Can a Non-Engineer Manage an Engineer?

From the Ask Tom mailbag -

We are having a discussion about one of our engineers and who he should report to?  The engineering manager says that all engineers should report to him, that a non-engineer doesn’t know how to manage an engineer.  Our plant manager says he needs the engineer on his team full time without going through the engineering manager to get things done.

First, let’s shift the question to get to the answer.  Every employee reports to lots of people.  Team members work on a project, contribute to a report, complete a routine task and then, work on another project.  In all of these activities, they report to many different people.  That’s normal.

But each employee can only have one manager.

The first question for every new hire into the company is, “who should this person report to?”  Wrong question.  This new employee will report to lots of people.  But each employee can only have one manager.

The central question is, “which manager will be accountable for this team member’s output?”  By definition, a manager is that person in the organization accountable for the output of other people.  Which manager will be accountable for this team member’s output?

Back to the engineer.  Which manager should be accountable for this engineer’s output?  Let’s ask some questions about the plant manager.

  • In the plant,does the plant manager know what tasks need to be completed, which will require engineering technical knowledge and skill?
  • For those tasks, does the plant manager know the reasonable amount of time it should take to complete those tasks?
  • In the plant, is the plant manager accountable for those delegated tasks being complete within the time frame?
  • Does the plant manager have enough engineering work to require a full time engineering role on his team?

If the answer is yes, then the plant manager should be held accountable for the output of this engineering resource.  And yes, non-engineers can be held accountable for the output of engineers.

How Do You Know?

“You are the manager, so, why don’t you know if there is anyone on the line that has the potential to step up to a supervisory role?” I repeated.

“Well, I let the supervisor handle that.  He knows his team,” Denny explained.

“But, if the supervisor disappears, and you have to hire a new supervisor, how are you going to make that decision?”

“What do you mean, if the supervisor disappears?” Denny pushed back.

“Nothing is forever,” I replied.  ”All managerial relationships are terminal.  The best person on your supervisor team is likely to get promoted.  One of them might quit and go work for a competitor.  One of them might go fly-fishing in Montana and call in well.”

“Okay, okay.  If one of my supervisors quits, I am the hiring manager.  What’s your point?” Denny challenged.

“If you don’t have a relationship with any of the production team, how will you know if any of them could step up and be effective in the role of supervisor?”

Identifying Supervisory Capability

“When was the last time you walked the floor and talked to the line crew,” I asked.

Denny paused.  He knew it was a loaded question.  ”I walk the floor a couple of times a day.  But, I depend on my supervisors to talk to the line crew.  As the Plant Manager, I have a lot of important things that keep me in my office.”

“So, what do your supervisors tell you about the line crew?”

“Mostly, they just complain about this one coming in late, or somebody out sick.  The usual stuff.”

“So, you never actually talk to anyone on the line crew?” I pressed.

“No, if there is a problem, I let my supervisors handle it.  I don’t want to interrupt the chain of command,” Denny explained.

“What happens if one of your supervisor’s quits?”

Denny peered over the top of his glasses.  ”I guess I would have to hire another supervisor.”

“And, where would you go first, inside or outside?”

“I don’t know that there is anyone on the line that could step up and be supervisor.  I would just put an ad in the paper, do some interviews and pick somebody.”

“Why don’t you know if there is anyone on the line with supervisory capability?”

Management Myths and Time Span

In 2001, I stumbled over some startling research.  For two years, I privately shared this research with two of my executive peer groups, who encouraged me to take it on the road.  In 2003, I presented the first public workshop called Management Myths and Time Span to a group in Plymouth MN.  Ten years and 350 presentations later, this workshop makes it to my own hometown.

Here is the press going out.

Every CEO, executive and manager struggles with this hidden key to performance, find out why!  Do any of these apply to you?

[ ] A Project Manager Blows the Deadline?  Again?
And you have to call the customer to explain that the project will be late.  There is no reason for the delay, just an excuse.

[ ] Your Top Performer Got Promoted to Manager.  Now Failing.
She has been with the company for 12 years, promoted to a game-breaker role.  What happened?  She is loyal.  Everyone likes her.  She is floundering.

[ ] You Sent Him to Manager Training.  The Same Person Came Back.
Your high hopes for this young manager are dashed.  He showed such promise.  Or did he?

[ ] A manager got promoted to his level of incompetence, WHY?
Unlock and understand the Secret behind the Peter Principle.

November 20, 2013
Everglades University
Boca Raton, FL
Management Myths and Time Span
Reserve Now

On Wednesday, November 20, Tom Foster will present the 50 years of scientific findings of Elliott Jaques.  According to Foster, “This is the missing link to human capability. This missing link is based on a simple principle and touches every element of a manager’s work.”

Date – Wednesday, November 20, 2013
8:00 – Coffee
8:30 – Program begins
Noon – Adjourn

Reserve today $200 Only $99*
Seating is limited to 60 participants.
* Vistage/TEC Member guest discount

We select our top performer and promote them to the next level, introduce them to the team as their new leader, only to find them floundering and earning no respect.

In the hopes of filling a position in the corporate org chart, we diligently interview, do personality testing and check references. We hire the person with the best of intentions only to find them failing after a few short weeks.

You just promoted Sally — she is now in your office complaining that her new boss has his head in the clouds and is completely out of touch with the real problems facing the department. Ten minutes later, Sally’s boss, Joe, is in your office complaining about Sally, his new direct report, saying that she is totally incompetent and cannot see the big picture. What did we miss?

Tom Foster will present the research and statistically significant scientific findings of the late Elliott Jaques, the psychologist who discovered a correlation between workers across industries and their internal capability to handle different levels of work.

Particular areas that will be addressed are:

  • Most hiring managers underestimate the level of capability required for success in the role.
  • Personality conflicts in an organization are often smokescreens for a misalignment in structure.
  • Most CEOs mis-understand the true nature of executive work and often, are drawn into activity that pulls them away from higher-levels of work.
  • The flat organization is a misguided management fad — organizational hierarchy is essential and exists for very specific reasons.

Note: Participants may find it helpful to bring a current organization chart, starting with the CEO and driving down three levels.  And if they exist, a short paragraph description for the CEO role and each senior management position.

 Biography: Tom Foster works mostly with CEOs in executive peer groups.  He conducts classroom training for managers and supervisors in the areas of delegation, planning and communication skills. He spent 14 years in the television production industry and another 10 years with a large CPA firm. A Vistage Chair since 1995 and former trainer with Dale Carnegie Training, Tom holds a B.S. in radio-television-film and a master’s degree in communication, both from the University of Texas at Austin.

Reserve your space now.

How to Prevent Improvement on a Team

Ernesto was on a roll. Emily was now seated in a chair at the front of the class.

“Emily, you think there is a morale problem on the production line, but that’s not the problem. You know your team is not meeting the daily target, but you haven’t shared the numbers with them.  ’A little short today, try to do better tomorrow.’  Bottom line, you are not telling the truth because you are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. By not telling the whole truth, the accurate truth, you have made them incapable of improvement.”

Emily’s body language was retreating. Ernesto continued.

“And you have created co-dependents out of them. They are just fine not knowing what the target is. As long as they don’t know, they don’t have to perform to it.

“When you tell them they are short, they think it’s your problem not theirs. They are perfectly willing to continue this non-accountable relationship. No skin off their nose.”

The color in Emily’s face began to pale. I called a time out. The room was very still and quiet.

I jumped in.  ”The problem we name is the problem we solve. That is why it is so important to name the problem correctly,” I said. “How will we name this problem?”

Get to the Root Cause of the Problem

Emily was nervous as she entered the classroom. She knew that I would not allow her to be a passive observer, but front and center in the crucible. I turned to greet the other folks who were now streaming in.

“I would like everyone to meet Emily. She has an interesting problem at work. With our help, she is going to walk us through some solutions.” Emily looked at me sideways. It would take her a bit to trust this group.

Up at the front, Emily stood. “I really don’t know what kind of problem I have,” she started. “Our manufacturing line is not meeting its daily quota and the reject rate is at 11 percent.” Emily continued to describe the circumstances, considering morale, motivation and working conditions. Then the questions started from the group.

“Who decides the daily quota?”
“How is the daily target communicated to the line?”
“Who tracks the number of completed units?”
“How does the line know if they are falling short or getting ahead of the target?”

Emily responded crisply, “The daily quota is determined by the sales forecast and what we need in stock, but the people on the line don’t need to know that. They just need to build the units faster. When the QC people pick up the units for inspection at the end of the day, they count them and it’s on my report the next day.”

Ernesto raised his hand. “So, the line doesn’t know how far they missed Tuesday’s quota until Wednesday?”

“Not exactly,” Emily replied. “I don’t want to discourage them, so I just tell them they were a little short, that they are doing good job and to try harder. I am worried about morale getting any lower.”

Ernesto tilted his head to directly engage Emily. “You are treating this issue as a morale problem. Morale is only a symptom. You have to treat the root cause of the problem, not the symptom.”

Randy dragged a chair up front for Emily to sit. We were going to be there a while.

Why Do People Bring Their Personal Lives to Work?

“Why do people bring their personal lives to work?” Denise complained.  ”I’m losing productivity.  Eight people on my team, one is out with a sick child, and one was late because his car broke down.  As the manager, I am held accountable for today’s lack of productivity, but it’s not my fault.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes, and you are partly to blame.  You say the manager is accountable for the output of the team.  You assume that each person on my team is doing their best and, as the manager, I am accountable.  Well, I feel like my feet are being held to the fire for the lack of productivity, but it’s not my fault that somebody’s kid got sick.”

“I agree.  It’s not your fault that somebody’s kid got sick.  You are not held accountable because someone was late.  You are, however, held accountable for today’s production.  You are the manager, THINK.”

“I think I am being blamed for something that is not my fault,” Denise pushed back.

“Looking at the production schedule, there are ten orders that have to be completed and pushed out the door.  You are the manager.  What are you going to do about that?” I insisted.

Denise took a big breath.  She wanted sympathy, but was getting no warm and fuzzies.  Finally she spoke.  ”There are two people on another crew that I could probably borrow for two hours.  They are cross-trained.  That will catch us up most of the way.  But there is one order that won’t make it today.  I know the customer and I know the project.  I can call and see if we can delay delivery for one day.”

“You are the manager.  Do you have the authority to make those decisions?”

“Yes.  I do,” Denise clarified.

“So stop feeling sorry for yourself.  You are not accountable for someone getting sick, but you are accountable for today’s production.”

Experience Meets Experience

Every conversation can be calibrated. Every conversation has a platform. Seven levels of listening -

  1. Ignoring completely, oblivious, engrossed in your smartphone.
  2. Pretending to listen, glancing up from your smartphone.
  3. Listening selectively, attentive only during downloads on your smartphone.
  4. Listening to respond, smartphone holstered.
  5. Listening to understand, to understand the other person, to understand the situation.
  6. Listening to learn, to learn something new, something interesting, something that matters.
  7. Listening for the intersection where someone else’s experience meets our experience on which we can build trust.

Thinking about your relationships, as a manager, as a friend, as a stranger, as a parent. Where is your intersection with reality?

What is the Purpose for Delegation?

“So, you have selected something to delegate?” I asked.

Marion nodded.  ”Yup. I know you have been telling me that I had to get something off of my plate.”

“Why did you pick this project?”

“You said to pick something.  This project will take me about an hour.  I can delegate it, save myself an hour,” she explained.

“So, the reason you want to delegate this project is to save yourself an hour.  You have traded one hour for one hour.  That’s a one to one leverage of your time.  Not good enough,” I challenged.

Marion furrowed her brow.  ”What do you mean, not good enough?  How can I trade an hour for more than an hour?”

“If your purpose for delegation is just to save some time, you will always trade one hour for one hour.  My challenge to you is to trade one hour and get ten hours of productivity.”

“One hour for ten, how do you do that?”

“While delegation can be a powerful time management tool, it is also your most powerful people development tool.  If your purpose is NOT to save time, but to develop people, what changes about the leverage you get, as a manager?  Can you spend one hour developing one of your team members and get ten hours of productivity back?”

Working Leadership – Fort Lauderdale – Oct 21, 2013

Oct 21, 2013 kicks off our next Working Leadership Series in Fort Lauderdale Florida. This program contains twelve modules in six classroom sessions. The program instructor will be Tom Foster (that’s me).  We have five seats left.

If you would like to pre-register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself and we will add you to the pre-registration list.

Session 1 - Mon Oct 21, 2013 - Orientation, Role of the Manager, Time Management
Session 2 - Fri,Oct 25, 2013 - Working Styles, Communication
Session 3 - Fri, Nov 1, 2013 - Positive Reinforcement, Team Problem Solving
Session 4 - Fri, Nov 8, 2013 - Planning, Delegation
Session 5 - Fri, Nov 15, 2013 - Decision Making, Accountability
Session 6 - Fri, Nov 22, 2013 - Effective Meetings, Coaching

Location - All classes will be held at Banyan Air Services in Fort Lauderdale FL in the Sabal Palm Conference Room.
Banyan Air Services
5360 NW 20th Terrace
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33309

Tuition - $1600 per participant. Vistage member companies receive a $100 discount per participant. This includes all books and participant materials.


Session One
Orientation. During the initial Session, participants will create both a company and a personal framework, setting expectations and direction for this program. Participants, through directed discussion, create the connection between the program course material and their day-to-day management challenges.

Role of the Manager. Introduces the distinction between supervisor and managerial roles. Clarifies the specific goals necessary for effectiveness. This module creates the foundation on which rest of the course material builds. Incorporates source material from Requisite Organization – Elliott Jaques.

Time Management. Introduces the textbook Getting Things Done by David Allen. (Text included as part of the program).

Session Two
Working Styles.
 Participants will complete a DISC survey (DISC is an online instrument published by TTI) and report on their own identified strengths and working style.

Communication. The largest challenge, for most managers, centers on issues of communication. This Session will introduce participants to a new level of conversational “reality.” Introduces the text, Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott, as reference material. (Text included as part of this program.)

Session Three
Positive Reinforcement

This segment reviews the management research of Elliott Jaques and Abraham Maslow regarding “why people work.” Explores the role of positive reinforcement outlined in by Aubrey Daniels – Getting the Best Out of People.

Team Problem Solving.
 Expands Fierce Conversations to the group setting. Designed to move a group into “real work,” using a team problem solving model. Demonstrates how to build a team through problem solving.

Session Four
 This segment introduces a results-oriented planning model, based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which participants can quickly use in any situation where planning would be of benefit.

Delegation. Participants are introduced to a specific model of effective delegation. Most managers hold certain mental blocks to delegation that prevents them from using this powerful developmental tool. This delegation model challenges these mental blocks so the entire team, manager included, can benefit from delegation.

Session Five
Decision Making
. This segment introduces three decision models that participants can use to make decisions in specific circumstances. All models can be used in a team setting or for an individual decision.

Accountability Conversation. Introduces a results-oriented method to hold individuals and teams accountable for desired results. This combines concepts of Time Span, QQT Goals and Management Relationships.

Session Six
Effective Meetings.
 Moves from theory to the practical application of team dynamics. How to run a more effective meeting.

Coaching. This segment takes the communication models we have previously used and integrates them into a conversation specifically designed for coaching subordinates.

If you would like to pre-register for the program, use the Ask Tom link, tell me a little about yourself and we will add you to the pre-registration list.