Two men are talking in a business setting
Coaching,  Communication,  Emotional Intelligence,  EQ,  Executive Presence,  Leadership

Applying Engineering Principles To Solve People Issues

Ron, an engineering manager, faced a persistent challenge with one of his direct reports, Jackson. Jackson’s behavior left Ron questioning his motivation and even his competency. Despite Jackson’s belief that he was doing well, Ron and others saw things differently. Struggling to address this without creating conflict, Ron resorted to giving indirect advice about being more patient and a team player, but nothing seemed to work.

Sound familiar? Many engineering managers encounter similar struggles.

The core of the issue often lies in: “How do I provide feedback that the other person will accept and act on?”

While common feedback strategies like being timely and actionable are important, there’s another highly effective approach, especially suited for those with an engineering mindset like Ron.

I asked Ron to think about a complex system (hardware or software) that wasn’t producing the expected results and how he would approach fixing it. He shared his process:

  1. Pattern Identification: Review complaints or issue reports to spot patterns and isolate specific problematic modules.
  2. Testing and Observation: Use targeted inputs to test the system’s behavior, diving deep to uncover the root cause.
  3. Implementing Solutions: Once identified, address the issue by changing the code or replacing faulty hardware.

“What if you approached Jackson’s situation using this method?” I asked.

Ron paused and considered this. “You mean I should focus on Jackson’s behavioral patterns rather than jumping to conclusions?”


“What should I do next?” Ron asked.

“Collaborate with Jackson using this process. Share your observations and explore the issues together.”

Ron realized he didn’t need to impose his assumptions on Jackson. Instead, he could work alongside him, treating him like a fellow engineer. Together, they could investigate and identify the root cause of the issues.

This shift in approach was a relief for Ron. He could avoid making judgments and creating conflict. Instead, he could observe and support Jackson in discovering and addressing the real problems.

Many managers mistakenly believe they must solve the issue themselves, which often leads to resistance and conflict. By adopting a mindset of curious exploration and collaborative problem-solving, managers can help their direct reports take ownership of their growth while providing the necessary support and guidance.

The feature image is from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *