The Future of CNC Manufacturing Education – CNC Manufacturing, Education Reform & Change Management News.

10 Golden Rules for Managing Engineers (and Engineering Students)

Posted by Bert Maes on February 2, 2010

This is a post written by David Kimbell on:

>> I believe his experience gives a good view on how teachers could handle their students in engineering or technical education successfully.

A summary of David Kimbell article:

Golden rules? Principles, more like. These are lessons that I have learned thus far in my career. Some the hard way, i.e. making mistakes, as I’ve managed engineers myself. Others I have learned by observation, but when I was pretty close to the action.

(1) Refuse to manage. Lead instead.

What engineers need is someone who will set them clear goals, give them the necessary tools and training, and protect them from distraction. That’s leadership.

(2) Give them clear direction, then get out of the way.

Engineers need to know what’s expected of them, and what their priorities are to be. Then (unless he/she is a newbie), leave them to it. Remain accessible, but out of the way. Newbies, on the other hand, generally need some regular, almost daily coaching. But you’ll sense when they’ve found their feet. Then give them free rein.

(3) Let them contribute.

People naturally want to contribute. So when your people come up with bright ideas, listen. And if you can, let them implement their ideas.

(4) Know your people.

My father had probably managed several hundred people in his career, most of them scientists and engineers. He retired at the top of the corporate ladder, and sadly died not long thereafter. At the funeral, one of his senior managers told how on his first day on the job, my father invited him into his office, closed the door, and talked over coffee and doughnuts for the rest of the morning, about everything under the sun. Never before, said this man, had a manager shown that much personal interest in him.

(5) Play to their strengths. If you can’t, find someone who can.

Janet has done two degrees at Oxford, specialising in computational aerodynamics. Two years on with the company, they stuck her in my group, doing routine structural load calcs. She was bored out of her tree, and though she didn’t voice it, she was looking for the exit.

When time came for her performance review. There was an aeroelastics group where her math skills could be put to better use. I got her a place in it, despite the fact that it would inconvenience me. (Filling vacant positions in a large corporate concern can take months.) The look on her face was my reward. I do know that my efforts made one engineer’s life happier, and more productive.

(6) Protect them from bullies.

Protect your people from so-called office psychopaths. They get their kicks out of making other people’s lives difficult. Stand up to the bully. Yes, it’s possible you could be a casualty, but by failing to stand up to the bully, you allow the problem to persist. Either you or some of your people (or both) will end up going on stress leave.

(7) Create a productive environment.

Let’s face it, offices are dull, lifeless places. Allow your people to give it life. They want to paint the walls green? Big deal. (Though please not that shade of green, it’s hideous.) Someone wants to bring in his latest piece of artwork? Sure, go ahead. Turn it into an office competition, and award prizes.

Small things go a long, long way to boosting productivity. Free tea and coffee. Unexpected delivery of doughnuts and muffins. Sudden team announcements offsite at the pub or coffee shop. Small things cost little, but make a huge difference to people’s enjoyment of life and work.

(8) Manage your personal life well.

To be effective at work, you have to be undistracted. If your home circumstances are a mess, your work will suffer.

(9) Be a control freak when you need to be. But only when.

Most of the time, you don’t need to be. Different situations call for different kinds of leadership. Get good at recognising which need which.

(10) One poison apple can ruin an entire barrel.

The poison apple can be one of the psychopaths referred to earlier, or it can be someone who has mentally checked out of the office. Someone who has lost interest in the job, and no longer pulls their weight.

A friend of mine worked in human resources for many years. One of the things he had to do time and again was laying people off. He reckoned later he’d laid off at least 200 people. It killed him every time. But, as he told me later, “then I watched almost all of them go on to do extraordinary things. Things they’d never have done if I hadn’t laid them off.”

Now that’s cool. Come to think of it, I’m a case in point. I was laid off from my first engineering job. A firm called RWDI, in Guelph, Ontario. (Still going strong.) After three years, I’d lost interest. My performance and attitude had slipped badly. Instinct told me it was time to move on. I ignored it. I’d become a poison apple. They rightly canned me. Look at me now. (OK, maybe you’re not impressed, but I am.)

DEAR READER: Do you have more tips how to handle engineers and engineering students?

8 Responses to “10 Golden Rules for Managing Engineers (and Engineering Students)”

  1. Glad you liked the article, Bert! And your additions are spot on. I’m RSS-ing your blog. Cheers, DK

    • Bert Maes said

      Thank you, David, -first of all- for writing about engineering and HR/management. I hope that your positive views, practical solutions and entrepreneurism can change the (often poor) public image of our industry – a minuscule crumb is enough.

      You’re now part of my Google Reader and Twitter list as well. I am following you. Can I invite you to share articles and views about our field, when you come across them?

      Best regards,

      About the future of manufacturing and manufacturing education

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