Most people are prisoners, thinking only about the future or living in the past. They are not in the present, and the present is where everything begins.
— Carlos Santana
The previous post focused on the Capabilities of the Engineer. This article will layer on the final aspect that defines the environment of an Engineer – what is happening right now. Keep in mind that we can’t change what happened in the past and we can only promise what is to come in the future, so the Engineer’s main reality is the right now. Hence, we will talk about “The Present Layer”.
The Present Layer
As we’ve discussed in the previous two posts, each Engineer brings their Personality and their Capabilities to bear in whatever role and team they are currently assigned. The final factors that influence their Performance (the next layer) are in what I call the Present Layer, not because it is a gift, but because it reflects their present state of mind at the present time . This is how I see this layer:
The current environment in which the Engineer works on a daily basis influences the exuberance they bring to the job. I see three main factors:
- Engagement – a popular term these days in management circles is “Engagement”. It’s something of a vague notion but mostly involves how “into” the work a person is . Engagement is not an absolute number, nor is it the same for everyone. When I say that it’s not the same for everyone, that is a multi-faceted statement. First, each person has different things that get them engaged. Second, different people require different intensities of experience to become engaged. Third, each person has their own level of persisting in that engaged state. And lastly (at least in this list), the exact same environment can leave one person feeling totally into it, while another feels completely disengaged .
- Energy – based on their level of Engagement and many other factors, an Engineer brings a certain Energy level to their job every day. This is highly variable and based on many things a manager cannot control, such as how much sleep the Engineer gets, health factors, events and challenges in their personal life . There are, of course, many things that a manager can control, including how much pressure he puts on the Engineer, whether he ensures that the Engineer is taking their vacation, etc. Because a manager can only control so much, the best approach is two-pronged: 1) try to be aware and interested enough to monitor the energy level of each Engineer and 2) do all the things you can to ensure that you don’t drain the Engineer’s energy level. I will have several future posts on these topics because this factor is so important.
- Feedback & Rewards – beyond trying to create an environment that keeps people engaged and energized, the main thing you have to manage the Engineer’s behavior in the present is immediate feedback. This isn’t always positive feedback and I will dedicate several posts to delivering critical feedback since that is where most managers (including me) often fail. But it is important to deliver regular positive feedback as well. Another fundamental error that managers commit is not delivering positive feedback often enough, both at the team level and particularly at the individual level. Even when you assume an Engineer knows she is doing a great job, you need to tell her frequently. Not so frequently that it seems trite, but often enough to let her know she’s doing a good job . The other aspect of feedback that is more tangible is what I will refer to as “Rewards”. Here, I’m not just talking about monetary rewards, although that is an important part of this category. Rewards comprise a broad range of things, including:
- Annual bonus
- One-time bonus
- Salary increase
- Title/role change
- Additional time off
- Social events
- Free meals
- Broadcasting a team or individual’s accomplishment
- A token of appreciation (such as a gift card with a nominal amount)
I will do a number of posts just on Feedback, as well as Rewards since these are so vital to being a good manager and ensuring your Engineers are performing at their best.
These are the three areas that define the Engineer’s present situation. Understanding the current state of the Engineer’s environment is key to becoming an effective manager. In the next post, we’ll look at how the first three levels (Personality, Capabilities and the Present) contribute to what matters to our Customers and our overall objective: Performance.
This post is based on or excerpted from the upcoming book “De-Engineering the Corporation” by Darryl Ricker
 That’s a lot of presents!
 I feel like there should be a book called “He’s Just Not That Into Your Project”.
 For this last point, my best example is someone I met a long time ago. Let’s call him “Dave” (since his actual name was Dave). Dave showed up a lot of parties I was at in my twenties, as he was friends with some of my friends. Dave was one of the happiest guys I ever met and one day I asked him what he did for a living (as men tend to do). He told me he was a garbageman. It’s a job that most of us would assume is not very fun, but he told me he really enjoyed it. He got to be outside, got lots of exercise and he found some pretty cool stuff that people threw out. At the time, Pepsi was running a promotion where they gave out points under bottle caps and on boxes of cans. He and his co-workers “mined” the recycling to gather an insane amount of points. Dave relayed that he had claimed something like 5 mountain bikes to gift to friends and family. He truly exuded joy about his job and I still think of Dave anytime someone complains to me that their job is boring or unrewarding.
 Both good and bad events can cause a disruption in energy – a new boyfriend and a recently-ex-boyfriend can be equally taxing. By the way, the best thing to remember is that everyone has “crap” that they deal with outside of work. Just remember that as you deal with people, especially those who are exhibiting uncharacteristic bad behaviors, ratchet up your sympathy level, ratchet down your hard-ass level and you should be a more effective manager.
 My epiphany on this topic came from talking to a gentleman on a long flight who was involved in coaching children’s soccer. Since I was involved in doing the same for hockey (being a Canadian), we had a good chat. He relayed some research that had been done related to coaches running drills. The coaches intervened only for the kids that did the drill wrong and, some of the time, those kids improved the next time. But coaches generally didn’t give feedback to the kids that did a drill properly. And here’s the surprising thing: quite often, a child who had done the drill properly the first time, got it wrong subsequently because they didn’t know they had done it right the first time. For whatever reason, this lesson really stuck with me and I have tried to remember to catch people in the act of doing something right and praise them for it.