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Is time on your side?

Is time on your side?

Dear Reader: Do you ever feel like you have a tiger by the tail and that you can't let go?

As an engineer, you know that technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate. You must continue learning in your chosen field to prevent that knowledge from becoming obsolete. You must do even more to stay up with or surpass your contemporaries. The problem with maintaining such a pace is not that you don't enjoy engineering and continuous learning, because you really do. Your dilemma is that you, like most engineering majors, had to devote most of your college time to engineering subjects. You did not have much time or energy to devote to any liberal arts courses or to many outside activities.

Now, after entering the work force, this pattern has carried over into your adult life. You still don't have much time, energy, or even motivation to attend cultural events, participate in community activities, or spend time with your family and friends. In short, you fear you are not realizing your full potential as a human being, either at home or at work.

No easy solutions. Because you must devote more and more time to both your job and keeping up with ongoing developments in your technical field, there are no easy answers to this very real time-crunch problem. The half-life of a good technical education is now only three or four years. That is, one half of what you learned in college is no longer useful and half of what you need to know now was not available then.

Adding to this dilemma, our neglected right-brain thinking is becoming a significant factor for improving teamwork, innovation, and motivation in the workplace. As the year 2000 approaches, more emphasis is being put on attaining wisdom along with technical skills.

Perhaps you have already taken the first step towards solving your problem--you recognize that this is a problem. A good second step would be to share and discuss your problem with others. Many people face this same dilemma, but are hesitant to admit or talk about it.

Step 3. Next, identify and implement some ways to reduce your problem. For example, you should establish long-term goals and strategies to fulfill them. From time to time, you might keep a time-log which you can use to determine how you actually spend your time. Then take appropriate action to assure that you spend your time on the highest priority activities that support your long-range goals.

Some more enlightened organizations recognize this problem and have created far-sighted and effective policies to encourage on-the-job development. These programs stress both technical and social development and subsidize outside study with both tuition and time off as required. These firms view such programs as an effective way to grow and retain their most valuable asset: their employees.

Unfortunately, many firms, especially those where long hours are the norm and funds are short, often perceive education and learning programs as unaffordable luxuries, especially those related to social development. These are short-sighted views, both from the firm's and the employee's perspective.

Perhaps a useful dialog could be created concerning this dilemma. To get things started, please write or fax me with your opinions and experiences at Design News, (617) 558-4402.


Ask the Manager

Q: In the 1990s, reengineering has at times been used as a buzzword to justify downsizing and layoffs. Isn't there a difference between these two concepts?

A: There certainly is a difference. However, many firms have used the term "reengineering" as the reason (excuse) for downsizing and layoffs because it has a more acceptable connotation, and some actually believe the terms are synonymous. Layoffs and downsizing are used as methods to cut costs without fundamentally restructuring the business and should not be called reengineering.

Re-engineering is much more difficult to accomplish. It literally means starting over again. Its purpose is to organize the firm's activities to meet the demands of today's dynamic marketplace while optimizing its application of current technologies.

Most re-engineerings do involve some layoffs because computers and data processing systems may perform tasks previously performed by people (e.g., when drawings are replaced by electronic data that can be fed directly into a fabricating machine tool). Sometimes layers of middle management become superfluous, be-cause their roles change from controlling decisions to motivating employees to solve their own problems. When the reengineered organization expands its market share, sometimes those affected can be retrained and reassigned.

Q: What are some of the symptoms of groupthink?

A: Members follow group consensus. The group pressures members to conform. Members tend to discount the opposition as inept and to rationalize negative feedback to fit its position. Their optimism is fueled by their belief in group wisdom.

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