Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 12/18/2003
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Herding Cats: Management Challenges 3
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
This e-Newsletter is the fourth in my continuing “Herding Cats”
series (see also eN-031106 – Herding Cats: The
Art of “Managing” Engineers, eN-031120
– Herding Cats: Management Challenges 1, and eN-031204
– Herding Cats: Management Challenges 2) that addresses some
management challenges in the form of specific engineer personality types, and
approaches that may be helpful in “managing” them.
Clearly, every engineer is an individual, with characteristics that are
unique. The personality types
that are 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 his or her own approach, and what I describe
is just one person’s view, mine.
“Wally” is a character from the Dilbert®
comic strip by Scott Adams. Many
(most?) companies have a “Wally” (who can be a he or a she, but I
will refer to “Wally” here as a he).
“Wally” makes every effort (in fact he works very hard at
it) to do as little as is humanly possible while trying to disguise the fact
that he’s not doing anything useful. He’s
full of meaningless buzzwords that he can string together into impressive
sounding, but actually meaningless, phrases that can mislead a less-than-savvy
manager (think “Pointy-Haired Boss”) into thinking that "Wally"
knows what he’s doing and is doing “good work”.
“Wally” often does this at meetings, wasting significant
time, but contributing nothing. He
wanders around the workplace, coffee cup in hand, striking up meaningless
conversations with others, and distracts them from doing their work. For “Wally”, no job is hard for he who doesn’t
have to do it, so he’ll often suggest “improvements” and “changes”
for others to do that make “Wally” look good and involved,
but that make the jobs of those who will actually have to implement these “improvements”
and “changes” all that much harder.
“Wally” will then stand around and critique the work of
others, often suggesting yet more “improvements” and “changes”. “Wally” is a drain on the entire organization, and
requires others to both pick up the slack work that "Wally"
is not doing, and to do the extra work that he has forced on others with his
suggested “improvements” and “changes”.
The most critical thing to be done here is to recognize that you’ve
got a “Wally”. “Wally”
is a disease in the organization that must be treated and eliminated quickly
and completely. You will need to
immediately hold a private discussion with “Wally”, and tell him he
must immediately shape up or ship out. He must understand that his behavior cannot and will not be
tolerated. If “Wally”
can’t contribute meaningfully to the group, then he has no place in it.
You should lay out a recovery plan with specific near-term milestones
and dates where “Wally” must demonstrate solid, real performance,
with no excuses, no buzzwords, no fooling.
Following this recovery plan and within its timeframe, “Wally”
must either fix his behavior, leave on his own, or be fired for cause.
“Wally” may be funny as a character in Dilbert, but
he is not funny at all in real life.
The Prima Donna:
The Prima Donna thinks he/she is better than everyone else, and
everyone else should cater to his/her every whim.
His/her excrement doesn’t stink.
Nothing you do is ever enough for the Prima Donna; there is
always more that should be done simply because he/she deserves it.
The Prima Donna can do no wrong.
In some ways, the Prima Donna is similar to the Elitist
Bastard (see eN-031120), but the
EB views those he respects differently from those he doesn’t; the Prima
Donna looks down on everyone. The
EB is viewed favorably by some in the organization, and is respected by
many for his technical skills and savvy; the Prima Donna is viewed
favorably by very few, and has little respect from others.
When a Prima Donna is involved in a project you’re working on,
you try to stay as far away as possible and minimize your involvement with
him/her. This has an adverse
impact on the work and the morale of the group.
You need to sit down privately with the Prima Donna, and make
sure he/she is aware of this behavior; often he/she is not (is too much of a Prima
Donna to even recognize it!). You
should present clear and real examples of unacceptable Prima Donna
behavior. You must make it clear
that such behavior must change, as no one in the group wants to work with
him/her. You should explain to
the Prima Donna that this behavior is destructive to the organization
as a whole. You should then lay
out steps that must be taken for the Prima Donna to modify this
behavior. Let this person know
you will call them on any such behavior (privately) immediately after it is
observed. If such behavior can be
corrected, then that will solve the problem.
If it cannot, then more serious action, up to and including dismissal,
may be required. The Prima
Donna must understand that you won’t have the performance of the entire
group undermined by such Prima Donna behavior.
These are just two more of many personality types that you will come
across in engineering (and other) organizations.
I will get into 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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