Technologist, including engineers, are often unfairly labeled and stereotyped as lacking soft skills when it comes to interacting with other people. Words like ‘quirky’, ‘introverted’ and ‘rambling’ are often used to describe technologists and how they interact with others. After more than 15 years in the medical device field working side by side with my engineering colleagues I’m convinced these adjectives unfairly characterize many technologists, yet the use of these descriptions continues to permeate conversations rather consistently.
Whether you’re a technologist or not, the simple truth is we all could use a little help in upgrading ourselves professionally. Continual improvement is a cornerstone for a good professional and so is proper business etiquette. If you’re looking for a way to improve how you show up, including how those around you perceive you, consider the following nine steps to boost your business etiquette:
1. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
A wonderful acronym to say the least. Those of us who like to tinker and develop products have a tendency to overcomplicate the outcome, as well as our communication. When we ‘over engineer’ our ideas, products or conversations it shows a lack of understanding for the true need as well as our ability to hold back personal interest before company needs. Good business etiquette in this area is when we build awareness around the importance of keeping things simple which focuses on driving greater realized value for the end user. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
2. Understand the Big Picture
Technologist can be stereotyped as not understanding the company’s bigger picture and its goals as a business. Its important engineers slow down to take the time to understand how their role impacts the business, especially how their decisions impact things downstream. When we understand the big picture we’re able to remove ourselves from our preconceived notions and think like business professionals, not just technology developers. This becomes crucial when we’re making decisions early in the product development process on product needs versus how that need supports the company’s mission and the needs within the marketplace. Just because something is a great feat of engineering awe doesn’t mean it is necesary for the product, the company and or the customer.
3. Be Proactive With Your Communication
Engineers live a life of projects. They go from one project to another in their day to day work and as such they’re often embroiled in deadlines. There’s nothing more frustrating to have someone on your team report the day of the deadline that they are going to miss it. That’s unacceptable. When we have good business etiquette we respect the other people on the team by communicating proactively so the team is prepared, especially in a situation where we may be missing a deadline. Don’t wait to communicate.
4. Understand Your Cross Functional Colleagues
It’s poor business etiquette for engineers to only stay in their lane and not get to know, interact with, or understand their colleagues in non-technical roles. Why is this the case? Read #2 on this list. When we don’t understand the bigger picture of the business, how it runs and operates, how decisions are made and why they’re made, our ability to be a productive employee is reduced to chance. Ever seen someone come up with an idea which they claim to be amazing or revolutionary to be shot down shortly thereafter from another person in the company? More often than not that idea infringed on #1 or #2 within this list. For example, if you make a suggestion to add a feature to an existing product without taking into consideration the cost to manufacture it or if the companies sales people can actually sell it to their customers you’ve singlehandedly shown that you can come up with ideas which have little merit in their ability to be executed.
5. Good Enough Vs. Perfect
Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” When we chase perfection we often find ourselves on a never ending journey where we’re busy as can be without accomplishing much. Its important engineers build awareness around the idea that nothing is ever finished therefore it isn’t settling if perfection isn’t achieve. We should expect it and build product updates into our process down the road. Apple, Inc. does this all the time with their new releases and they still have people lining up around the block to buy their products, regardless of the initial glitches and bugs associated.
6. Handshakes and Eye Contact
Those of us in technical fields can at times get a bad rap for not being social butterflies who know how to engage with others. Let’s buck the stereotype! Good business etiquette tells us it is important to give a firm handshake upon initial interaction with another person. In fact, its common to hear from leaders that a poor handshake can be the difference in someone getting a job. The limp wrist, fish handshake belongs nowhere in business. Same can be said about eye contact. Be intentional with your eye contact when speaking with someone in person. Looking at the floor or down at your lap gives others the impression you aren’t confident in yourself.
7. Ditch the Cell Phone
Your cell phone needs to stay in your pocket at all times when you are engaged with others, especially in a business setting, unless you are using it as part of the discussion. If you’re in a conversation, including a group conversation, and you’re simultaneously thumbing through your social media you’re giving off a sign that what other people have to say isn’t important. Put the phone away! Your digital friends, who you’ll never meet anyways, won’t even notice you’re not there to like their cat memes. FOMO no mo.
8. First Impressions Are Actually Important
This goes hand-in-hand, pun intended, with #6. The way we show up with other people, especially during a first impression can make or break someone’s perception of you. Greet people, shake their hand, learn their name. Make an effort to engage with them. Be polite and considerate. Lastly, be groomed! If you’re appearance is disheveled or unbecoming of a professional that’s how you’ll be treated. Most technologists make a healthy living in their careers, it’s important you act like it, at least upon first impressions.
9. Respecting Others Lack of Technical Knowledge
When you’re talking to a layperson, a non-engineer, do your best to use simple, straightforward language. People who aren’t engineers already are often times giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re smart. (this is the one time when a stereotype works in your favor) As such, you don’t need to impress people with your technical prowess by using terminology and theoretical concepts which fly over the head of the other person in the conversation. Be mindful of who you are talking to and adjust accordingly as this will ensure the discussion is fruitful for both parties. If the other party wants more information they’ll signal to you to get into the weeds, then its go time!
When we’re demonstrating good business etiquette we simultaneously show that we respect others while respecting ourselves. Take the time to build awareness in this area of your career, it will pay dividends in spades over the long haul.
We've talked on a couple occasions about the importance of planning ahead. When it comes to your business and the safety of your employees planning ahead for emergency situations is a must for all leaders and business owners, alike.
Listen in as our Operations Manager, Trisha Aure, shares with us in this two part series why it's so important to have an ERP (Emergency Response Plan) in place and the steps to go about implementing one within your business.
Part 1: ERP Overview & Initiation
Now that we're aware of what an ERP can do for us and how to initiate it from scratch, let's look further into the implementation for an ERP.
Part 2: ERP Implementation Continued
Did you miss our article on Emergency Response Plans (ERP)? Access it here: http://www.sqr1services.com/white-papers-and-articles/why-you-need-to-implement-a-business-emergency-response-plan-immediately
How many times have we waited too long to address something to later learn our procrastination ended up creating more work and heartache in the end?
This is a daily experience for many businesses pushing off activities which may on the surface seem unimportant or trivial in the moment but lack thereof in the wrong circumstances creates havoc on the business’ leaders and employees alike. Havoc also likes to bring with it a loss of time and funds for what that’s worth.
Enter the Emergency Response Plan (ERP); also referred to as an Emergency Action Plan (EAP).
If you’ve ever seen an ERP, or been lucky enough [heavy sarcasm here] to be a part of the team putting one together, you know firsthand this exercise is no walk in the park. A thorough and well-rounded ERP can easily exceed 60 pages in length, we’ve seen them over 200 pages, covering everything from natural disaster planning to emergency health services and of course the latest business challenge - pandemics. Many also include Continuity of Operations Plan (COOPs) which address situations like when employees can’t come to the office but the show must go on. Sound familiar?
Gosh, ERP’s seem pretty important, right?
Exactly, then why is it so many companies, especially companies under 100 employees, don’t have an ERP in place. Not only do they not have a formal document and list of procedures to rely on when the sky falls, little to none of their employees have ever been trained in what to do should an emergency occur.
This is business gambling at its finest hour. Without a plan in place we are accepting an incredible amount of unnecessary risk.
Why do companies choose to put off business planning which includes ERP related procedures and documents? The survey says the #1 answer is ‘they didn’t think they needed it because it [an emergency] wouldn’t happen to them’. Other reasons why companies don’t have an ERP in place is they didn’t know they need one or they’re fire fighting [bad pun given the context of this article] other business needs which require immediate attention.
Whatever the reason may be which has led you to push off implementing an ERP just know this – should the proverbial crap hit the fan putting your business, operations, employees or facility in crisis mode, know that your company and or its directors could be held accountable for a lack of planning or action – especially if lives are at risk.
This is certainly a grim reality and one which isn’t fun to think about.
Let’s hope you’re in a position where you’ve been lucky enough to not experience any emergency or critical situations and therefore haven’t had to activate an emergency plan. If that’s the case we not so subtly suggest you consider the following:
Given the events of 2020 its understandable for businesses and their employees to be on edge about the unknowns ahead of us. Planning ahead of time for possible risks reduces our likelihood that risk develops into a situation which puts our employees or the company in danger. It’s always better to plan and have the plan never go into action than to be unprepared and regret it later on.
In January of this year we were contacted by a company to help create their first ERP as they had just experienced an emergency situation where an employee, we’ll call her Tina, fainted at the office in a common area. Another employee, let’s call him Josh, found her conscious but noticeably shaken up and still on the ground. Josh stayed by Tina’s side and called the paramedics with Tina’s approval. He stayed with her, providing support and comfort until the paramedics arrived; long and short Tina turned out to be okay, she had fainted due to overheating.
A couple months later I asked the company’s VP of Ops about the outcome of the situation to which she shared, “we were lucky Josh of all people found her, Josh was an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) when he was in college and jumped right into action. If it had been anyone else, including me, we would have been unprepared not knowing what to do. We had no plan in place whatsoever to deal with a situation like this. Needless to say we’re lucky things ended without further incident and thankful the situation wasn’t worse for Tina. Interestingly enough, Tina and Josh now officially chair our emergency prep team.”
This company got a wakeup call and got lucky the situation wasn’t any worse. Prior to this incident they had no plan in place, no process to deal with crisis’ or emergency situations. Their business and employees were left to chance in dealing with critical moments, moments which can be the difference between life and death.
As Denis Waitley says, “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”
The names and situations described above have been changed to protect the identify and privacy of the company and individuals involved.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to get an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) in place. The ERP acts as a guide providing step by step procedures for emergency situations. Not having a plan in place means you and your company are accepting a potential large amount of risk, risk which isn’t necessary.
Put on your activity list for immediate attention to implement step #1 in this article: Get an ERP type plan in place IMMEDIATELY; even if the plan you put in place initially is a couple pages worth of emergency preparedness, you’ll still be better off than a company that has nothing. The bare minimum requirements should include facility evacuation, emergency health and utility dangers protocols; include heavy equipment/ chemical hazard protocols should they apply.
Negotiations can be uncomfortable. How we deal with those moments of awkwardness and discomfort makes or breaks our experience and of course the end result. Here's why...
Visit Square-1 Engineering's Resources Library for additional white papers, articles and videos covering a broad range of content from product design, supplier relationships to leadership. http://www.sqr1services.com/resource-library.html
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Businesses of all sizes must make strategic decisions to ensure its operations and outputs are optimized, functioning at an effective level to help them grow, increase speed to market, improve ROI, etc. One tool which helps to achieve those metrics, and more, is outsourcing. For the purposes of this paper we’re define ‘outsourcing’ as the act of packaging internal work to be sent outside to an external supplier to facilitate on behalf of the company, now client. There are many positive attributes of outsourcing, yet there are a bevy of deltas which accompany outsourcing if the client doesn’t carefully vet and manage their suppliers. Outsourcing, a valuable strategic business tool, is best experienced where expectations are managed while relationships are allowed to develop overtime. This produces fruitful outcomes for both client and supplier.
Author: Travis Smith
Contributor(s): Bill Colone, Achilles Young
To view the full article click on the download link below:
The world of startups and small business can indeed be an exciting place to be. Its commonly characterized as highly collaborative, fast pace, less bureaucratic and wildly innovative. While this sounds great in theory, in practice the world of a startup can be rife with challenge, including heavy amounts of stress and uncertainty. It’s vital we as professionals analyze our personalities and professional behaviors to assess whether or not we would do well in the startup world - before we actually jump in. Knowing what you’re up against before you dive in will allow you to determine if it’s appropriate for you to consider the startup space, small business and or entrepreneurship.
Author: Travis Smith
Read the full article by downloading the below PDF attachment
We’re constantly bombarded with a litany of articles, studies and discussions highlighting the generational differences in the workplace. These discussions often confuse and mislead readers by zeroing in on ‘key characteristics’ which supposedly define a generation while subtly stereotyping it at the same time. One of the topics that comes up often in these discussions is what makes for a good employee. This topic has permeated the business world for decades long before Gen-Z and Millennials entered the workplace over the last 10+ years causing a current day telenovela in the business world.
While the generations entering the workforce, and or exiting for that matter, may have a difference of opinion on what they want out of their careers and what they need in order to be happy in their jobs, there is one common trait which is synonymous with all generations and all employees for that matter. This common trait, or behavior, defines what a good employee is regardless of the stereotypes and or characteristics which accompany the respective generation.
When we take away generational characteristics, race, religion, gender and everything else used to categorize and therefore sort and stack people we’re left looking at people’s actions. Their behaviors. What I’ve found true over the years is behavior is indicative of the true nature of a person, not their words. If we say one thing but then do (act) another, our behaviors become the defining force for who we are, not our words. This is certainly true for employees and their effectiveness as we look at whether an employee is ‘great’ versus ‘average’, or worse.
So, what’s the difference between a great employee and an average one? An employee who excels versus one who mails it in operating at a mediocre level of performance. The difference is a little behavior known as INITIATIVE.
I know what you’re thinking, “that’s not groundbreaking information. I’ve known this for years.”
While we may know this, or have seen it in person, what’s remarkable are the number of people who actually deploy ‘initiative’ in their jobs.
In my 15 years’ of business experience, of which 13 of those years have been in management, and 4 owning a business, I’ve experienced both first and secondhand the difference initiative makes in an employee and leader. When we strip away all the categories and demographics, mentioned above, this behavioral trait is the one that keeps rising to the top distinguishing the great performers from the average, mediocre and under performing employees.
Initiative is everything!
What does initiative look like in a business setting?
When I think of great initiative in the work place the first thing that comes to mind is a situation I witnessed firsthand with an employee of mine several years ago. We had a client who was flying into Orange County to visit with several suppliers, our company being one of them. My employee, Megan, took it upon herself to pick up our client at the airport, coffee in hand, and bring them to our office for the meeting. Talk about service, yet her initiative to provide a great experience for our customer didn’t end there. She also took the client out to lunch in Laguna Beach (our client was from Idaho and had never seen the amazing beaches of Laguna). The client had also forgot to pack a bathroom bag for their travels so Megan took him to Target to pick up a couple items. After all this was done Megan shuttled him back to the airport.
Yes, this was an amazing effort by Megan yet what made it truly remarkable and just as memorable was the fact that she did this all on her own. She didn’t ask for permission; she just took it upon herself to deliver top notch service. Memorable service at that.
I still think about the initiative Megan displayed during this time and marvel at how impressive it was. Needless to say the client sent us an overwhelming email of appreciation thanking Megan for her time and willingness to shepherd him around. He said and I quote “It was the best business trip I’ve been on, I appreciate you [Megan] taking the time to ensure I had a good visit.”
While that story sounds great it’s certainly not the norm.
Rather than focusing next on the lack luster initiative most employees display at the office perhaps its better use of your time and mine to discuss the ways an employee can change their mindset and actions to better align with an initiative based work approach. Consider the following:
Possessing good initiative at work makes or breaks the quality of employee you are and often times how you are viewed in the organization. Are you a blessing to your team and company or are you dead weight? Having good initiative is the one behavior you can 100% control which in turn can directly impact in a positive way your job and career.
Stop making excuses for why you don’t act at work. Next time you see a problem or issue come up at the office which you are directly or close too take a chance and stand up and get involved. People who say ‘YES’ I can do that rather than ‘someone else can do that’ frequently experience better career
Leadership is one of the hardest things a person can do professionally. There’s no manual, no playbook, no cliff notes that give leaders the ‘secret sauce’ to successfully lead the charge. Sure there are thousands of avenues one could go to learn more about leadership however at the end of the day it’s still a job that mainly rests on intangible actions like care, empathy, intuition and respect for the very people leaders serve.
Leading is often described as a lonely experience. Elisabeth Elliott, a famous author, speaker and missionary once said “Loneliness is a required course for leadership.” The feeling of loneliness at the top is much more common than most of us realize as more than 50% of leaders indicate they have experienced loneliness at one point or another in their career. The stats are even higher for first time leaders at a whopping 70%.
When leaders experience solitary the impacts can be devastating. Isolation and loneliness have a direct negative affect on a leaders’ performance which then directly impacts their employees, departments, business units and companies.
How is it then leaders find themselves down in the dumps on lonely island? Some of the most common causes are:
1. Forced Isolation- Leaders seclude themselves from the rest of the group by working in an office which can create imaginary barriers between them and their staff. Closing the door actually creates a real barrier that communicates “I’m not available and don’t have time for you”. Regardless if this isolation was intentional or unintentional it produces the same results where the leaders’ staff hesitate to communicate with their boss, or not at all.
2. Decision Making- In most businesses decision making is typically left to the people carrying the torch. When decisions go well all is good in the world yet when decisions produce less then spectacular results the leader is left out in the cold to take the brunt of the responsibility. It’s part of the job but it can also produce isolation at a whole new level which isn’t typically understood or felt by the company’s employees.
3. Don’t Ask For Help- Many times isolation is self-inflicted as leaders don’t ask for help from their teams or peers. There’s an unspoken feeling for many leaders which goes something like, “they expect me to know everything because that’s what I get paid for and why I’m in the job”. Thoughts like this can be incredibly damaging and certainly have no justifiable basis for being correct or healthy.
4. Lack Humility- When leaders act in a way which broadcasts ‘I’m more important than you because I’m in a leadership role’ employees quickly disengage, refraining from putting effort in to build relationships with their leaders or working hard on their behalf. When leaders act this way many times it can be attributed to ego or overcompensating for a lack of confidence.
5. Poor Treatment of Others- One of the quickest ways a leader can find themselves on lonely island is by treating their employees or staff in a poor manner. They lack emotional intelligence. (EQ) When employees feel like they aren’t valued or respected they withdraw which commonly leads to limited interaction and feedback with leadership. The result is a drift occurs in the organization between what leadership wants and what employees are doing.
Let’s be clear here, we aren’t about to throw a pity party for our leaders. They’re grown ups right, big boys and big girls who have made the choice to enter leadership on their own accord. So if they’re feeling isolated or lonely than it’s by their own doing, right?
While we’d all love to think the statement above is accurate the reality is that employees do in fact have some ownership in the leadership isolation situation. Employees have a unique ability to see things their leaders don’t, hear things their leaders don’t and help in situations where their leaders would otherwise be clueless about.
These five options when implemented help to foster an environment of support and mutual respect, one in which both leader and employee benefits from:
When leaders and employees work together and support one another it significantly reduces the likelihood people of any kind will experience isolation.
“There is no respect for others without humility in one's self.” - Henri Frederic Amiel
Key Take Away:
If you’re feeling lonely as a leader chances are it’s a result of your own doing. Sorry to hit you with the brutal honesty. Loneliness in leadership impacts more people than just yourself. One of the best ways to overcome it is to join a peer group or get a leadership mentor/ coach.
Feeling like you’re on lonely island right about now? Select two people from your company, one of which needs to be a direct report, and ask them for their candid feedback. Start by telling them how you’re feeling and your desire to do something about it. Get vulnerable and ask for their help while creating an environment where people feel comfortable telling you how they perceive you and your presence as a leader. After you receive the feedback – SHUT UP! Don’t argue about it, don’t disagree. Just listen, observe and take it all in. Thank the person for their feedback and take the rest of the day to smolder on it. With time and patience, you will begin to open yourself up to hearing other people’s perspectives while learning how to take their words and incorporate it into a new you. Now, go get em, champ!
Working for big business certainly has its perks, there’s no doubt about it. Stability, direction, benefits, work that is defined – you name it. For some, this is the ideal work environment. We plot along through our 8-5 and enjoy the consistent pace that comes with it.
For a growing number of professionals while the world of big business has its strengths, it also serves to hold us back in our careers which is why we turn to the start-up world. How do I know this? I’ve lived it myself. After more than 10 years of working for a $6B company I left and went into the start-up world.
My story, while it may not be unique, is a growing story many others now share.
Why do people like the idea of start-ups?
First and foremost, it can be an exciting place to work. Decisions are often made speedily, there’s typically much less bureaucracy, work is more flexible and of course it tends to be much more creative. We also have the ability to learn much more about our jobs and the impact it has on the overall company and or business. Therefore, it is possible to say being in the start up world allows us to become better business people in the process as we get to see the big picture, not just our individual roles and workloads like what happens in big business.
Then it’s settled, everyone should work in a start-up! I mean, who wouldn’t want to work in that kind of an environment?
Hold up compadres, pump the brakes a moment. The start-up world is no picnic. Yes, the start-up world is exciting and full of daily innovation and discovery but it can also be rife with challenge, uncertainty and stress. Not everyone is built or meant to be in the world of start-ups. We may think we are however the reality is some of us are just better off being in big business. Before you jump ship from your large company into the world of a start-up (and or small business) take a moment to check in with yourself on how you land with these five characteristics which are vital to ones success in the start-up environment:
1.Working Outside the Box
When we work for big companies often times our job and daily output is focused on a certain set of tasks. It’s the opposite in the start-up world as often times the mentality of those who are successful in this space is that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and company moving forward. This includes taking out your own trash! If you’ve ever said “that’s not part of my job description” in response to work that was requested of you I would recommend taking a hard look at whether a start-up or small company is the right move for your career. You don’t have an option to be picky in a start-up, the only option is to do it. Even if that means taking out your own trash.
Working 8-5 in a large company can be a great perk. If you’ve done that for any length of time you may have forgotten how nice it is to mentally shut off at 5PM. In start-ups working 8-5 is non-existent. It’s common to work long hours and or be tethered to your smart phone around the clock. The statement ‘work life balance’ is blurred beyond recognition in the start-up world. Those that are successful here know and understand that it takes time and effort to create something. How dedicated are you to making that happen and what are you willing to give up in the process?
Working in a large company doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is clearly defined and outlined yet it is typical that SOPs (standard operating processes) are at the very least available for workers who choose to use them. In the start-up world you may find yourself creating these on your own. Take a moment to think how you would feel about being confronted with a daily situation where you are supposed to be working hard, hell – harder than ever before, and there isn’t a lot of direction or support to help you in that effort. If the thought of that excites you than the start-up world may be a breath of fresh air, if not then maybe your 3 foot wide cubicle and plush ergonomic chair your large company bought is the safer bet.
This is one of the most overlooked aspects of a start-up in my opinion. Leadership. If you haven’t worked in the start-up world before you may not be aware that people in leadership still do much of the hands on work. In big business this is hardly the case. Neither camp of leaders are necessarily better than one of the other, it’s just a very different environment. In start-ups every person on the team has to give 150% to the cause which means those who don a leadership title still have to get dirty in the day to day work. The reason you want to consider this as a part of your ‘can I make it in the start-up world’ is because leadership ultimately can have a great or very grave impact on the start-up business. Seems a bit obvious but when someone is doing both daily work and in charge of strategic decision making their influence and involvement has a much greater impact. In big business if a company experiences a failure with one of their leaders it typically can be salvaged whereas in the start-up world one or two costly mistakes by leadership will send the company into a grave six feet under.
Start-ups offer an intimate working experience. Working in a start-up everyone knows everything about everyone. It’s close quarters with high amounts of communication, partnering and feedback. Collaboration of course exists in big business but not at the intimate level of the start-up. When we work for a big company we are often a part of a team but doing work independently, even times on our own little island. If you’ve come to enjoy your island and aren’t interested in having neighbors up in your grill on the daily than perhaps staying in big business is the right decision for you.
A professional life in a start-up can indeed be a rewarding and exciting adventure. Once we’ve spent some time analyzing what’s most important to us in our career and what we’re willing to do to get it than we’ll have a better idea of how the start-up environment and career fits in with our plans.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.