- The road to success is the road to failure
- Management & Leadership
- Career Anchors
- Taking interest: New Skills
- Risk = Management (and Uncertainty)
- Decision Making is Hard
- Moving up the Ladder: Abandoning your peers?
- Relationships: More than just your specialty
- Tactics: the 4 P’s, and walkarounds
- Leading and Managing yourself: Mentors
- Project Perspectives
- Managing Upward
- Being the CEO (or at least acting like one)
- A Final Note
Science and engineering is task oriented, and often times reflected as oriented around individual or very small team efforts, part and parcel around expertise, perfection in output, highly complicated communications within our groups, and the resultant rewards of such achievement. However, this can result in significant issues particularly as one evolves from being a individual achiever (say, as a junior member of a project team) to when we need to manage others, with require us to more advise, assist and assess, with a pragmatic understanding of organizational goals and ability to communicate diversely within the firm. This requires us to change our paradigm which allowed us to be successful in the past, and develop new ways to operate in order to best serve our respective organizations.
There are many ways to conceive management and leadership, both of which are important in creating value within the organization. While leadership often is considered related to articulation of a vision as well as motivating and communicating, management has been considered to relate to execution on a defined plan. Both are relevant in the development of a scientific and technical executive, and clearly are related to the roles and responsibilities that evolve from higher levels in the organization. Technically trained managers are often quite good at being able to analyze the state of the field, and the ability to see relationships is a key strength which is part of these roles, which may encompass both direct supervision of others, or being an internal key opinion leader (viz. gatekeeper).
The speed at which the knowledge economy is changing has been noted to affect all fields of endeavor, and is nowhere more prominent in technical areas. This requires both adaptation of employers in the expectation of staff, as well as in employees as the requirements needed to fulfill their respective roles in the organization. As part of this, understanding the preferences of employees will be key in order to best take advantage of skills of those who are in (and outside of) the firm. Firms need to take into account the types of careers that employees tend toward in order to best understand how they will respond to the needs of the organization. Indeed, employees do have specific preferences, often times not apparent until needing to make a choice within the company, e.g. on a transfer, opportunity of different experience, to manage a group etc.; recognition can allow the technical executive can be better prepared to identify individuals most appropriate to fulfill responsibilities within the firm.
Delegation is an important part of the job of the technical executive, as with increasing amount of responsibility comes the need to be able to work with and through others. This is related to the concept of empowerment, where the transfer of authority to complete a task is provided to others within the organization (but with the manager maintaining the responsibility thereof). By delegating tasks to others who desire such roles, we develop an internal capability that can penetrate deep into the organization for the overall benefit of the firm, with the development of trust, increased engagement, motivation, productivity, and innovation.
As experts within science and/or engineering fields, the constant need to keep up with new developments is something to which we are accustomed. However, when moving into the management ranks, there are new areas outside of the classic technical ones which we need to be familiar, which will be relevant in our development as managers within the organization. Clearly understanding our facilitation role, with development of our respective groups and actively listening, as well as becoming familiar with general management aspects of corporate strategy, marketing, finance and accounting, basic economics, quality management, portfolio management and product development allow us better to understand corporate directives and communicate with others outside of the classic R&D functions. These new concepts and skills play an even more important role as we expand beyond managing R&D and begin to manage other areas within the organization.
Risk and uncertainty are part and parcel of the day-to-day activities of the technical executive. This is primarily because only incomplete information will be available for any manager, and that despite our usual training where we collect data before making conclusions, we are not afforded this opportunity with business oriented decisions. The most effective executives tend to embrace the resultant ambiguity, and utilize not only the data available but their own experiences in determining a pathway to move forward. Often times waiting for “perfect” information creates an entirely new situation, with different situational dynamics, with more ambiguity. This applies to everything from innovation to product adoption to dominant design.
As technically trained personnel, we are often expert at finding the deficiencies in the data, given the analytical mindsets and skills emphasized within such training. However, being able to take the next step from identification of the “soft spots” in the data set or problems associated with a given scenario to creating solutions in a business context is often missing. Exploring issues is a great skill but without being able to create solutions, through skills like alternative generation and deliberations, can result in marginalization of our input. Understanding that we can be both analytical and solution focused is important to drive value creating opportunities and decisions for the organization.
When advancing through the organization, peer relationships change, where previous associations now become potentially supervisory ones, and new peers with different objectives and goals become apparent. We as technical executives need to understand these changes, with a new type of relationship manifest with previous peers, and an emerging network with those who may be more broad in perspective. Cognizance of the responsibilities of the new role is key in order to be successful in the transition between levels within the organization, which encompasses everything between gripe sessions and gallows humor to communication and micromanagement.
Expanding beyond the technical to the non-technical part of the organization is important for new managers. In fact, it is most likely as one moves toward the corporate suite one will change in peer relationships from primarily scientific to ones which are considerably less so – with exposure to more general aspects of corporate and commercial areas. A specific role of the manager is to reach out and integrate within this new network, particularly since these are as new peers by which the efforts on the technical side need to be understood. While our efforts no doubt still reflect the scientific and/or engineering expertise within our own groups, enhancing our relationships with the other areas of the firm provides an important bond between technical manager and these non-technical personnel, which enhances the milieu of the entire organization.
The relationships we have as managers with our direct reports is the operating ground for productivity within our respective organizations. How we interface is important not only for information transfer, but to fulfill the managerial and leadership responsibilities of our positions. Often times, the relationship is based on our previous one(s) within past lives – academic, training or the like. However, while the focus on projects is of significant importance, as managers we need to address other areas which are important in the relationship which has ramifications for the group and the firm. These “4P’s” include projects, personnel, personal I and II, reflecting a broad set of categories to assess in our relationships and meetings with reports. They reflect the status of our “report’s reports”, the general status of our direct report, feedback for the manager, and of course, the status of the programs within the responsibilities of the group member. A corollary of this is to ensure that we as managers actively pursue information by talking with the team members, rather than passively withdrawing into our offices and waiting for visits. These tactics allow for a better understanding of the environment within which we are working, and can be particularly important to identify early signs of issues which may need to be addressed.
One of the most important aspects often de-prioritized for the technical executive is personal development. Often times this is not emphasized on the scientific part of the organization due to a perceived lack of need, or it is more around the development of technical skills that can facilitate laboratory work or experiment formulation. However, the development of technical managers also must include other skills, which can encompass anything from business knowledge to interpersonal skills and conflict resolution. Having an individual or individuals who can share knowledge based on their experiences and can truly have the mentee’s interests in mind is a highly valuable experience which provides personal and professional growth. Moreover, “giving back” by mentoring others is also an important aspect of personal development, providing others the potential of avoiding the pitfalls that one may have experienced in one’s own pathway.
One of the reasons often articulated by R&D personnel on why they went into the field relates to understanding scientific phenomena and/or developing approaches to address unmet needs. Within different types of organizations, that can provide a degree of flexibility in the approaches one uses when deploying resources for such investigation. However, all of us must keep in mind that the source of those resources is neither unlimited nor unfocused, and value creation for our organizations needs to be part of our thought processes. Hence, not only do we need to have the same attention paid to an end point of some relative usefulness of our projects, but as well we need to be open to the application of our work output to various scrutiny and acceptability vis-à-vis the firm and its activities.
The ability to understand the goals of the organization and how they reflect upon the technical executive’s own efforts extends into the understanding that these encompass that of his or her supervisor as well. It is important that this is clearly understood, and that both ensuring it is part of the job to both achieve one’s own goals and facilitate one’s supervisors is key to a successful relationship. As well, understanding how your supervisor prefers to work, using one of the many different types of assessment vehicles (e.g. Meyers Briggs Type Indicators) can assist in working together more easily. As well, understanding how the supervisor views the firm (i.e. organizational lenses) can also be quite useful in framing the supervisor’s perspective. Finally, structuring the interaction with the supervisor using the 4Ps may be a constructive interaction vehicle to best understand and communicate common interests.
Engendering corporate responsibility as a technical executive should be a conscious choice. There is an evolution from the more specific to the more general; communication both internally and externally is more constrained, and requires a level of consistency which may be quite new, and the managerial responsibility and leadership necessary often will transcend any usual business hours. Nonetheless, this can be a very fulfilling opportunity, particularly seeing the success of the organization and those within it achieving both the collective objectives personally and professionally. There is an emphasis on ensuring that the human resources in the company are both adequate and advancing, and that attention is focused on issues you can have a positive influence on (since you almost surely not be able to be involved in all of them!). Finally, having to interface with a board (whether trustees or directors) may be a new experience; having several advisors within the industry but not affiliated with the company can be invaluable to provide advice with this group of overseers.
This book is focused on the technical manager, or manager-to-be, who may be entering into his or her first new role outside the laboratory. The theme herein is that there are certain lessons or concepts which I wished I had known as I moved up the managerial ladder; this book is a compilation meant to help in this transition, hoping it will provide at least a guide to areas which may be less familiar to the technical executive. This last section also includes references to more general references in different leadership, management and business areas which may prove useful as your experiences progress.