Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 11/20/2003
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Herding Cats: Management Challenges 1
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
Some time ago I talked about effective teamwork and “team killers”
(see eN-030508 – Are You Part of the Solution,
of Part of the Problem?). In
the last e-Newsletter, I raised the topic of “managing” engineers (see eN-031106
– Herding Cats: The Art of “Managing” Engineers).
This e-Newsletter is the first in a series that will address some
management challenges in the form of specific engineer personality types, and
approaches that may be helpful in “managing” them.
This and each of the subsequent e-Newsletters in this “Herding
Cats” series will address two to four different personality types.
Clearly, every engineer is an individual, with characteristics that are
unique. The personality types
that will be described here are purposely more extreme than will normally be
the case, and will emphasize one specific set of characteristics, whereas most
people have a variety of personality characteristics.
Every situation is unique, and should be treated in a unique fashion.
Further, every manager has their own approach, and what I describe is
just one person’s view, mine.
The Problem Child:
The Challenge: The problem child seems to
constantly lurk outside his/her manager’s office, and always has pressing
problems that he/she needs to discuss with the manager that are “different”
and “more important” than everyone else’s.
He/she will ask if you have a moment so that he/she can explain
what’s wrong, so you can help. Then,
when you say, “Sure, I have a moment”, he/she will suck up your every
waking minute, given the chance. Generally,
when you get into it, you’ll hear that he/she doesn’t really have a
problem; everyone else has a problem. The
problem child is generally loaded up with problems, and is looking for other
people to dump these problems on to. You
almost reach the point where you’re afraid to look up, or where you want to
close your door. You have to do
something, or the problem child will consume your life.
The Management Approach: Most
often, the problem child isn’t a bad person, and may not even recognize
his/her behavior. You must have a private one-on-one discussion and explain
that his/her behavior is creating problems, and driving you (and probably
others) nuts. He/she is not the
only person with problems, and his/her problems are not different from
everyone else’s. More
importantly, he/she must identify and solve his/her own problems, and not try
to pawn them off on others. Engineers
have the training and the intelligence to solve problems; after all, that’s
really what engineers do. When
there is a difficult problem that he/she cannot deal with, it’s OK to bring
this to the manager, but this should be the exception and not the rule.
It is not acceptable to “lurk” outside the manager or others doors
waiting to pass off problems or to be told what to do and how to think.
Tell him/her that you will monitor his/her behavior with you and
others, and will promptly point out when behavior is unacceptable.
Further tell him/her that modification of this behavior will be part of
what will be measured for improvement as part of the performance review
process. If he/she can be put on
the right track, the problem child can stop being a problem (and a child).
The Elitist Bastard (EB):
The Challenge: The
EB is typically talented, smart, and often brilliant.
He (the EB is most often a he) is critical to getting a project
completed efficiently and effectively in a timely fashion.
The EB is often able to outwork and outthink many of his coworkers.
However, the EB generally looks down with disdain on other mere
mortals. He may respect some
coworkers, but those who don’t match his brilliance are second-class
citizens who really shouldn’t even be allowed to occupy the same space and
time. This is particularly true
for testers or writers or others who merely observe and react to the EB’s
brilliance. The EB can’t be
expected to spend time listening to the hoi polloi about problems that are
clearly beneath him. The EB
doesn’t make errors. If there
is something wrong, it’s not the EB’s fault; it’s someone else’s
fault. If a bug is found in
something the EB did, it’s not a bug; it’s a feature!
The EB can have a corrosive affect on an engineering organization, and
can create chasms between individuals and groups.
The Management Approach: EB
behavior must be addressed directly and early.
The EB must learn quickly that while his talents may be valued, his
behavior with others is not and is unacceptable.
The EB should understand that with his skills, talent, and knowledge,
he has an opportunity for a very bright future, but only if he adjusts his
attitude. The EB is not “better” than everyone else, and
needs to play better with others, rather than alienating everyone around him.
Everyone in an organization has their skills and talents, and people
need to work closely together as a team.
Let him know that he will be monitored, and when he shows EB behavior,
he will be called on it. If he can correct it and become a team player, he can thrive,
and gain the respect of all; if not, then there may not be a place for him in
the organization, even with all of his talent.
EB behavior destroys teamwork and will not be tolerated, even if it
means losing a talented individual.
These are just two of many personality types that you will come across
in engineering (and other) organizations.
I will get into many more in subsequent e-Newsletters.
The key is to recognize the various personality types as early as
possible, and work to address the problems or opportunities that they may
bring. You don’t want to
destroy individuality or mold everyone into an automaton.
At the same time, you don’t want certain individual behaviors to
destroy team morale. You must
walk a fine line, and find what works best for your organization using a style
that fits you.
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