Effective Engineering e-Newsletter 6/2/2005
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Speaking in Tongues
Tom Dennis President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
In any company, many languages are spoken, and the language
of one group within a company is often as foreign and difficult to comprehend
by other groups as if one group spoke English, another group Chinese, and yet
another group Russian. The language
of finance & accounting is very different from the language
of marketing, which is very different from the language of
engineering. Everyone in the
company may speak English, but that is no guarantee that people will
understand each other. They may
understand each of the words (and sometimes even that is not the case), but
they may not understand what is really being said or meant.
Among their peers, people tend to speak in their native languages,
and there is generally a good understanding of what is being said and what is
being heard. Even among peer
groups, however, there are different dialects that are often
difficult for other peer group members to understand.
Lets use Engineers as an example.
For engineers, their language tends to be fairly
technical, often jargon laden, often discussing esoteric and foreign sounding
concepts often totally unrecognizable to non-engineers.
Even within engineering, different dialects often make
communication and understanding difficult for other engineers.
For example, hardware engineers typically speak a different dialect
than software engineers. There
are many sub-dialects even within a specific dialect.
For example, within hardware engineering, RF engineers speak a
different sub-dialect than computer engineers.
Reaching a common understanding even among different engineers can be
difficult. However, when
engineers meet with non-engineers, the communications chasm can be wide and
deep, with a view by one group that the other group is speaking in
This difficulty in understanding is quite understandable.
After all, what are engineers most interested in?
Theyre most interested in solving technical problems, not in
financial issues or marketing issues, although theyd like to be aware of
what those other issues may be. Similarly,
finance and accounting people concentrate on their specialties and have little
knowledge of or interest in the bits or bytes of engineering.
In general, people concentrate on what they know and do best, leaving
the other issues to people who know and concentrate on their areas of
specialization. It is extremely
unlikely that one person will be an expert in many languages (he
who knows a little bit of everything, is generally a master of none).
Such islands of specialization generally serve a company well, with
people concentrating their efforts on what they do best.
However, no company can long survive if the company as a whole cannot come
together to work toward common goals (see eN-030102
Poor Company Vision Clouds Everyones View).
Reaching such common goals may mean different things to different
groups within the company, but there is a clear need for each group to
understand how they can best contribute to meeting these goals, and how the
other disparate groups will contribute as well.
This means that there is a need for a common understanding among the
many different languages spoken inside a company.
To effectively accomplish this, there must be people who are multi-lingual
in the different languages spoken within the company.
Such people can effectively translate between
engineering, marketing, sales, finance/accounting,
manufacturing, etc. Such
people may not be fluent in every language, but they must be
sufficiently fluent in at least two languages to effectively
enable at least two groups to clearly understand each other and how they can
best interact to achieve mutual goals. There
are no formal training courses in the languages of different
groups. Most often the translators
are home grown people in the company who, of necessity, have worked closely
with each group and have learned to speak their languages.
Such translators are invaluable to a company, but
recognition of their value is often overlooked because the different languages
spoken are unrecognized (after all, everyone is speaking English!).
The extent to which these people can clearly translate
between the two languages, the goals can be effectively
accomplished; the extent to which they cannot, there will be a muddle between
what is expected by one group and what is delivered by the other.
Since achieving company goals is essential to company success, this
role is clearly critical.
Even with good translation, business people and engineers still
may talk at cross-purposes, because their underlying motivations are often
different. Business people most
often are looking at the impact of a given decision on the near-term revenue
such a decision can help generate and on the profitability to the company (see
Your Eyes on THE GOAL!). Engineers
may look at the technology involved and how the implementation of the
technology may position the company for the future (or some other motivation).
In such cases, a crystal clear translation and unmistaken
understanding must be reached so that both groups are working to the same
goal; a master translator may be required.
The key to the success of a company is to have everyone in the company working
toward the same goals. To
accomplish this, every group must clearly understand their roles and the roles
of others in achieving these goals. The
fact the different groups speak different languages makes this
more difficult, but having translators who can enable groups to
effectively communicate with each other can prevent the problems of different
groups Speaking in Tongues.
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