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Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Resultsby Morten T. Hansen. Harvard Business Review Press (2009). 256 pages.
US$26.95 (hardcover). ISBN: 978-1-4221151-5-2
Reviewed by Larry Mallak, Ph.D., Fellow, ASEM; Professor, Western Michigan University
If you need a resource on how to improve collaboration in your organization, skip the airport books. Save yourself the hassle of poring through countless journal articles that explore one small set of variables in a constrained setting or geography. Morten Hansen has been studying collaboration ever since he conducted his doctoral research at H-P in the mid-1990s. Along the way, he has taken an engineering approach to collaboration, despite his B-school cred that would suggest otherwise.
Many of us engineers and engineering management types like to use analytical and quantitative techniques when we investigate a problem, even a social science problem. Ever since I read Ellen Langer’s “The Illusion of Control” while working on my master’s thesis at Virginia Tech, I’ve also become intrigued by the use of informal analytical techniques—essentially engineering estimation—applied to social science-based problems. Langer’s work got me thinking about the false uniformity of precision garnered by highly-quantified models and techniques, such as operations research and other forms of mathematical modeling. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say. It’s just that when we want to achieve better outcomes in our organizations, we can’t wait for big modeling efforts or wade through complex mathematical models that may or may not match the assumptions of our workplaces. We need to “Pareto” to a few better outcomes, rather than strive for the optimal outcome.
Which brings us to Hansen. Rather than drag us through highly-constrained models, Hansen offers a few “back-of-the-envelope” simulations to make his points regarding how to improve outcomes with disciplined collaboration. He bashes popular business myths with data from case studies and formulates business-y equations that make sense to those of us seeking to make change now. For example, he dispels the notion that networking is always good and that those who have the largest number of contacts are in the best position. He even acknowledges that Gladwell makes this statement in his classic “The Tipping Point.” However, Hansen argues that those with many contacts often spend far more time cultivating those relationships rather than using the network to solve problems and “bridge” to necessary information. He calls these people “butterflies,” because they flit from one place to another without accomplishing a whole lot. At the other extreme, “lone stars” are self-appointed heroes who single handedly solve problems, not asking for, looking for, or accepting help from others.
Hansen calls for “T-shaped” managers; these are managers who “simultaneously deliver results in their own job (the vertical part of the ‘T’) and deliver results by collaborating across the company (the horizontal part of the ‘T’)” (Hansen, 2009, pp. 95-96). Southwest Airlines uses this concept when applicants are asked to stand up and read a short statement about themselves. Those who support others through listening, paying attention to them, and cheering are considered aligned with the Southwest culture. Many applicants think it’s merely a public speaking test.
A collaborative leader, according to Hansen, believes in and role models three distinct behaviors:
Hansen shares a case study of Arnold Schwarzenegger and how he used these behaviors in his role as governor of California.
Rather than just sharing his insights and wishing us well, Hansen includes several tools in this book that can be used to build better collaborations. He has a companion “Collaboration Toolkit” that can be purchased separately. Some of the tools are contained in his book and can be readily used. However, if you want a more detailed analysis of collaboration and have a decent budget, the toolkit may be the way to go.
Collaboration doesn’t have to be a mysterious concept that stays conceptual. With Hansen (and others), we can take tangible steps to improve how we lead, follow, and participate in collaborative efforts.
Hansen, M.T. 2009. Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hansen, M.T. 2019. The Collaboration Toolkit: Tools adapted from the Book "Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results." [Available: https://hbsp.harvard.edu/product/1463TK-PDF-ENG].
Dr. Larry Mallak is an industrial engineer whose work on corporate ethnography is bringing new tools to balance the art and science of new product development. He’s a Professor of Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering & Engineering Management at Western Michigan University. Prior to his university appointment, he worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, for Premier Healthcare and he has worked as a science reporter for National Public Radio. His work has been featured in numerous outlets, including TEDx, Engineering Management Journal, WORK, and Industrial Management. He holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Industrial & Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech, with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois. Dr. Mallak is a Fellow of ASEM.
by Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE, CPEMGlobal NP SolutionsBuilding Innovation Leaders
What do you think about networking? If you’re like most engineers, the word networking suggests images of pushy people shaking your hand, shoving a business card at you, and then walking away. You might think that expert networkers fall pretty close to used car salesmen and greedy life insurance agents. Yet becoming a strategic networker is important for your career and growth as an engineer, engineering manager, and professional in general.
A common misunderstanding is that networking is attendance at an event followed by the exchange of business cards. Networking is much, much more than business cards. Of course, you should always have a professional business card, including your contact information, available to share with people as you meet them (and only if they ask for it). But the business card is only the beginning of a networking relationship.
Networking is really about building long-term relationships and helping other people. You can network with people inside your organization and external to your company. Often, as engineers and engineering managers, we build relationships with people that share a common interest, such as in the American Society of Engineering Management. Our relationships with other people include things we have in common, such as an interest in learning and growing as technical leaders. Thus, networking is creating a relationship with like-minded people and diverse individuals that will last over the long run.
With a mythical image of slimy characters trying to get us to buy something we don’t need, it’s hard to see why we should network. Yet, when you understand that networking is a professional skill, you will understand that it’s important to build long-term relationships with a variety of people. People use networking to build their knowledge and influence, for example.
When we meet different people in diverse settings, and especially when we meet new people that share a common interest, we can learn new information. Networking at events like ASEM’s annual conference leads to collaborative research and creative resources. Often, the simple act of talking to someone new about a favorite topic will yield new insights to tools, techniques, and applications. While many of us know a lot about one subject area, networking allows us to expand our understanding of the topic, especially in adjacent and tangential arenas.
Networking also provides an opportunity to influence the discussion and direction in your field of study. As an example, by attending networking events and getting to know different people, I have been presented with speaking opportunities leading to new insights on topics within my field of expertise. Talking about my favorite subject to a group of people who are largely unfamiliar with the topic enables me to reframe and simplify my assumptions as well as to openly share my personal opinions and experiences. Being presented with a chance to learn different perspectives and viewpoints through networking increases your own knowledge and allows you to influence others.
If someone asked me, “When should I be networking?” My answer is: “All the time.” Too many people decide that it’s time to network when they are laid off from their job or the economy faces a downturn. This is the short game of networking, resulting in an ugly clamor for business cards from the single person at an event who is hiring. Because networking is about planting and nourishing the seeds of a relationship, it is no surprise that few people reap positive outcomes from attending one event and flashing around their newly printed business cards.
You will want to meet people whenever and however you can. Get to know them by asking pertinent questions and actively listening to their responses. Find the common ground – do you both have a history in the oil and gas industry? Maybe you both have industrial engineering degrees or are wondering about pursuing your CPEM credential. Pay attention to the other person’s passions and purpose. In five or ten years, you may be in the position of the hiring manager and by playing the long game, you’ll have a great candidate in mind because of the relationship you’ve built through common interests.
The first key to strategic networking is to remember that you are trying to build a relationship with another person. Often, other people beginning with networking skills feels just as awkward as you do. My goal at networking events is simply to meet one new person. Because I am an introvert, I can be too quiet in larger groups and will not make connections with people. So, I intentionally look for another person who is also standing or sitting alone. With a deep breath, I approach and ask if I can join them.
Next, I ask why they are attending the event. This simple question can create a wonderful conversation and start to build our relationship on common ground. Maybe they came to the event because they thought the topic was interesting or they know the speaker. Affirm your reasons for attending the event and ask more questions. But, remember it’s not an inquisition – you are seeking to identify shared professional interests and create the seed of a relationship.
You want to build relationships within your organization, with people who share your education and trade, and with people that have diverse interests. If you come to a time in your life when you need a new job or help with a research paper, all these people will be great resources. It’s fairly easy to build a relationship with co-workers while working on a project together. Yet, you also want to consider creating ties with people in your organization that work in different departments and have different functional duties than you do. When you are in a leadership position, you’ll need to assemble a team of skilled individuals that you can trust, and people within your organizational network will be prime candidates!
Of course, networking at ASEM’s IAC and other engineering conferences is a great way to build technical relationships. Don’t forget that you can create professional relationships with people at organizations where you volunteer, or you share hobbies. I recently expanded my network by chatting with someone at the gym while we sweated on adjacent elliptical trainers. We connected even though I only had a crumpled-up business card at the bottom of my backpack. Our professional relationship is growing based on common technical interests and experiences.
LinkedIn is also a tremendous place to network. After every in-person networking event I attend, I try to connect with people I’ve met on LinkedIn. There I can learn more about their educational background and work experience to further our relationship. LinkedIn makes it super easy to congratulate people on promotions and say “Happy Birthday” on their special day.
Social media offers tools to search for people working in industries, companies, or jobs about which you might want to learn more. You can follow the activity of others and learn what is “hot” in your area of expertise. By commenting on articles posted on LinkedIn, you continue to build your own reputation while you build relationships with people who share common interests.
First, don’t be afraid to network. Erase any assumption that networking is a distasteful practice of shoving business cards at other people. Strategic networking is about building relationships with interesting people.
Second, identify an event where you can comfortably test your networking skills. ASEM is a great place to network with other engineers and engineering managers. You can test ideas, learn, and influence the field of study. As you build relationships with other ASEM members, you will find that networking becomes easier in both face-to-face and online situations.
Next, create an action plan for attending networking events. Identify someone you’d like to meet by reviewing the roster in advance or by finding another person who looks as awkward as you might feel. Ask short and simple questions about the event, seeking common ground. Don’t be discouraged if the other person doesn’t respond enthusiastically. They might just be feeling grumpy that day, or they really are checking in with the babysitter on their mobile device.
Connect with people you’ve met or admired on Linked In. Start with me at linkedin.com/in/teresajurgenskowal/ or Annmarie, ASEM’s Communications Director at linkedin.com/in/annmarieuliano/. Follow organizations (like ASEM), companies, and people that are interesting to you. Like and comment on articles and share good wishes with people who are celebrating birthdays or work anniversaries. It is risk-free to start with LinkedIn’s automated suggestions, but you should build your confidence in networking by adding your own unique comments to posts and articles.
Finally, remember above all that networking is about building relationships. If you promise to contact someone or do something for them, keep your word. Be polite, professional, and engaging. It’s always safe to listen more than you talk, and it is totally okay to leave a networking event with zero business cards!
It is an honor to be serving as the President of ASEM for the coming year. I believe that our society has so much to offer. Not only do we possess a large part of the supporting knowledge base for the discipline of engineering management, which includes theoretical foundations as well as industrial applications, but we are also involved in the delivery of many excellent products and services that help people who manage in technology-driven organizations. As engineers progress through their career and some decide to move into management, ASEM can provide support through the engineering management knowledge and products but also crucially through access to a network of like-minded individuals. This can help engineers, as well as other STEM professionals, to make the transition from being a technical specialist to a manager. ASEM has of course its traditional reach across USA but for many years there has been an international dimension to the profile and work of the society – including participation in the ASEM International Annual Conferences as well as involvement of international people in the work of the society (including myself and others). ASEM is therefore in a good position to serve the needs of engineering managers across academic knowledge and industrial dimensions as well as from an international perspective.
In October we held the International Annual Conference in Philadelphia, which as usual was another resounding success. In fact this year was the 40th annual conference, which again benefited from an excellent range of technical papers and sessions as well as inspirational keynote presentations and other activities. I would like to thank the host conference team from Drexel and Temple Universities, including Julie Drzymalski, Richard Grandrino and Chris Morse, for their excellent work organizing the conference. I would also like to thank both the technical program team and logistics team for the conference, including Ean Ng, Heather Keathley, Libby Schott, Caroline Krejci, Kenneth McDonald and Greg Sedrick, for their efforts to ensure the high technical quality of the conference and that the logistics ran smoothly. The ASEM world headquarters contributes significantly to the conference and wider operations of the society and I would therefore like to acknowledge Paul Kauffmann, Gene Dixon and Angie Cornelius for all their efforts.
ASEM is a volunteer society and I would like to thank all of those involved in the work of the society, including those who serve on the board of directors. Recently and over the last year, Frances Alston, Patricia Anzalone, Neal Lewis, Peter McKenny, Charles Daniels and Dock Clavon, have stepped down from the board of directors and I would like to acknowledge their service. I would like to welcome our new members of the board of directors (either new to the board or in new positions), including Greg Sedrick, Ruwen Qin, Jena Asgarpoor, Elizabeth Gibson, Bill Schell, Ona Egbue, Gana Natarajan, James Enos, Mike Parrish and Patricia McDonald. I would also like to offer a special thank you to Suzie Long, who recently completed her annual term as President and provided excellent leadership for the society to ensure its continued success.
Looking forward for the next year, I am excited to be leading the society as it continues to develop and deliver the various activities and initiatives. If you would like to become more involved in the work of the society, please do let me know. Finally, I would like to finish by repeating a message I gave at the closing of the conference evening dinner in Philadelphia – the message was that it is a great time to be an engineering manager – helping to tackle a range of societal and industrial challenges that exist as well as pursuing many technological opportunities. ASEM is well positioned to support engineering managers in such endeavors and through being a member of the society we can all be part of this journey.
From SOS to WOW!: Your Personal Coaching Adventure by Margaret A. Johnson, PE, MBA
SWOW Publishing (2016). 317 pages.
US$21.95 (soft cover). ISBN: 978-0-9981295-1-8
As engineers and engineering managers we are rewarded daily with challenging work. We have the opportunity to influence people, communities, and economies through science and technology. Our work changes lives by making products available to people and by improving processes to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Yet we can get so caught up in our work that we fail to work on ourselves. We can get stuck in a rut and before you know it, dreams have become hopes of the past. Margaret Johnson’s book, “From SOS to WOW,” helps engineers and engineering managers to take concrete steps to move from being stuck in the “Same Old Stuff” (SOS) to “Well on the Way” (WOW).
The subtitle of “From SOS to WOW” is “Your Personal Coaching Adventure”. To really make a difference in your personal or professional life, you should dedicate time to completing the many exercises and thought experiments included in Margaret’s book. The layout is especially clever, giving the reader space to write, journal, and consider plans to move from the current state to a promotion or other goal in life.
After an Introduction, Chapters 1 and 2 describe how managers can increase their self-awareness to recognize what might be holding them back from their next step. Exercises in Chapters 1 and 2 are centered around a gap analysis to determine where you are today and where you want to be. Many of these tools have origins in strategy development for organizations seeking growth.
Chapters 3 and 4 discuss motivation and goal setting, both topics also having roots in innovation and strategic alignment. In particular, Johnson discusses fear as a barrier to change. We can apply some of the tools from this section of the book beyond personal growth to help our engineering teams recognize when fear is holding them back from creative growth within organizational processes.
Chapters 6 through 10 offer a series of stories and exercises designed for action planning. For example, Chapter 6 discusses the myth of multitasking and the benefits of focused work. We can increase efficiency and productivity by checking email and social media less frequently. (See a related book review on Deep Work by Cal Newport.)
I especially enjoyed Chapter 7 on busting assumptions. Margaret’s in-person keynote presentations bring home the point that our assumptions can limit our capabilities and creativity. The chapter further provides exercises to investigate which assumptions hold back personal and professional growth.
Finally, Chapters 11 and 12 teach that no journey of improvement ends. As engineers and engineering managers, we know that quality is a result of continuous improvement. We also know that setbacks and failures are part of the trouble-shooting process to improve operations. We should expect the same as we continuously improve our personal and professional lives.
“From SOS to WOW” is folksy and easy to read. You can hear Margaret’s voice in your head as you skim the words on the pages. Although the book is short, you don’t want to skimp on investing time and energy in completing the exercises in the chapters. You should start the book with a specific challenge in mind from a work team or professional growth goal (e.g. I want a promotion) and be diligent to create an action plan.
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PE, 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.
by Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM
As an engineering management educator, I echo President Simon Philbin’s sentiment, expressed during his closing remarks at the ASEM 2019 International Annual Conference (IAC) banquet, that “this is a great time to be an engineering manager”. This statement, for me, is affirmed in my work that promotes the use of more inclusive approaches in the design and management of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) products and systems. And, while the promises of these technologies are great - as witnessed in AI’s growing pervasiveness; the perils - as outcomes of often “unchecked” designs and deployments - can be even greater.
“We are in a diversity crisis,” states a recent MIT Technology Review article that examines the existence and propagation of biases in AI systems. Recent Congressional hearings on the topic of inclusion in technology have called for “the tech sector to be more proactive in developing means that reduce, or better yet, eliminate bias from newer and emerging technologies”. As I reflect on my ASEM 2019 IAC experiences, it is my belief that engineering managers can provide both thought and practice leadership in meeting this challenge. In that regard, I offer some pathways forward:
Champion inclusive design and engineering thinking. Too often considerations of diversity and inclusion are cast simply as workforce composition concerns. However, the need to think and act more inclusively in the development and deployment of technologies is equally of import in offering more inclusive technologies. Engineering managers, as technology project and product leaders within the organization, can champion and take leadership in ensuring that considerations of diversity and inclusion are appropriately interjected within the technological design life cycle.
Engage with methods, tools and techniques that support more inclusive design and engineering decision making: There are a growing number of practitioner-oriented aids to support more inclusive design and engineering. Engineering managers, as often process and practice leaders, can be active proponents in the engagement and promotion of these more inclusive approaches. Some exemplar resources are offered by Microsoft, Google, and the Inclusive Design Group at the University of Cambridge. Additionally, in the full paper that I presented at ASEM 2019 IAC, I explore the visual arts as a means to help engineers think more inclusively and consequentially in technological design.
Advocate for the development of specific engineering management diversity and inclusion practice competencies. The societal stakes are high in regard to the design and management of emerging technologies. I feel that we, as an engineering management community, are at a point where more explicit and poignant conversations and efforts around diversity and inclusion within our practices are needed (the positive reception of Thomas Edwards’ keynote on neurodiversity provides some indication of the desire for these types of conversations). By supporting these sorts of efforts, the catalyzation and articulation of engineering management competences around diversity and inclusion can be had.
Truly, this is a great time to be an engineering manager. Adequately grappling with notions of diversity and inclusion in technological design is truly both complex and multilayered. More inclusive technological design and management practices are truly needed. It is my belief that engineering managers are well positioned to offer the needed thought and practice leadership in finally moving the needle.
Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM is the Director, Engineering Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His teaching and scholarly activities are centered on advocating for more humanity-centered approaches to the design and management of technological systems. Winchester is a Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM) with over ten (10) years of industry experiences. Active in also advancing engineering management as a practice, Winchester is currently the Co-Director, Professional Development & Continuing Education for the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM). Woodrow is also under contract with the CRC Press to write Inclusion by Design: Future Thinking Approaches to New Product Development (ISBN: 978-0-367-41687-4); co-authored with Frances Alston, PhD, CHMM, CPEM and slated for a late 2020 release.
by Jerry Westbrook, PhD, FASEM, Professor Emeritus - University of Alabama at Huntsville
This is the second article on applications of the Guide to the Engineering Management Body of Knowledge. The primary contribution of these articles is how the EMBOK can guide the technical manager in applications. The material discussed is from Domain 2. If a practitioner focuses on Domain 2, he or she can have a successful career in technical management. The other domains in the EMBOK complement the first and second domains but primarily the second. This conclusion comes from my experience as well as many colleagues’ experiences in applying the concepts contained in the EMBOK.
The topic of the day is Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Concept (EMBOK 2.3.3.) Dr. Herzberg did a study of engineers and accountants to determine the factors associated with motivation and de-motivation. Any manager should have a good idea of those things that tend to motivate employees. They should also understand those issues that cause the opposite reaction. Most managers assume that they know these things instinctively. According to Herzberg’s research, most of these assumptions are incorrect.
Herzberg’s research found that one set of factors were associated with motivation and another set associated with de-motivation. He called the factors associated with motivation as motivators. They are, in the order of responses from subjects in the study:
Relations with supervisor
Relation with peers
According to this research, the motivators were only positive and the second group, the hygienes, were only negative. The highest motivational value of any hygiene is zero. If company policies are the best in the industry, they have zero motivation. If these policies are perceived to be unfair to one employee or to a group, they are perceived negatively.
It must be noted that managers have more control over motivators but they are difficult to administer. Hygienes do not lead to motivation but their improvement can be expensive to the company.
The following case involves an attempt to make motivators out of hygienes. Many organizations make similar efforts with similar results.
“First Fiber Glass” Company asked me to assist them in increasing their productivity and product quality. It was quickly determined that employee turnover at critical operator positions were running approximately 40% per year. The operator jobs required a great deal of agility and hand-eye coordination. The job could be dangerous as it was working with molten fiber glass at 2000 degrees C. Management relations with the union turned contentious while I was there. I was working closely with union employees attempting to make the job safer and more productive. Seeing my positive relationship with some workers, management asked me to convey a message to the union. They asked me to ask the union if they had concerns that management could address to show good faith effort to work more effectively with them. Realizing that the union would likely focus on hygienes, I suggested that management should focus on more opportunity and advancement potential for workers. Management told me that they had discussed matters and wanted to pursue the plan as explained.
I met with union leaders and explained management’s desire to demonstrate good faith. The leaders quickly pointed out that the plant floor had a buildup of binder over one inch thick. Binder is sprayed onto molten glass fibers to give them tensile strength. Some of the binder actually coats the glass fibers. The remainder falls to the floor where it accumulates. They pointed out that the binder buildup was unsanitary and unsafe and that it should be removed. I went back to management with the union response. Management was aware of the situation and readily agreed with the union’s assessment. They decided to shut the plant down for a week and remove the binder buildup. Workers were not laid off. They either participated in training or the cleanup effort. The binder had to be chipped up with power equipment. The Research and Development group suggested that a new epoxy paint might prevent the buildup from developing in the future. After the buildup removal, the plant floor was painted with a pastel green epoxy paint. Normal operations were restarted the next week.
Management asked me to meet with the union to gage the response to the cleanup effort that the union had suggested. In the meeting with the union, they readily expressed appreciation for management’s efforts to clean up the plant. They were, however, quick to point out that their shower room was in need of major repairs. The shower room was the first thing workers saw when they came to work and the last thing they saw when they left. Broken fixtures were symbols of how the company viewed its employees. They were seen to be an indication that workers were not important to the company. I brought that message back to management. Again, they agreed with the union and had the shower room completely refurbished.
Once more, hoping that the union could see that management was conciliatory, management asked me to meet with the union. The union officers were very appreciative of management’s actions. They did point out that the employee parking lot was in a state of disrepair. There were many potholes large enough to damage their cars. Again, this was their first connection with the employer when coming to work and the last before leaving work. Of course, I brought their parking lot concern to management. They readily agreed to repave the parking lot and instructed me not to meet with the union leaders again.
The union’s list of hygienes exceeded management’s resources. Management finally saw that they were not getting productive results by addressing non-production issues. Later, they did agree to open new training and lead classifications in the production departments with the greatest opportunities for improvement. This was well received by the union. Productivity, quality and morale did increase. Little connection was observed between the response by the union to these motivators and the long list of hygienes. Management was glad that production and quality had both improved and did not seem to get the connection of applying motivators when the long list of hygiene applications failed to achieve positive results.
Do the best you can with hygienes. You won’t get motivation but you will avoid serious problems. Significant long term improvements in motivation are achieved through focus on motivators: recognition, achievement, possibility of growth, advancement, responsibility and the job itself. It is counter-intuitive for a manager to respond to a request for a hygiene improvement with an analysis of the status of motivators but that is what must be done, after the hygiene request is investigated and acted on.
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.
by Paul Kauffmann, PE, CPEM, FASEM, Executive Director of ASEM, Professor Emeritus at East Carolina University
How boring this subject line may appear. Let’s consider the two parts of it: PowerPoint and meeting effectiveness. Considering PowerPoint, how many times have we been instructed on the "best" way to prepare PowerPoint slides? The debates rage about critical topics: light or dark background, how cryptic to make the bullet points, what fonts are best... Debates that may never be solved in our lifetime.
What about the second part of the title, Meeting Effectiveness? We have all been through that training too, and the memories make us cringe. A web search on this topic will find countless hits with common sense suggestions: set objectives, send out an agenda, keep on topic, identify follow up and next steps, and so on. As a friend of mine commented after a training session on this topic: "That was a firm grasp of the obvious."
There is one missing element in all of this. The burden is on the meeting organizer, but what is the obligation of the attendee to contribute to meeting effectiveness? I would bet many would agree that often meeting attendees have not looked at the agenda or the slides, much less the "related report" covering key details. It is too easy to simply click "accept" on the calendar invitation and do nothing but show up. What is the solution?
Amazon has an interesting approach to solve this problem, and it was described by Jeff Bezos as "the 'smartest thing we ever did' at Amazon." A heady statement for sure. I recommend reading the full article, but I will summarize a few key points here:
In closing, let me bring a smile with some additional comments from Bezos. He thinks "…executives will bluff their way through the meeting as if they've read the memo because we're busy and so you've got to actually carve out the time for the memo to get read."
Before the memo-based meetings were instituted, Bezos also commented "we were doing the more traditional thing. A junior executive comes in, they put a huge amount of effort into developing a PowerPoint presentation, they put the third slide up, and the most senior executive in the room has already interrupted them, thrown them off their game, asking questions about what is going to be presented in slide six, if they would just stay quiet for a moment..." Further, he thinks PowerPoint slides often have "obscure information." Bezos prefers memos because each have "verbs and sentences and topic sentences and complete paragraphs."
Food for thought!
Paul Kauffmann is ASEM’s Executive Director and is Professor Emeritus at East Carolina University. Paul is a Professional Engineer and has over 20 years of industry experience in positions ranging from design engineer to plant manager and engineering director. He is a Fellow of ASEM and a Certified Professional in Engineering Management. He holds a BSEE and MENG in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech and a PhD in industrial engineering from Penn State.
by Don Kennedy, Ph.D., P.Eng., IntPE, CPEM, FASEM
In my last segment, A Lesson from the Bhagavad Gita, I spoke on the importance as a manager of not being scared to take action. The great physicist Niels Bohr reportedly said that the opposite of a great idea is another great idea. Because management is complex, when a strong argument is made for one idea, you can generally make another strong point about the opposite idea (maybe with changed assumptions).
My segment today does not really contradict my last one because I will submit that deciding to do nothing is still taking action and not postponing. A friend of mine said “the do-nothing option is a great option not chosen often enough.”
A frequent situation on projects is the proposal by stakeholders to do something outside of scope since “you are here doing stuff anyway.” To borrow from my friend in these cases “the do-nothing option is usually the correct action.” I like to say “let future projects pay for future project scope.” Too many times I have seen the resources expended to add scope to accommodate some anticipated need and the effort was a complete waste or made things worse. I will offer two examples.
We were building a process facility. Someone said that the product might change in a few years and they would likely need different valve arrangements. We spent around $200,000 to change the layout. Ten years later, I met someone from the facility and we chatted. The person complained about spending $300,000 to modify the facility to accommodate a new product. The company forgot we had made changes that would have worked fine and just assumed a new layout was needed. We spent the extra funds and built a facility that would have served the client better if we had not, given how things turned out.
The second example is about a pipeline pig trap, which can be seen below. We were building a pipeline and allowed for a blinded connection to install a pig trap at some future time. Devices are sent down pipelines to check for corrosion or other issues at regular intervals, and the first such run was set for several years into the future. There was considerable pressure from management to spend the $5 million to put in the actual traps since we were mobilized and there anyway. I said “let future projects pay for future project scope” and thereby reduced my project cost by $5 million. As it turned out, advances in technology produced a special new “smart pig” that the company wanted to use for its first inspection after several years of service. This new smart pig was 10 inches longer than the maximum that could have been sent using the trap that was standard at the time we could have installed it. The $5 million would have been wasted. Our traps would have posed an additional burden to rip out what we installed and replace with the new standard.
Source: Metropolitan Engineering Consulting & Forensics Services
Things change and institutional memory is short in a world of high employee turnover. Should your performance assessment take a hit because you tried to gaze into the crystal ball to help some future project reduce their costs? The do-nothing option is often the best decision.
Donald Kennedy is a fellow of ASEM. He has a new ebook out called “Improving Your Life at Work” which includes a lengthy bibliography for people looking for references on management theory.
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.
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,
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