If the UK is short of engineers, my question is how do Engineering Executives lead their teams to compete globally?  Put it another way, have you ever thought what the characteristics of your boss are when you perform at your best?  There is a common answer.

The world too has got much smaller too… the vibrant, aggressive Chinese market is likely to continue to be the seedbed of several iterations of disruptive technology and business models for years… Many don’t realise for hundreds of years up to the 1820s China, like the US today, controlled 29% of global GDP and China were the only economic superpower.

Furthermore our experience shows typically 20% of employees are actively trying to disrupt your business, 20% are actively engaged and the most difficult to identify category are in between.  These employees in between are just going through the motions, and are not even awkward.     These categories include employees at all levels including executives!

I have made some observations through my work at three separate complex engineering businesses; Safran Group SA, Trend Controls and Huntleigh Healthcare. Their business challenges had become overwhelming. Yet the approach I introduced for them created in 3-6 months, 30-42% capacity increases, 35% improvement in customer service, pulled forward a program by 9months, achieved a 10% profit improvement and increased OTIF from 30-95%. Alongside these improvements, the techniques I deployed created a culture of high performance; better motivation, customer focus and on average at least 35% extra capacity.

The supporting questions are~: What is needed to create a motivating Engineering workplace?    How do you re-energise a team, so that they are fully able to make sound decisions? What is an engineer’s expertise right now and what are their aspirations?    What additional knowledge and capabilities will YOU need to ensure they gain to support them?

How do you start?  Realise the challenge to change starts with YOU and ME the boss! Clearly identify the challenge and align the organisation, the strategic decisions, and the scope of each individual, their boundaries and which supporting decisions are their responsibilities. Then counter intuitively let them figure out their approach and how to implement these decisions. By establishing a robust review process and engagement right one can decentralise risk and transforms team motivation.  Yet often when the challenge gets tough the response is almost exactly the opposite?  You need to be good at evaluating “latent capability” and how to engage to get this right, which is difficult if you have created it!

By getting implementation and engagement right you can transform capability by developing a thinking culture:

  • Do not interrupt even when peers stop for thought,
  • Respect peers intelligence – trust they can figure out “the how” themselves
  • Raise self awareness and empathy, to value and harness individual diversity
  • Boundaries create the framework for decision making.
  • Ask incisive questions to continually raise the bar
  • Allow time for thinking in meetings

The results coming from this process are simply astounding. This is counterintuitive to what engineers and a leader is taught and requires real courage. Your team are likely to be unfamiliar with taking this degree of ownership, figuring out the how and or making decisions, and most leaders I find don’t know how to engage.

Decentralising ownership ensures the informal influencers in organisations are identified, become thinking partners, engaged and central to communication and execution too.    Informal influence never follows an organisation chart.   Leader’s attempts to identify informal influencers are normally wrong and depending on the scenario they change.   Servant leadership traits get these key people engaged. Marginalise these people at your peril.

This approach builds the 3 cornerstones of motivation delivers better results and is far less stressful, but initially requires real courage and an expert catalyst to get to the truth.

Relying on force of personality, expertise or authority is less effective.   Engineers tend to be heavily dependent on expertise and authority?

By changing individual behaviour in this way, attitudes and actions change as well.   People have a fundamental need to preserve consistency between their actions and beliefs.

Early wins will excite and energise a team. What has worked well in the past is important to acknowledge building links with the future.

Lead metrics help prevent backsliding and create a virtuous circle of employee led data gathering, analysing, and continuous testing. Metrics develop the team’s awareness of the new opportunities, the value and impact of their actions and decisions.

As per China the toughest markets is where the most resilient businesses will continue to emerge.   Recent McKinsey research showed that training realises little value, it’s critical to change the business as usual to transform a culture.

UK Aerospace and Automotive Engineering and others have created some fantastic globally competitive businesses.  What I have found is that the developing these ways of working is a major competitive weapon.   These ways take decades to replicate and I guess will provide the means to stay ahead, by create a high degree of customer engagement.  The good news the opportunity is untapped and the results will completely transform your business.

The flipside is what are your employees doing if they are not thinking?

Tom Pickering has led 25 performance turnarounds over the last few years, and is an elected Fellow IET www.leadesrshipof.technology