Thursday, January 17, 2013

5 lessons Manti Te’o will teach the world, whatever truth emerges

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

Across every social media outlet on the web pictures are being uploaded every other second of gorking students, office workers and even celebrities, with their arm around a whole lot of fresh air, captioned with ‘my girlfriend’ and hashtagged ‘Teoing’.

For the uninitiated (which by now should include a couple of Tibetan monks and a single penguin somewhere in Antarctica) Manti Te’o is a highly tipped American college football player, likely to join the NFL from Notre Dame University in the upcoming draft. Here is the short version of the hottest story in America right now. He said he had a girlfriend he met at a football game. He said they went to Hawaii together. He said she had leukemia  He said she died in a car accident in September. He told his college that he got a call from her three months later. Now he says they never actually met. He says it was an online relationship. He says the woman he knew probably never existed. He says he was duped.  The press say he was in on it from the start and that he knew the woman never existed. They say he created a fake girlfriend.

At time of writing it seems extremely unclear what actually happened. Whatever comes out in the wash, there are lessons for us all as professionals and as people.

Accept that hoaxes happen, and that it could happen to you.

If you’ve seen the movie Catfish, you’ll know that a pretty smart guy can be dragged a long way into a fake relationship before it even occurs to him to go back to where he started and ask the most obvious questions. Is this person real? Is the voice on the phone the person in the pictures online? Accepting that there are hoaxers with all sorts of motivations out there and that you are as likely to encounter one as anyone else is key to avoiding them. If Te’o is on the level and he is a victim, then he has some serious questions to ask himself. Don’t wait until it’s too late to run through your sanity checklist, whether it’s at home or at work.

Tell the right people

Confirmation bias is a dangerous thing. Using anything convenient to reinforce your belief, at the expense of more obvious evidence to the contrary  is harder to do if you’ve got some input from some people you trust. If Teo’s version is true and he has just been fooled, then you have to ask why none of his friends smelled a rat. Most likely because he hid it from them.

If you’re going to lie, lie good. Better still – don’t lie at all.

Whether it’s business or personal, we all know that the moment we start to lie we lay the first strand of what is likely to become a tangled web. I have yet to encounter a moment in my career when lying would have been the most sensible strategy. We’ve all exaggerated a tiny bit; we’ve all overpromised slightly; we’ve spun something a bit more than was reasonable. We’re not angels, but there’s a long leap from this to creating and maintaining an absolute falsehood. Every kids fable you ever heard is true. Your nose gets longer and longer as it becomes harder and harder to keep a lid on your original lie. You end up lying about more things. You end up lying to more people, all to cover up the lie you should never have told in the first place. Nothing makes us look more foolish than being caught in a lie. It’s so embarrassing. Embarrassment is going to be served to Mr Te’o for breakfast, lunch and dinner from now until lord knows when.

 It’s never too soon to start handling the fall out.

The strongest piece of evidence suggesting that Te’o has been fooled, and is the innocent idiot that he claims to be, is that he went to Notre Dame himself to tell them about the call from the voice he had recognized as belonging to the girl who was supposedly dead. It’s strange he would do that. If he had made her up, why would he not just leave it alone and move on? But he still waited three weeks to talk to his employer and the people who were responsible for keeping him on the pitch and out of the tabloid press. This was a serious misjudgment. It’s never too soon to take your problem to the person whose job is to fix it for you. Talk to your PR department early, talk to your lawyer early. Equip the people you trust with the ability to help you as soon as you can. Get out in front of it if you can, whatever it is.

Beware the internet. Still.

Don’t get complacent about the net. We’ve all been desensitized by fifteen years exposure to the world wide web. It’s safe now. It’s policed now. Everyone is meeting safely on line these days. Business is secure online. You know better than this. Some simple precautions will protect you from the world’s largest single collection of scroungers, scammers, spammers and other digital ne’er-do-wells. Surfing the web without protecting yourself is akin to walking down the most dangerous street in your city at 2.00am towing all of your cash behind you on a trolley. In this case, the web will offer two lessons. Firstly, it’s easy to get scammed. Secondly, if you make a fool of yourself, there will be nowhere to hide. Your story will be everywhere, and open to everyone.

Nobody is safe. Not at work, not in their personal life. As the new adage goes, and Te’o should mark this well, the internet is the only place where geeks bully football players.  

Richard Spragg writes about a number of issues related to social media, marketing, engineering jobs. Find out more about Talascend, about electrical engineeringabout civil engineering and about mechanical engineering jobs from Our Website.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

Top 7 Hardest Degrees for Undergrads… Is yours on the list?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

Engineering has developed a tough reputation as an undergraduate degree. This reputation is unlikely to be contributing to desperately needed intake into the industry at ground level. So what’s the story and do these accounts really convey the reality of university programs in engineering related subjects?

The recent National Survey of Student Engagement took 416,000 full-time and first-year students and also seniors at a total of 670 universities across the USA to find out which majors offer the hardest ride.
They produced a Top 7:

1.       Engineering
2.       Physical sciences
3.       Biological sciences
4.       Arts and humanities
5.       Education
6.       Social sciences
7.       Business

It’s not the first time engineering has been thrown under this particular bus. And let’s make no mistake about it – this is not good news. While those who have completed the programs may get a glow of satisfaction that they have come through American college’s toughest test (with the possible exception of a football scholarship to Alabama) the bottom line is that this is a terrible PR issue for the engineering industry. Who is going to fill engineering jobs in the future if we’re scaring away perfectly capable undergraduates to other degree programs? When you were eighteen, did you want to take on the toughest challenge available? I know I didn’t. There was beer to be drunk and girls to be chased, and that’s all perfectly natural. If you’re going to dive into engineering for four years, the stats suggest that you are going to spend less time socializing and more time preparing for class than any other degree program. What you just heard in the distance is the sound of 17.5m Americans picking up the brochure for a Business degree.

The Global engineering job industry has been plagued by skill shortages ever since computer science grew legs and walked off by itself. The minds that would have been applied to structures, mechanics and electronics to engineer the planet for a generation have proved far more interested in developing software products and designing cool packaging for Apple, Microsoft and any other new technology company you care to name. Engineering has started to look like the bow-tie wearing old man in the moth eaten sport coat, trying to find his glasses while the iProfessional snowboards past him with a light beer and the captain of the cheerleading squad.

In a world where twenty-somethings are looking for somewhere to retire, it’s easy to understand why they see greater possibilities in business and IT. Take a look at the youngest billionaires and you’ll see the trend.
The question is, how do we – the engineering industry – sell young minds on the many possibilities that engineering could offer them?

Learnhub offers ten reasons to study engineering:

Flexibility and Choice
Intellectual Development
Helping Society

I’m not sure they’re selling the right list for Generation Y, who are looking for travel (where we can offer a great deal of opportunity), variety (also a strong suit for an engineering degree) and a chance to be part of something that creates a lasting legacy. (I’m not an engineer myself, but I worked on the UK’s first high speed rail link and it’s one of my proudest accomplishments – I feel part of it and when I catch a train to Paris, I really do feel like I helped to build it. I can only imagine how the engineers who really designed and built it feel.)

We need a rebrand. Engineering is going to have to do a better PR job if we’re going to ask young people to take on the toughest degree program on the market. Private industry needs to take the lead in presenting engineering to the market in the right way. We need to take to social media on mass and share the stories that people will respond to. Everyone loves a good human interest narrative, and all over our industry there are fantastic stories about projects and accomplishments, of friends made and good times had.

Let’s take off the old sport coat and get out on the slopes with the cool kids. There is every reason to take on the tough challenge of an engineering degree. But those considering it need our support and encouragement. Less PC and more Mac.

A very exciting world awaits our undergraduates. It’s our responsibility to show them their future.

Richard Spragg writes about a number of issues related to engineering jobs. Find out more about Talascend, about electrical engineeringabout civil engineering and about mechanical engineering jobs from Our Website.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Snakes & Ladders – How will you manage your staff against the plans you made for 2013?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

The only thing you know for certain about the budget, said an old mentor of mine, is that it’s wrong.

One way or another, you’re going to have issues with the plans you made in November for the year ahead. Not surprising, given that you aimed to somehow foresee the next year’s market conditions, predict the performance of your customers and anticipate everything from super storms to the attrition of key personnel.  Then you reconciled this guess work with your shareholders’ aspirations – which are seldom modest or undemanding – to produce ‘the plan’.

Beyond the obvious problem – the fact that you have no idea if the reality will render the theory absurd – which you can’t waste your time worrying about, you have a major concern that you can and must address:
How will the ever present plan, and perceptions of success and failure, affect your staff’s actual performance?

Whatever you business, and engineering staffing is a perfectly good example, you have some ladders to take advantage of and a number of snakes to avoid in managing productivity.

Ladder 1
New Year Urgency
It’s simple. Your well rested staff return to work fired up, full of resolutions and raring to go. Success follows. Happy days.

Snake 1
New Year Attrition
Not everybody translates their ‘New year – new start’ positivity into hard work for you. January is the biggest month for hiring and job seeking. Right now one of your key staff is planning to make a fresh start of a different kind this year. You are never more vulnerable to turnover among strong performers than you are in January. Have some conversations and make sure you know how your top people are feeling.

Ladder 2
Motivation increases from strong start
So Q1 has gone great. By and large your staff over performed. The atmosphere is buzzing and there’s a great deal of confidence about the year ahead. You can harness this to drive greater productivity. Increase the optimism through the promise of additional rewards. Share some of the results of the over performance, you might see it again in Q2.

Snake 2
Complacency sets in as your staff hit the cruise control button
Some will use success to strive for more success, others will use success as a justification for slowing down. Again your answer is in adjusting rewards. You can’t use the stick for someone who’s overperformed, but you can switch the carrot out for something slightly larger and more juicy. Increase the performance rewards at the highest thresholds and motivate people to excel further.

Ladder 3
Fostering long term development
When you’re on target, you have the opportunity to invest time and energy in developing your staff. If you know they are going to hit targets, you can spare a little time for training, team building and all the other things that are, conversely, the first casualties when you begin to slip behind. When things are going well this year, give serious consideration to investing a little energy in longer term productivity. If you don’t take advantage of successful times to do this, you never will do it.

Snake 3
Entitlement increases from ‘high value / high maintenance’ mentality
Many a trajectory has begun with early success, followed by plateau and then freefall – induced by the early success itself. A proportion of the people who work with you will take pride in their success over the line and become entitled. I’m contributing all this, I should be getting more. I’m better than they are, I should be treated better. These people need me more than I need them. The worst thing about this reaction to success is that it can inflict collateral damage on other staff. Egotism is a virus and it spreads quickly. If you look to reward high performers early with extra benefits to reach for and investment in their skills, they will feel rewarded in both the short term and long term. Entitlement is never just the result of performance, it is the result of performance combined with a lack of perceived appreciation.

Ladder 4
A definition of minimum acceptable performance is understood and you can manage to it
The plan allows you to manage underperformance, because of clearly understood targets that are either met or not met. If they are not met, you have a very clear mandate to chase good performance, or to let people go accordingly. The threat of failure can be a great motivator and if you’ve got an agreed threshold, there is never any ambiguity. Make sure the staff understand the importance of accomplishing targets and then dig in to the work of helping them get there, even if it means reforecasting to meet external challenges.

Snake 4
Doom, gloom and dismal prospects will never inspire improved performance.
If your staff are chasing after a plan so unrealistic as to be entirely unachievable they will not be motivated by it and it might as well not be there. The double threat is that they will hold you responsible for signing off on the budget in the first place. Maybe you were trying to please shareholders; maybe you were just wholly unrealistic. It doesn’t matter – there’s a massive burden to carry everyday and you gave it to them. Sure, they accepted it, but what other choice did they have? If all your staff have to look forward to is one round of meetings after another where they are asked why they are so far behind the forecast, they will not stick around to endure it; they’ll just go somewhere where they can get an even break. And you know that regardless of the plan, they may just be performing better than you honestly expected.

There are many more ladders and many more snakes and I’d be fascinated to hear your own versions. The bottom line is that you’re going to play this game whatever happens; your budget will either contribute to success or to failure. Which way it goes is up to you.

Richard Spragg writes about a number of issues related to engineering jobs. Find out more about Talascend, about electrical engineering, about civil engineering and about mechanical engineering jobs from Our Website.