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Dealing with people

During our normal lives, we learn to build, maintain and break relationships. We do this with immediate family and relatives as well as our neighbours and friends.

There is a hierarchy within these relationships based on many factors. Family ties and respect for age may play a part as well as social standing.

Unlike common social conditions, where relationships settle to their own level, or be broken, work introduces an artificial factor into relationships. People are placed within a structure that is dictated rather than formed naturally. These structures may cut across existing or expected norms and place the individual in an unnatural position where they have to shift into the new role or continually deal with and have others deal with the resultant discontinuities.

 It is a criticism often levelled at the engineering community that communication is sometimes lacking in designers. It seems that either the subject draws in the introvert at the start, or the design process itself and the “heads down” approach cultivates such behaviour. The traditional lack of the necessity to communicate has enhanced this reputation.

 Modern organisations and process have done much to extract those from this comfortable domain, with design reviews and cross company consultation becoming part and parcel of the NPI process.

But there seems no formal recognition of this issue and the personal development that it may require. Smaller organisations are behind in recognising and dealing with many things that larger organisations have already invested much time and effort.

This shouldn’t be exaggerated; maybe 5% have this issue and there exists designers who have the ability to think deep, wide and to communicate. These people usually gravitate to lead or managerial type positions. Sometimes though, the individuals with behavioural problems also move up the chain and effectively act as a restrictive choke on the cohesively moving forward of the organisation.

 People are sensitised and adjust to these differing structures, but there seems to always be the few that struggle to accept the authority based on vertical and cross departmental hierarchy. 

 Some individuals seem to take a consultative approach to the hierarchy rather than employee based. They typically are not intent on delivery in a timescale and a style to which they are being asked and often, due to the critical nature of the project, there is little that can be done in the current timescales to modify this behaviour.

 The reason that this behaviour exists and continues to flourish is that the management has not taken the time to set and indeed dictate expectations at the start of employment or at yearly reviews. Often there is a lack of political will at a senior level within the business to accept responsibility for supporting the challenging of this behaviour. As time progresses, the behaviour becomes more firmly established and more difficult to deal with.

But we must be careful. Often designers are very creative and that very ability is something that may be linked to great innovation and problem solving skills. But the manager must have the ability to reign in behaviour when he sees fit and to allow more slack during the creative phases.

It is generally in the early stages of the NPI process and where product definition resolution is concerned that more latitude can be given. But care should be taken in not allowing this to become an excuse rather than a benefit.

 Whilst it is true to say that there is never a good time to deal with this type of problem. It is also true to say that the longer things are left, the harder they may be to challenge. As part of the Post Project review, the performance of individuals should be assessed and the information fed back via the appraisals system.






  Interim Engineering Director. Interim Engineering Manager. Interim R&D Director. Interim R&D Manager. Interim Project Director. Interim Project Manager. Interim CTO. Interim VP Engineering.