coffee bean is arguably more important.
We as a society also view people the same way. Take two companies of exactly the same size with exactly the same capital resources. What makes the organizations operate differently? It is the people that allow an organization to use the resources towards a company’s goals.
Yet systems do not operate that way. Problems within a system tend to be caused in places other than where the problem can be seen. A loss in sales can be caused by factors in which the sales team has no control over. I have personally seen how strategies such as reducing spares affect the ability to build products on time (or repair them in a timely manner). Most managers also have no fundamental concept of variation and how to both identify it and address the causes.
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Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.
Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President
The final Pres. Release for my term of office. Somewhat bittersweet. The relief on the impact on my schedule being President is welcome. The constant awareness of leading this organization has been energizing. The fact that it is time to move over and make room for someone new is exciting. For me. For the Society. Geert Letens, the first, truly international president will be stepping in. I look forward to what he will do as President. He really understands growth, value and retention.
What if the term of office was longer, is a question I am sometimes asked. To a person, each of the members of the Executive Committee—Past-president, President, President-elect, Secretary, Treasurer and our Executive Directors—recognize that the term of office for President is really 4 years, and only one of those is with the official title. It truly is four years. Not much happens as President that is focused on one person. It is the Executive Committee that leads the ASEM. Each step in the leadership progression, from Secretary to President-elect is a process of preparing and supporting the President for her/his term of office. Once elected to Secretary, the process of being President begins. Once you've served with the title of President of ASEM, the following year continues with the work of making the President efficient and effective (thanks, Beth). And, to continue the work of promoting growth, value and retention. You continue to work as Past-president because growth, value, and retention are really the fundamental principles of ASEM as a member society. I think the rotation system works, and works well.
In EM, I think we call that either participative leadership, mentoring, training, or even a systems approach. In part or in whole, each is applicable. We try to practice EM in ASEM.
So, congratulations to Geert our 2016 President. And congratulations to Frances Alston, the 2016 ASEM Secretary. Frances won a very close election—the margin was ~2%.
And thank you to all our candidates. Stepping out for election takes a bit of courage. Being willing to serve takes passion for the ASEM. Serving as an elected officer takes a will to work. Thank you again all of our director leaders, elected and appointed, for your desire to move ASEM forward.
And thank you. Each member. Each contributor. Each sponsor. Each author. Each IAC registrant. When you were asked, you responded. Effectively. Efficiently. And thank you also to those who support your involvement in ASEM. Each of you have supported the growth, value and retention that is ASEM.
And a special thanks to all those who called or emailed in response to questions I've asked in past issues of Pres. Release. It is rewarding to know you read these. And, for what it is worth, I had a student who found one of the Pres. Release in blog form and read it. Thanks Trish, et al., for making that forum available.
You know management and leadership is not always lily pure in execution. If I've strayed from lily pure execution, I'm sorry. Engineering management/leadership is a process of smoothing bumps, jumping crevices and backing up and going around when you've hit a roadblock or done something stupid (is it okay to use that term?) and stretching yourself and those you manage or lead. It is a process of collaborating. No doubt I've not always done the right thing; not every 't' has been properly crossed. Not every 'i' has been properly dotted every time. I've always believed I've had the right motives.
2016 ASEM Past-president
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As someone who views life - work, in particular - as an opportunity to watch and learn, I've noticed that some things consistently grab my attention. Often it's how a manager leads a project or team; whether or not it was actually successful, how the people around that person interact or even how the effort is structured and planned. Everyone does things a little bit differently, which can affect the outcome. I've had my share of positive and negative project experiences, as have most of us. Sometimes you know right off the start that the project is a train wreck waiting to happen, and other times you can almost watch the project avoid the collision and get back on track. If you aren't too deeply embedded in the project, it can be fascinating to see all of the parts come together.
What comes after the project is often a character-defining process. One example where I've seen this is how the project is evaluated after the work is completed or canceled. I have participated (grudgingly at times) in post-project reflection sessions, also known as Lessons Learned or Project Post Mortems. Don't get me wrong; I believe in the power and value that these exercises can bring. Can bring, as in potential results. However, it has been a rare occurrence in my experience to actually see these sessions executed effectively. Some of these meetings have been too high-level, too 'fluffy,' too "I don't want to cause waves, so I'm holding back" in tone for any real evaluation. There is nothing to learn, of course, if the details aren't communicated and shared.
That said, I'd still rather have a session like that, versus some of the more abrasive and almost combative meetings that I've attended. In those exercises, blame is assigned and punishment is meted out. When that pattern is more of a trend than a fluke, it's no wonder that attendance can be light. People generally avoid painful confrontations, particularly when it comes from familiar sources.
Imagine this: What if the project leader stepped forward, accepted responsibility and maybe even apologized for the project's outcome? We have all read the articles where great leaders are defined as giving the team credit for success and solely taking blame for failure themselves, but does that really happen? OK, sure, I've had project leaders thank the team and outwardly acknowledge the team's role in the success of the project, but rarely - nay, never - have I experienced a leader taking the heat for a poor performance. Like many of us, there are excuses (see the previous ASEM blog post) that are put up as valid reasons to explain shortcomings and mistakes. It happens and it's not surprising. After all, leaders - like the rest of us - are human.
The wheels started turning for this blog after I read a posted article about apologies and great leaders. It was an interesting piece; well written and thoughtful. But I had a hard time finding an example in my experience where any of my leaders had sincerely and wholeheartedly apologized in a way that made me think of them in a positive light. I can think of a number of times where an apology was warranted. There were also a few mumbled attempts at apologizing. The behavior that I've seen most commonly has been little more than a shoulder shrug and an offhand "Hey, it happens" sort of retort that does little to build relationships or garner respect.
As you face down a new workweek, maybe it's time to think about what you see and wish to see from the people leading your work. Are you waiting for the admonishments to come rolling down on your team? Or maybe you won't hear anything - positive or negative - and you'll be left wondering how your work is perceived? Perhaps you have a manager that needs to be the bigger person, to own up to the responsibility for the outcomes? And what, dare I ask, if we are the manager where this critical eye should be pointed? Are we ready to shoulder that burden and make the hard decisions?
I'd love to know more about your experiences. Please share your comments below or reach out via social media. I'll close with this thought: "Success on any major scale requires you to accept responsibility. In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility." ~ Michael Korda, Editor-in-Chief, Simon & Schuster
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Tricia Simo Kush is a certified Professional Engineering Manager with a background in Information Technology and a goal to take her career to a higher level through Engineering Management. She graduated from the MEM program at St. Cloud State University in 2010. To her, Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of technology and business, people and process. She is constantly seeing the ways that Engineering Management spans industries and helps everyone to become effective leaders. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.
I spent some time today looking through blogs from some of my favorite writers. The blogs I follow are an eclectic mix that lean toward technology and management. Sure, I have a few knitting blogs that I read, as well as one that my friend - a California naturalist - posts to regularly, but most are related in some way to management. Go figure, right?
Today's message popped out for me while reading Johanna Rothman's blog, "Create an Adaptable Life." She writes about management consulting and coaching, as well as other interests in her life. Like many of us, she has encounters people and things that provide challenges to overcome. While reading her most recent post (26AUG2015), I came across this nugget that resonated with me.
"I make excuses for myself when I doubt my actions. I suspect other people do, too. For me, that's time to change my mind."
Hmm; yes, I can agree with this. What I can't always do is identify that I'm doing it, which is why Johanna's words struck a chord with me. I mean, some of us *raises her hand sheepishly* are veritable excuse-making machines. But it hadn't occurred to me WHY I'm making the excuses. She continues making her point, adding to my understanding:
"I often think about whether my actions are congruent with my values. I find I get angry (mostly with myself) when I’m not living according to my values. I suspect that when people feel they need to make excuses to me, they are not behaving in a way that is congruent with their values."
Wow. There's a lot of truth in those statements. I mean, no sooner is the excuse out of my mouth and I start to feel a bit off. It's almost like a lie, which, at its foundation, it is. You are lying to yourself when you aren't embracing and espousing your convictions. Why is the truth so hard, particularly to myself? Her next lines are where it really comes home for me.
"Doubts (or excuses) can be useful for us. They tell us when we are not being true to ourselves. We can listen to our doubts and select a different action. We can adapt. We can change our minds and then our actions."
How very empowering! By listening to yourself, you can actively address the situation and make the change(s) necessary to bring our ideas into alignment. In fact, I suspect that the more this exercise is performed, the better we can become at recognizing the excuses that others make toward us as well.
Not to drift too much from this topic, but I recently read Dr. Carol Dweck's book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success." I have been thinking about how a change in mindset can affect a person, and that is likely how I was drawn to Johanna's ideas about truth and making excuses. It's pretty neat how those concepts come together at a few points to reinforce our abilities to see, make and appreciate change.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more reading to tackle. In fact, you can join me, because the 2015 IAC schedule is up and ready for you to review. Just looking over the itinerary, I'm already looking forward to being in Indianapolis in October!
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Tricia Simo Kush is a certified Professional Engineering Manager with a background in Information Technology and a goal to take her career to a higher level through Engineering Management. She graduated from the MEM program at St. Cloud State University in 2010. To her, Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of technology and business, people and process. She is constantly seeing the ways that Engineering Management spans many industries and helps everyone to become effective leaders. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.
The deadline for early registration has passed, but there's still time to register for the ASEM International Annual Conference (IAC). The theme is "Driving Change: An Engineering Imperative. I hope to see you there, enjoying all that the city of Indianapolis can provide while spending time with fellow engineering management professionals.
I’ll start with a quote that’s making the rounds on Facebook:
“…you can’t separate your successes from your failures until you look back, and even then, there’s not much point in putting each into a separate column. It’s all a part of whatever path you’re on.
But don’t misunderstand me - that path is not laid out in advance - at least not in my opinion. I don’t believe that, “everything happens for a reason.” I think we make our own luck, and the only real failure is the failure to try.”
~ Mike Rowe, Syndicated TV Host
My granddaughter accuses me of being part fortune cookie. When she asks a question, I want to reply with some pithy piece of Solomon-like wisdom. I confess, I still enjoy the book, “The Further Sayings of Chairman Malcolm”, a compendium of wisdom quotes pulled from Forbes magazine when Malcom Forbes was editor.
Often in my classes, I’ll encourage students to find and absorb Winston Churchill’s commencement address, October 29, 1941 to the Harrow School. Somewhere in the middle of his two-page text is the part I want them to absorb. “…never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
I still (re)read the book, The Go Getter, by Peter Kyne from time to time. It’s out of print but when I find copies, I buy them and give them to folks who are already demonstrating a never give up attitude and need some reinforcement. Sometimes greatness deserves a push.
And so with that, you can know, I will never give up on promoting ASEM. It’s vision. It’s purpose. It’s members. It’s supporters. We will change and move to support the discipline or profession as the case may be. And still, our passion for who we are and what we represent (thanks Bill Daughton) sustains us in the tough times and keeps us humble and full of respect when times are good.
And that is why I encourage all of us to grow the ASEM by inviting others to join, individuals and organizations-academic, profit, and non-profit.
That is why I encourage all of us to seek ways to add value to ASEM and to push ASEM to provide value to all of the Society’s constituents.
That is why I encourage all of us to continually renew our support for ASEM.
What is it that draws you to ASEM? To use failure as a stepping stone? To never give up? To always be a go getter? Send me a note and let me know, please (email@example.com).
Oh, by the way, membership numbers are up. Thank all of you. Please, continue!
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Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe
I still remember the first question my professor asked me on the first day of the first management class I ever attended like it was yesterday. He asked a simple question: “Why do you want to be a manager?” Several students, myself included, raised their hands and gave a reply. After a few answers the professor made a statement that stuck with me ever since.
His reply to the students was “If you do not want to make a lot of money then you should not be a manager.” When I heard that I was stunned. Stunned because I sincerely saw management as a way of doing what I felt I did best. I wanted to help others be the best they could be while empowering them to do great things. I always felt, even as a bright-eyed young student all those years ago, that making money was the RESULT of being a great manager and not the reason. As I continued to study management I continued to be passionate about the potential that management, when performed correctly, can transform organizations and change people’s lives.
Yet my experiences within the management discipline have only served to reinforce what my professor said. I see many organizations filled with people who use management as a means to further their own career with little or no desire for the actual art of management itself. People who climb onto the corporate ladder with nobody to teach and be a role model for them by reinforcing the theory that management is a responsibility and not a right.
Yet, I do not blame them in one sense. Many organizations create a structure focusing on the short-term and physical without any understanding of the “things that are unknown and unmeasurable” as Deming would say. Managers within these structures become parasites seeking self-satisfaction only serving to chase short-term goals for extrinsic reward at the expense of those around them. People in these organizations become unmotivated feeling that they can be replaced at a moment’s notice. Is it no wonder that morale within organizations is at an all-time low? A recent study showed that 90 percent of employees felt that they could do their job better if there were no management in place. This in my opinion is truly a shame, as these individuals have never seen the power of management to achieve extraordinary things.
If there is anything I could ask of all of you desiring to become managers is to ask yourself the same question I was asked all those years ago. If your answer to this question is similar to mine then I ask that you explore ASEM and find people to help you find your passion. ASEM is truly wonderful in that there are people of all walks of life and experience available. And, I would argue, most if not all of the members are willing to help you where you want to go. I ask all of you to be a part of the transformation that management so dearly needs. And, if you are one of those in position to help people about to start the climb towards management I ask that you be the catalyst for change and be the example that they can learn from.
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I recently had an experience with a computer peripheral manufacturer that reminded me of how engineering perceptions affect customer satisfaction. I decided to return a computer peripheral to the manufacturer as it was not compatible with my operating system, something I learned only after plugging it into my computer. The manufacturer had a self-stated “no questions asked” return policy. I called their help line whereupon I was asked why I was returning it. I gave them the reason and my email address and personal details whereupon I was told that I would get an email with the means to ship the item back for a refund. What I got instead was an email stating that since the item was being returned due to an incompatibility issue and not due to a defect I was not entitled to a refund. The email also stated that the compatible operating systems was listed on the website therefore they were not at fault (a check of their website found the operating systems listed as a link to a separate page itself).
In all fairness I confess that I am partially to blame for not understanding the operating system requirements (even though I have bought numerous peripherals for operating systems that are not stated and which work perfectly fine) but the manner in which this was dealt with gave me the impression that the organization was looking for a reason not to give me a refund. I had one organization I purchase accessories from who actually sent me a replacement item after I damaged it due to my own actions. Organizations have flexibility in how they view their policies and as an extension their relationship with their customers and interactions such as these highlight how the organizations themselves are designed to address customer needs.
A tendency in engineering design is to identify a particular set of specifications and then build to that while ignoring all else. Any inconsistencies that do not fit within the specifications result in rejection of the part (if it is a part of their design) or as a means to defend themselves against customers requiring something outside of identified specifications (or as a means to charge them for something outside of the specifications). This is especially true in the defense industry where strict specifications are flowed to engineering from the customer, usually someone far removed from the individual that actually has to use the system.
The problem with this approach is that it poses a risk of providing products or services that customers actually do not want. This was true of the American automakers in past decades that designed vehicles that nobody wanted. Deming would say that one could build a product with the highest quality yet still go out of business if the product is not what the customer wants. The opposite is also true; one can have the best product design possible yet still go out of business if the organization cannot manufacture it efficiently. Organizations that operate by upholding strict specifications send a message to customers that they know their needs more than they do.
The answer to this dilemma is complex and unfortunately outside of the scope of a blog but can be found through quality philosophies such as Deming and Theory of Constraints that aid organizations in improving how to understand a customer’s needs and then delivering it as quickly as possible while maintaining a level of flexibility to learn from evolving customer needs. Organizational culture must also be addressed by developing policies encouraging open relationships with customers. A flexible engineering strategy, although more costly in the planning stages, can provide increased profitability through longer-term relationships with customers providing both improved product design and potential for new product design discovered through interactions with the customer.
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A recent conversation with some colleagues reminded me of how mentoring can begin with good intentions yet fail to provide the desired results. One scenario in particular is where an individual is assigned a mentor by a manager to learn skills they are either deficient in or have not been exposed to. The individual being mentored in this scenario goes through mentoring with the mentor only for the manager to find out that the individual has not (or cannot) learned the skills required. In extreme situations this goes unnoticed until the individual that was mentored (I will call them a mentee for lack of a better word) is placed in a position where their deficiency becomes apparent. This occurs most often in my experience when “high potential” individuals are identified for management but fail to learn the skills required to be an effective manager.
A key part of mentoring that is readily agreed is identifying exactly what the mentee requires mentoring in. This is not, in my opinion, a steadfast list but instead is a starting point to focus the mentoring and to identify with the mentor what the individual being mentored (mentee?) is expected to learn. This list can be modified as required but generally at the agreement of (at a minimum) the mentor and the mentee, especially once a relationship has been built between the two and the mentor understands the capability and motivations of the mentee. What is missing in many cases of mentoring is a “closed loop” between the mentor, mentee, and the person the mentee reports to so that the manager understands progress and (which in my opinion is more important) the motivations and desires of the mentee itself. This closed loop approach allows the manager to shift career emphasis away from what the manager expects (and sometimes needs) towards one that takes into consideration the mentee’s desired and most capable career path (this is not to say that career paths are static; much like learning paths a career path can seem random at times, especially early in one’s career as the individual learns what they want to do). One of the greatest harms I have seen to an individual’s career is being placed in a position that does not suit either their skill set or internal motivations, which can lead to long-term negative consequences for not only the mentee but the team and organization as a whole.
Including all stakeholders into a mentoring plan periodically allows everyone to make effective decisions. Closed loop feedback allows the manager to better understand the mentee and guide them towards career moves that best fit their intrinsic motivations. Mentees benefit by identifying their strengths and weaknesses and steering future opportunities towards these strengths. Mentors benefit also by focusing their precious time and energy towards mentoring that benefits all parties.
On a closing note, I have found that there is some confusion regarding differences between coaching and mentoring. Coaching and mentoring differ such that coaching is directed by an outside party (i.e. a manager requiring employees to learn certain skills) whereas mentoring is directed by the mentee. Because of this distinction it is important that mentors are responsible for their own mentoring. Without this responsibility the mentee will potentially lack the intrinsic desire to pursue learning.Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/road-sign-town-sign-training-skills-798175/
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