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Managing Engineers

 I am amazed at how little ingenuity is used in managing some of the world’s brightest and most creative minds. To ensure productivity and order, it is essential that a manager institute an organizational structure with clear job responsibilities and establish role expectations. That, however, is where the line of demarcation should end. By nature, engineers are creative; they have to be—from designing complex infrastructure to ideas that others couldn’t possibly fathom, engineers see the world, and the materials, lines, and data in it, differently than most people.

 How, then do you manage or direct such a group of inventive minds, allowing them to express their creativity yet keeping control and ensuring that their job responsibilities are being met? It begins with the culture that you create within your organization. From the interview onward, it should be clear that your business is one that thrives when employees have the autonomy to express their ideas in an environment where they are encouraged to freely share these ideas, even if they are outside of their department, role, or project. Sometimes, great ideas or solutions come from outside a department, from a person who is knowledgeable enough on the topic and can see the bigger picture. It is the responsibility of those in leadership to establish the role and responsibility of each engineer. This will not only help him or her to know what is expected of them, hold them accountable, and alert them when they have excelled or failed to perform, but it will also provide a benchmark by which to evaluate their performance at review time. Knowing a role and its expectations does not strip an individual of his or her freedom. A clear role descriptions, which unequivocally state the minimum requirements and expectations, alleviate confusion, demotivation, and missed opportunities. A defined role provides a baseline and lays a solid foundation on which to build, something engineers, especially, can appreciate. It is advantageous to provide the training, teaching, and instruction that allow your engineers to do what you hired them to do, but occasionally their expertise could benefit a project that is outside the scope of their job description. Tapping such expertise can be beneficial to the company and is only achieved by clear communication between project managers and teams. Ultimately, innovation and creativity should not be bounded by departmental levels.

Instead of trying to control or contain creativity out of fear of losing focus, welcome and encourage it. Provide outlets, idea walls, and ways that engineers can contribute to projects outside their departmental boundaries; for their creativity to flow and for them to be greater assets to your company, “play” space is vital. Encourage them to bandy about ideas for other departments if and when such ideas arise. Because their job expectations and responsibilities have already been clarified, engineers will undoubtedly understand their priorities and not abandon their work.

Defining roles and allowing the freedom to create and to innovate cultivates a work culture and environment of increased productivity. Most engineers fall into that rare breed of people who are dichotomous in thought: they are both linear and organic thinkers. So, do yourself and your organization a favour: build an organizational structure and the four walls to contain your company, but let your business be one where natural skills, abilities, and talents are allowed, and encouraged, to flourish.


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