Like IE, Like IE

By Tamara Wilhite

A study once found that sons who follow the father’s profession earn 10% more than peers. It observed that even comparing for age and level of education, the sons earned 10% more than peers.  This study implies that the parent-child bond imparts knowledge of the profession far greater than current educational models. Mothers and daughters likely have the same knowledge transmission advantage. I suspect that the same pattern may be found for any child who follows a parent’s profession. I may even be an example of that concept – I’m an IE like my father.  

The wit and wisdom of an older generation often brings to light the differences in technology, though the math and concepts of the profession haven’t changed.

“Our department had a minor man whose job was to run the suggestion box and filter through the ideas and reward the best ideas. To save money, he received suggestions for four years but never considered them worthy for presentation to management or reward. Then a few of us got together and recommended that the suggestion box be eliminated, since it hadn’t found any ideas worth while in four years. Savings: the salary of the person who ran the program.” Shortly thereafter, suggestions by employees improved, and bonuses followed.  

Lesson: When you ask for advice, follow through on it. Otherwise, the act of soliciting it becomes just another burden.

“Our work area had a sign ‘beatings will continue until morale improves’. It was put up as a reminder of proper management style. It was painful to see that sign while it was being ignored by someone berating a peer for far too long. After a while, morale actually suffered because of the sign.” In short, the hypocrisy of the goal of proper treatment of workers made the bad behavior even more demoralizing.  

Lesson: Management style matters far more than logos emblazoned on the wall, pins handed out, and mottos uttered in meetings. 

“One company I worked for sought to improve morale, and thus sales and performance, by sending everyone up to Washington for a retreat. First problem, it was mandatory. Never mind we would work a long week and then want to be home on weekends. The second problem was that it required climbing ropes and walls. It was like Boy Scout camp, but with men in their 30s, 40s and 50s. When I brought up reasons why I shouldn’t be performing some of these actions (due to health reasons), I was told I had to do this or I wasn’t a team player – and wouldn’t remain on the team. I barely survived the weekend.” The medical bills from the muscle damage and missed days of work were more costly than the hoped for increase in sales.  

Lesson: Team building and morale can improve productivity. Mandating it may be done in a dictatorial fashion. Failure to take human needs into account hurts both morale and productivity. 

The greatest take-aways from these stories and others include:

  • Taking human frailty into account (ergonomics).
  • Honesty in action, or at least avoiding hypocrisy.
  • When you ask for advice, take it or at least say why you will not; to do otherwise risks the flow of information drying up.
  • Team building should not be an end of its own, only a means to the end of improved communication or less social friction within the group.

The IE in IT blog like the other IIE blogs is simply another method of knowledge sharing, with the intent of helping the broader engineering community. Then again, there’s always the possibility of a third generation of knowledge capture.