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by Jerry Westbrook, PhD, FASEM, Professor Emeritus - University of Alabama at Huntsville
In the Guide to the Engineering Management Body of Knowledge (EMBOK) Domain 2 on Leadership and Organizational Management, there is a brief discussion of Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. Although McGregor published this concept many years ago, it is still relevant. McGregor was a Harvard professor as well as a highly sought out consultant. In his consulting work, he noticed that managers tended to make assumptions about the organization’s employees. Some of these assumptions considered that the brains of that organization was in upper management and that workers were not very bright and needed to be watched and occasionally threatened to get them to do the necessary work. McGregor called this assumption about workers Theory X. There was no data behind these assumptions; there wasn’t even anecdotal evidence or observations. It was just part of the culture of the organization.
He also worked with organizations that saw its workers in a different light. They assumed that workers wanted to do a good job, were capable of doing so, and would grow with opportunities. He called this assumption Theory Y. He noted that these assumptions were to some extent self-fulfilling prophecies. He observed that employees tend to respond in the same way they are managed. If they are considered untrustworthy, they might respond by not taking responsibilities. If management listens to its employees and responds to their ideas, these employees act like trusted members of a team.
In my career in management consulting, I witnessed many examples of Theory X assumptions. None of the organizations using this assumption could be described as successful. In good economic times, they barely got by. Several are no longer in existence. The case below relates a situation that happened at one of my clients. I had the advantage of knowing the characters in the story well and listened to their version of the events.
Ken was a scheduler in the Production Control Department (PCD) of a facility making high tech assemblies for a government contract. The company was large (about 7500 employees) with four major products being built at that time. Shop personnel began work at 7:00 AM each morning. The PCD as well as most management and support groups began work at 7:30 AM. Production was going on 24/7 on the line Ken was supporting. Ken routinely reported to work at 6:00 AM, checked the progress of the last shift, and adjusted the schedules for the incoming day shift.
One morning, an office worker was out sick, another was on travel, and a third was on vacation. In short, no one was in the PCD office. The manager of the PCD arrived at the office somewhat late at 7:45 AM and found a few other support personnel looking for someone to answer their questions on the status of some aspect of the schedule. At that very time, Ken made his way to the PCD office after having been in the plant for nearly two hours. The boss spots Ken entering the office and assumes he is getting in late (as was the boss). Trying to sound like a boss in control, he confronts Ken. The boss said, “Where have you been? Don’t you know these people need their questions answered? From now on, I want you in this office and available to work with your colleagues at 7:30 AM. Do you understand?” Ken was in shock. He was not prepared for that outburst. He simply replied “Yes, sir!” And with that, the boss went into his office and closed his door, pleased that he “took charge” of the situation. Ken immediately set about to help those who had questions that needed answers.
Ken thought about what happened and by 10 AM he knew what he had to do. From that time on, he came to work at 7:30 instead of 6 AM. He made sure that the office was adequately staffed and then wandered out into the mammoth plant and got lost. He read the morning newspaper. He talked sports with anyone available and there seemed to be no shortage of people willing to converse. He did this all day and left at 3:30 PM with the production workers instead of 4:30 PM like the others in the PCD office.
This went on for several weeks. The schedule that Ken was supposed to be working on was in chaos. Production had declined. Needed material was misplaced. Things were really screwed up. As had happened a few weeks ago, the boss came in at 7:45 AM, and Ken just had to ask. Ken asked the boss if he had noticed that he was doing things differently? The boss quickly replied: “Yes, I have noticed, and it is in the right direction. Keep up the good work!” Ken became so dispirited that he went back to his regular habits at work and smoothed out the error prone schedule.
Ken was treated as if he responded to McGregor’s Theory X assumptions about workers. His reaction was to act as if the assumption was correct. This seems to validate the observation that Theory X treatment can generate Theory X behavior.
That organization purported the belief that its employees were its most valued asset. Yet the actions of the PCD Manager were at odds with the company belief. The manager had an ingrained Theory X assumption about an employee who worked two extra hours daily without compensation. When a manager is not familiar with the duties of any employee, he or she may function with an assumption. The PCD boss made an assumption and made a poor decision regarding Ken. This decision cost the company a lot of money in reduced production and efficiency for several weeks.
In today’s business environment, Theory X may be more subtle. It occurs in restrictive organizational control systems require approvals from Managers who are not familiar with the issues of the approval. An uninformed manager is allowed to counter the judgment of knowledgeable employees who are just trying to get work done the best way. These systems restrict employees who travel for the organization. The organization does not trust its most valued contributors. That is why practices such as requiring boarding passes to be turned in with travel receipts. Telecommuting is also a contentious issue. Management wants to see its employees as they work when knowledge work is not observable. (Can we really see a knowledge worker work?)
The Theory X assumptions by management are alive and well in a broader context. Managers of knowledge workers are called on for a broader set of skills and information about each employee as well as each job. Management must create an environment at work where productive employees enjoy the freedom to produce and learn according to their abilities.
Dr. Westbrook has served the American Society for Engineering Management in a variety of positions. He is a past President of the society, past Executive Director and an ASEM Fellow. He founded ASEM's program to certify master's degree programs that meet ASEM program standards. He was instrumental in the founding of a master’s program in EM at the University of Tennessee and the master's and Ph.D. in engineering management at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
His research and teaching focuses on behavioral concepts in management and the challenges of managing knowledge workers. Dr. Westbrook received his Ph.D. degree from Virginia Tech in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, master’s degree from the University of Tennessee in Industrial Engineering and a B.E. from Vanderbilt in Electrical Engineering. In addition to ASEM, he is also a member of ASEE, IIE, and NSPE. Dr. Westbrook authored or co-authored 20+ refereed papers on engineering management topics. Dr. Westbrook has developed a series of seminars on managing knowledge workers. He and a team of talented professionals have delivered these seminars to a variety of clients in several states.
Wow! Where has the year gone? It seems like yesterday that Frances Alston was handing the President’s gavel to me and in less than a month, I’ll have the honor to pass it to Simon Philbin. It has been an amazing journey serving as your President and I cannot thank the ASEM executive committee, board of directors, and each of you enough for your support and hard work to help ASEM continue to grow. But, before we transition, time to celebrate together once more as part of the International Annual Conference! If you haven’t yet made your plans to attend, please do so as soon as you possible. It won’t be the same without you and I know when you check out all of the exciting events planned for the conference, you’ll definitely want to be part of the fun.
With warmest best wishes,
To the Attendees of the 2019 International Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Management:
We offer a warm welcome to all our colleagues at the ASEM conference! Engineering Management as a discipline has a long history here in Philadelphia as Drexel's Engineering Management Program conferred it's first Master's in Engineering Management in 1959. Over the years, we have grown with the increasing demand for excellence in technical leadership skills. We also pioneered the development of Online Engineering Management courses in 1997 through 2001 to make graduate courses available worldwide.
While you are attending the conference, we encourage you to take some time out to explore the many cultural and historic sites that are unique to our area. You could visit the National Constitution Center or visit the Reading Terminal Market for a lunchtime excursion. You could also plan a day or two sight-seeing before or after the conference. Best wishes for a great conference and visit to the Philadelphia Area.
Stephen V. Smith, PhD, CPEM
Dr. Smith has formerly served as the Associate Dean for Online Programs and Professor and Director Engineering Management. He is a long-standing Professor in Engineering Management at Drexel University.
by Geert Letens, PhD CPEM
Getting an organization back on track or changing its course can be an adventurous journey. Many (engineering) managers try to instill new directions for their companies, but according to three decades of literature on change, more than 70% of them fail to successfully implement their change programs. Not really an encouraging perspective in a fast-changing world. Unless…
There can be a new holistic way of looking at change that allows you to assess your organization’s change readiness, identifying the levers that deserve your attention to significantly improve your organization’s change success rate. I must admit that as one of the co-developers of this approach, I am completely biased. Fortunately, however, the new model that we have developed is not yet another opinion-based framework. It is grounded in the literature, and what’s more, empirically tested in more than 200 organizations of different size, sector etc.
The new change concept starts from the notion that change requires energy. Everything is energy – you may remember that from your physics course, right? It’s not any different with change. If an organization lacks the energy to change, it will stick to the status quo or it will lose its competitive edge when external circumstances change. So, my colleagues, Peter De Prins and Kurt Verweire from Vlerick Business School, and I investigated where companies lose energy in their change programs. As such, we’ve identified six batteries of change (sources of energy) that help to explain why change efforts fail… Or succeed. After all, there is also a positive connotation to the six change batteries. If you charge the change batteries, they generate the energy that will help you move your change program in the right direction.
Some of the change batteries are rational and formal. You may recognize them from the typical top-down approach that many organizations use while setting up their change programs: identify the right strategy, align your KPIs and priorities to this new direction, and use this to define the scope and expected outputs of your projects. All this sounds logical and indeed, this is essential, but…not enough.
There are also three batteries that are emotional and informal. They come from Organization Development theories that advocate change needs to come from highly motivated employees who are supported by an engaging culture and inspired by top leaders that serve as role models for the change. Equally important, but again, not enough if the upper batteries are not able to provide clarity and focus.
You may notice that some batteries are oriented towards the strategic level of the organization while other batteries deal with the more operational aspects of managing a business. There are also two batteries that serve as a bridge between the top (left batteries) and the bottom (right batteries), which many organizations seem to be struggling with. If so, they lack the alignment of goals with action (upper batteries), or, they lack the alignment of words with behaviour (lower batteries).
As such, we’ve learned that effective change management is about managing energy balance (rational versus emotional) and flow (from the top to the bottom and vice versa) across the batteries of change. The data from our research is very clear. 30% of the organizations that only manage to create positive energy in two (or less) batteries report change success. This is pretty much in alignment with the many quotes from the literature that claim that 70% of all change programs fail. However, 95% of the organizations that created positive energy in five or six batteries considered their change programs as successful. Yes, we can!
In short: together, these batteries offer a comprehensive and integrative view on the effectiveness of your change programs, identifying which elements contribute to success and which ones contribute to failure.
Simple, but far from simplistic. To measure your organization’s change energy, we have identified five criteria for each battery. The validated questionnaire that we use to assess organizations entails more than 100 questions that aim to predict your organization’s success rate, but also serve as an essential guide to design your change programs. If you want to get a snapshot of the change energy profile of your organization, you can fill out the quick scan that is available in the book, or use these links to see if you have a healthy culture and a powerful infrastructure for change. If you want to find out more details about the six batteries of change, the following white paper might be a good read as well.
Good luck on your change journeys!
The last part of the year is my favorite time at ASEM and World Headquarters. We have new board members, new Fellows, awards to announce, and of course our conference. This eNews starts off with several important and interesting conference details, so please check those out. It is always risky to highlight one area over another, but in addition to the wonderful speakers and paper presentations, I am particularly enthusiastic about our Workshops and Tours. Before you make your final travel plans, please consider arriving in time for these preconference events, occurring on Wednesday. An important focus of our fall Board Meeting in Philadelphia is a fresh look at strategic planning for the society. Our new Associate Executive Director, Gene Dixon, is working on compiling suggestions and ideas. Please contact Gene or one of the board members with your ideas. I hope to see you in Philadelphia!
by Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE, CPEM, PMP®, NPDP
Engineers and engineering managers have spent a lifetime of knowing the right answers. I always took pride in school at being the kid with a 110% score on the test – not only did I answer all the questions correctly, but I also did the extra credit right.
Education to become an engineer and engineering manager is tough. We watch as friends drop out of engineering programs and we carry on – studying and grappling with complex topics like thermodynamics, kinetics, and dynamic motion. By the time we get settled into a job, our experience teaches that we are right more often than not. Moreover, it seems that people come to us for help and to get their questions answered.
Yet, as stubborn as I am, I know that I cannot be the best engineer or manager I can be without help. Many recent studies demonstrate that managers and executives who ask questions are perceived as better leaders than those who do not. Our goal as engineering managers is to lead and guide our teams so that we collectively produce the best results for our companies, our customers, and ourselves.
Formal mentoring programs usually put the burden on the mentee, and you may need to ask for a new mentor if you are not getting the responses you expect. A lot of times, formal mentoring programs assign people randomly to the mentor/mentee pairing and you may not feel a social or personal connection to your mentor
In my own career, I benefited from several informal mentors. One mentor was my direct supervisor who helped me to learn a new technology and trusted me with larger scale projects during my assignment. His philosophy was that it was better to do something and apologize later rather than to do nothing at all. To this day, I rely on advice I learned from him.
As you climb the ranks in an engineering organization or in any business, you may want to have a coach. Business coaches can help a manager navigate all kinds of situations. But, beware, coaching is tough and personal. You have to do the hard work to learn and improve your performance to get to the next level.
Coaches, like mentors, can also help an engineering manager build skills. Say you don't like doing presentations. A coach can help you learn skills and become confident at presenting. You should trust coaches based on their experience and with a personal match of style.
Other coaches can help you through the business processes of an organization. I have recently been coaching an entrepreneur who is developing a smartphone application. Normally IT people (like engineers) adopt a technology, build a product, and then hope it will sell in the marketplace. We have worked, systematically, to set up his product for success by first talking to customers. This has allowed him to understand the product requirements before spending time and money building the product. Coaches can offer advice based on their own experience and the experiences of others they have worked with over the years.
Master mind groups are sometimes known as peer coaching. In a master mind group, individuals commit to both giving and receiving help. What's different from a mentor or coach relationship is that participants have a larger set of experiences from which to draw.
A typical master mind group session is facilitated by an expert who also might be a mentor, coach, or other leader. The master mind members are drawn by a common interest - innovation, engineering, or even cooking. Each session starts with a celebration of goals met by the master mind members since the last meeting. Then, each person puts forth a question or problem that is facing them. Other master mind group members brainstorm solutions in a fast-paced discussion. Finally, the mastermind session closes with each member committing to one goal for the next meeting. Usually, this objective is based on the group brain storming discussion.
Benefits of master mind groups include providing a free, open, and confidential environment to discuss ideas; accountability; and an opportunity to share your own experiences and knowledge.
It's hard for engineering managers to ask for help. If you're like me, you like to know answers rather than show vulnerability. I hate when I must turn on the GPS instead of knowing the route ahead of time! Yet, I've also learned that the GPS can navigate a quicker route or help me to avoid traffic jams.
Engineers and engineering managers can use other people in their company and with organizations like ASEM to navigate career challenges, learn new skills, and build their toolkits with knowledge and experience. Ways to improve your performance as an engineering manager include mentoring, coaching, and master mind groups
Please join me for a complimentary Innovation Master Mind Q&A webinar on 22 August at 12 noon CDT to learn more about both asking for and receiving help.
What step will you take to ask for help and to advance your career?
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE (State of Louisiana), CPEM, PMP®, NPDP, is a passionate lifelong learner. She enjoys helping individuals and companies improve their innovation programs and loves scrapbooking. You can learn more about Teresa and her new Innovation MasterMind group by connecting on LinkedIn or visiting her consulting business' website: Global NP Solutions, LLC.
Leading Transformation by Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy.
Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA (2018). 243 pages.
US$32.00 (hard cover).
As engineers and engineering managers, we are asked to create and implement a variety of changes. Some of these changes improve processes, making them run more efficiently and with higher yields. Other changes are introduced to generate more sales or enhanced customer relationships.
Of course, change is hard. If only we could reprogram people as easily as we reprogram computers. The new book, “Leading Transformation,” by Nathan Furr, Kyle Nel, and Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy provides guidance on how to create radical change within an organization. The book is based on neuroscience research and experiences of the authors that have led to positive change benefitting companies and consumers. The book is “about taking charge of your future” (pg. 19).
The authors present a learning model for behavioral transformation (pg. 13) that starts with a strategic narrative. Once a future vision is in place, the change agent must break organizational bottlenecks, and then validate effectiveness of the change with key performance indicators (KPIs). These future KPIs refine the future strategic narrative and the transformational learning cycle repeats.
A key concept in transformation is introducing and accepting disruption. Most organizations end up generating new ideas or implementing change initiatives on very small scales. Risk aversion is a natural response to avoid failure or potential loss of revenue. Yet, taking calculated and scaled risks is what allows a company to create radical change.
Chapter 5 of “Leading Transformation” discusses how each of us can create transformational change.
Throughout “Leading Transformation,” the authors weave their theory of transformational change with a story of disruption at Lowe’s, a home improvement retailer. Lowe’s held a secondary market position to competitors for years and growth by expansion was maximized. It needed transformational, radical change to grow.
To create a strategic narrative, the change management team gathered market trends and customer inputs. This information was then handed to science fiction writers. These industry outsiders, without the constraints of risks or budgets, generated several ideas to position Lowe’s as the retailer of the future.
This strategic narrative was summarized in a comic book for presentation to the executive board. Clearly, the change team was taking risks with such a radical change in presentation style and their initial efforts were met with doubt and more than a few raised eyebrows.
The authors argue that comic books are excellent presentation tools for transformative change. There is a complete story present with both winners and losers. The format is visual but easily consumed. Comic books allow complex and futuristic ideas to be presented in a condensed manner and demonstrate – graphically – a future vision (Chapter 2).
Once the senior executives of Lowe’s adopted the future vision (from the comic books), the team was faced with a challenge that all of us face when introducing change: resistance. Even with senior management, the organization resisted change. Again, most of us prefer stability and predictability over change.
So, the Lowe’s change management team started small, got buy-in, and demonstrated successes. One of the key ideas generated in the future vision was using AR (augmented reality) to help homeowners envision their home improvement projects. The Lowe’s team started with a few tests, using QR codes for consumers to scan and “see” a home improvement project on their phones. Later, they tested various AR and VR (virtual reality) systems with much of their experimentation ahead of Google and Microsoft.
The authors applied neuroscience studies on top of the hardware prototypes to get in-depth customer feedback. They learned, for instance, that people prefer AR over VR, and less realistic simulations. When the simulation is too real, it’s “creepy” for users.
Each small experiment led to organizational and technical knowledge to advance the transformation. Equally important was the generation of “future KPIs”. These measurements and artifacts demonstrated small wins. With each incremental development step, the team realized decreased resistance.
Lowe’s won several awards for implementing advanced technology and gained market share with its novel ideas. The unique approach to radical transformation over incremental product and service development catapulted the company to first in its category.
Leading change is always challenging. “Leading Transformation” gives several unique approaches, based on experience, to guide engineers and engineering managers in creating disruptive transformation. Though the Lowe’s example was highlighted, the authors give other industrial examples and case studies of successful change built on neuroscience. Finally, they present (Appendix C) a comic book summary of the whole book – putting into practice their own theories.
What resistance do you face in creating transformational organization change?
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE (State of Louisiana), CPEM, PMP®, NPDP, is a passionate lifelong learner. She enjoys helping individuals and companies improve their innovation programs and loves scrapbooking. You can learn more about Teresa and her new Innovation MasterMind group by connecting on LinkedIn or visiting her consulting business website: Global NP Solutions, LLC.
by Atul Kalia
Google the phrase “High Performance Teams” and you will find 534,000 results - articles, books and other “expert” opinions.
I had the opportunity to interact with 11 engineering leaders last month. This was during a 5 day engineering management workshop that I lead for professionals from Automotive, Aerospace, Off-Highway and Heavy Truck industries.
While covering the topic of High Performance Teams, I asked, “What has worked well for you in creating High Performance Teams?”
Each leader provided 1 response. Their responses are captured in the image accompanying this article. Each response is also included in the body of this post, with a short text elaborating the tip. I felt their responses were at par or better than what most “experts” cite. Hence, I am sharing the responses from these practicing leaders in this article. So here they are:
What tips can you share? What has worked well for you in building High Performance Teams?
To read this article in its entirety, including details around each of the 11 tips, see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/11-tips-building-high-performance-teams-atul-kalia/
Atul Kalia is Professional Membership Director for ASEM. Atul is passionate about enabling success for individuals, teams and organizations. This success manifests itself as professional growth for individuals, successful delivery of complex programs by high performance teams, and sustainable profitability for organizations. Atul achieves this through coaching, competency development workshops, facilitation and consulting. He consults in new product development, organizational development, agile project management and continuous improvement.
Atul led and coached many global teams during his corporate career of 20+ years, which successfully launched many complex and innovative programs. He held various positions of progressively increasing seniority during his corporate career and worked as the Director of Engineering for a Manufacturing firm before starting his own consulting firm, SN Group LLC.
Summer is here and with it comes opportunities to relax and renew through vacations with family and friends. I hope that all are able to schedule some downtime or dive into favorite past-times and projects. Those of us in leadership at ASEM are doing likewise, but we’re also starting to feel the energy around the upcoming conference. Award nominations are pouring in, reviews are due for conference paper submissions, and the Board of Directors is starting to think about progress on current goals, as well as goals for the upcoming year. We also have an election just around the corner! It’s an exciting time to be part of ASEM and we continue to say firmly that we are glad you’re a member! If you have ideas or are looking to get involved, please reach out! We can’t wait to see you in October, but don’t be a stranger in the meantime.
Best to all for your various summer plans!
by Don Kennedy, PhD, PMP, FASEM
The Bhagavad Gita (or the "Song of God") is an ancient Hindu text that I do not claim to be an expert in. That said, it is my understanding that one of the lessons in the work is that "action is greater than inaction." I would like to use that concept to highlight some less than optimal behaviors I have seen in managers at all levels.
First however, an example from school. I knew a person, I will call Dave, that had a major project due. The policy for the assignment was a 10% deduction from the mark for each day late. On the due date, Dave decided that he was not happy with the work and he did not want the professor to think that was his best work. He decided that it was better to lose 10% and take an extra day to polish it up. It might actually get 10% more and make up for the deduction for being late. You can see where this is going until enough days passed that Dave decided that it was better to not hand in anything than to explain why he was handing in something so late that it could potentially be worth no marks anyway. At that point, I did ask Dave what he thought was better than handing in nothing? Handing in “anything!”
I have an old Project Management textbook that says the most important trait of a good project manager is the desire to complete tasks. I searched for such an expression in recent works and did not find that same clarity.
Too many times I have seen managers paralyzed by the fear of making a decision that is not the best one. One startup company I was involved in went bankrupt even though the product sure seemed to be a winner but after expending a lot of resources to reach a certain point, the senior executives debated how to roll it out. They had a working concept but then 5 years passed without turning it into a commercially viable operation. Some of the executives said they only had one shot at doing it, so they had to make sure it was right. A fear of competition resulted in a lot of legal fees on patent protection and corporate structuring to mitigate the impact of claims resulting from some perceived risk events. Pushing the product out the door fast and making the competition play catch up had risks but the chance of success was greater than not ever producing anything. Some related side businesses of the proposed plan produced commodities that were at a peak in their demand and price cycle. In the years that nothing was accomplished the price of these products were near the cost of production and the venture lost much of its appeal during this time of lost opportunity. The company is currently only a shell trying to raise new capital to try again.
In many supply-chain situations, extra lead time in ordering can create significant savings. To delay procurement due to a sense of insecurity in making a decision can change the plan to one of having to pay extra to expedite the purchase to meet the crashed schedule.
Often the rewards of action far outweigh the risks of inaction. I offer this as something for you to consider.
Dr. Don Kennedy has been a regular attendee of the ASEM conference since 1999, with particularly good participation at the informal late evening "discussions" (sometimes making it difficult to get to the morning plenaries). He has spent much of his time working on large construction projects in remote areas, lecturing at a few universities, and recently had a go as Director of Engineering in R&D. More to come at the IAC Conference. Don Kennedy is the President of The International Engineers Conference on Ethics and a Fellow of ASEM.
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