Canadian Consulting Engineer


April 1, 2005
By Lori Elliott

As senior designers and project managers, consulting engineers often have to lead a team of staff members, which means motivating them to be creative and productive as well. Consider the following app...

As senior designers and project managers, consulting engineers often have to lead a team of staff members, which means motivating them to be creative and productive as well. Consider the following approaches for motivating your staff.

Establish trust. Do you know what competencies and specialized knowledge your team members possess? If not, find out. Then trust them by letting them work without micromanagement. Under close and constant scrutiny, it is hard to look good! Agree to a schedule of regular updates on their work with which you both can live.

Permit failure. For traditional managers “failure” is synonymous with “unsuccessful.” For innovators, failure is a tremendous opportunity to learn. Through learning, companies can develop new approaches, lower overheads, and expand markets. Learning drives profitability.

Stop managing and start leading. Managers often use power to modify behaviour, but power does not have a place in the creative process. Leadership inspires. Allow your staff to see the big picture and their critical role in achieving it. Give them the tools to do their job. Advocate for your team. Stand behind them when they fall under scrutiny.

Live the company’s values. If your company has stated values such as Autonomy, Communication, Investment in People, and Service, but the day-to-day reality is micromanagement, siloed information, no support for continuous learning and a lack of commitment to clients, employees will quickly see the hypocrisy and become demoralized.

Encourage, respect and appreciate. Try a simple exercise: ask each of your team: “What is the highest compliment someone could pay you when describing you or your work?” If, for example, they answer “ingenious,” respect that quality and recognize it in their work. Be genuine. Thank employees for their effort. Celebrate successes as a team and discourage blame when things could have gone better. Instead of “Who can we blame?” ask, “What can we learn moving forward?”

Give constructive feedback. In creative work, often a lot of pride and ego goes along with the process. When providing feedback to your team, ensure that you are honouring the person’s emotional connection to their work. Acknowledge what is good and let them know which aspects could benefit from some tweaking.

Mentor up. Create an environment where younger and less experienced team members can share information and ideas with superiors. They may contribute brilliant insights. If you cannot implement their concepts, be sure to explain why.

Be clear about performance measurement. Is your team aware of the criteria upon which their work will be evaluated? If they deal face to face with clients, having superior communication and relationship-building skills may be just as important as being knowledgeable and technically competent. Create an informal or formal training process, and promote and reward professional growth.

Be fair in delegating. There are three basic things to remember when delegating work:

1. Delegation is not abdication. You are still ultimately responsible for the work being produced and you should be available when your team hits a snag. This does not mean, however, that you have to provide all the solutions. Encourage team members to come to you with possible alternatives.

2. “Perfect is the enemy of good enough” (Soviet Admiral S.G. Gorshkov). Because many of us are promoted to manage a role we did before, we know the best way to do something. Practically speaking, the job only has to be done as well as it has to be done, not as well as it would have been done when you were doing it.

3. Keep work interesting. Since technical people enjoy challenging work, team members who are relegated to mostly mundane and tedious work will feel undervalued and at times persecuted. Divide the monotonous work fairly and evenly.

Managing and motivating teams is a responsibility and it is not always easy. The manager is often put in a position of having to communicate difficult messages both upward and downward in the organization. It can be a tough and thankless job. But by motivating your staff effectively, they will enjoy their own work more, be more productive and loyal, and ultimately make you look good. Writer and business genius Robert Towsend said, “If people are coming to work excited … if they’re having fun … if they’re concentrating on doing things, rather than preparing reports and going to meetings — then somewhere you have leaders.”

Lori Elliott, B.Sc. is a career management coach with NEXCareer in Toronto.


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