Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.
— Marvin J. Ashton
Given that the primary objective of Engineering is to efficiently deliver valuable functionality and the statement in an earlier post that People (i.e., Engineers) are the most important part of the delivery of same, we need to pay a lot of attention to hiring and nurturing great Engineers.
To understand how to nurture Engineers, we need to understand the Engineers themselves. Engineers, like all people, are complex beings, with many different facets to them. As managers, we ignore some of those facets at our own peril. The way I visualize all these facets is by grouping them into various cross-sections or layers. Just as I could take a cross-section of an object and get different views based on where I take the cross-section, the same is true of Engineers. So to paraphrase Shrek, “Engineers have layers” . My mental model of the layers looks something like:
Each of these layers breaks down into facets specific to that layer. The easiest way to explain this is by showing the detail of each layer. We’ll spend the rest of this post looking into the foundational layer…
The Personality Layer
This is the base behavior of the Engineer – depending on your preferred brands of psychology and philosophy, these are fairly fixed…or not. This is how I see the Personality Layer:
These are the basic attributes of the Engineer’s personality that influence each of the successive layers. This includes:
- Attitude – each person has a core aspect of their personality that pervades everything they do. Without getting deep into psychology, this includes things like whether they are a pessimist or optimist, whether they have a “can do” approach or a “can’t be done” one.
- Work Ethic – most people have a commitment level to their work that is like a thermostat – it has a set point and doesn’t waver too much unless a significant change happens in their environment. In my experience, you can’t take someone with a poor work ethic and motivate them, so it pays to find someone who is willing to give their best every day.
- Communication Style – each person varies in how they interact with the rest of the world. At a basic level, this can include whether they are an introvert or an extrovert or even an omnivert, which is a blend of the two . As well, it’s important to know the best way to reach someone – don’t assume that your preferred communication channel is theirs. I make a point of telling people the best way to reach me for both urgent and non-urgent communications and I try to solicit the same insight from them.
I suggest that you make the time to get to know your Engineers well enough that you can identify where each fits in these three areas.
Additionally, some teams have success using various personality tests, although other teams find them annoying and intrusive. I have had success over the years with various flavors of these, including Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, How to Fascinate, Strength Finder and – a newcomer that I quite like – The Four Tendencies. Use any or none of these as you see fit, but a few words of advice I can give you if you choose to use one of these tests: 1) don’t make this your first act as a new manager; whatever you choose to do first conveys what you think is most important , 2) blend the personality test in with a larger, fun event and 3) make it optional – some people deem it a little Big Brother to write these tests.
We will spend future posts digging deeper into the Personality Layer, but before we do, I want to take a high-level view of each layer. With that in mind, in the next post, we’ll examine the next layer: Capabilities.
This post is based on or excerpted from the upcoming book “De-Engineering the Corporation” by Darryl Ricker
 I have seen various new managers permanently light themselves on fire in their first few weeks doing things like imposing timesheets, instituting a dress code, forcing everyone to read a particular (and particularly odd) business book and, yes, forcing the team to take a personality test. There was also a client whose new CEO brought in a motivational guru who, amongst other things, had people lie on the ground while she read a children’s book (Winnie the Pooh) to them. Given that the attendees were factory workers, you can imagine how well this was received.