||YESTERDAY'S ENGINEERS and scientists were content with doing their
thing and creating the best possible products in their isolated
cubicles away from all the corporate distractions. They were
responsible for design, research, and production, while the accountant
was responsible for the financials and the marketer accountable
for sales. In fact, their education and training lent itself to
this focused approach.
Those were the good old days. There was enough demand out there
for every player. On occasion, a product did not make it in the
marketplace, but something else in the product portfolio made
up for the loss.
Then the competition of the 1980s arrived. Market share, never
guaranteed, was now harder to come by. There was plenty of blame
to go around when tried-and-true measures failed to make a profit,
but it was easy to blame the engineer for not delivering what
the customer wanted.
In todays age of intense, technology-driven competition, a different
school of thought has emerged on the role of engineers and scientists.
With the world increasingly dominated by external market forces,
these employees are now forced to be involved in the business
of their organizations.
When a company participates in a bid, the product has to meet
the customers expectation not only in specifications but also
in value. So technical personnel must become active participants
in the decision-making process and no longer work in isolation.
Engineers and scientists have to be competent in accounting and
finance to decide how to maximize the value chain and understand
product and customer profitability. Therefore, with accountants,
marketing staff, and product engineers working together, collaborative
teamwork is a must, and cross-pollination of knowledge is critical.
A Three-Part Education
The groundwork for this integration was laid in the chaos of the
1980s, and scientists and engineers will continue to play a much
greater role in business decisions within their organizations.
1. Accounting, Finance, and Marketing
Many engineers and scientists, after a few years of working in
research and development or production, will require some skills
typically not found in traditional science or engineering curricula.
A strong background in accounting, finance, and marketing will
become an additional requirement to assume this expanded role.
2. Human Resources and Management Skills
In addition to technical and business skills, engineers and scientists
need to be positioned to manage the human capital of their organization. For
this, management and leadership training is essential. This will
enhance the development of the engineer and scientist who already
has a strong education. A comprehensive leadership training portfolio
would include team building, the understanding of group dynamics,
negotiation, conflict management, motivation, the constructive
use of feedback, and performance evaluation. Effective communication
coupled with self awareness will allow the individual to be a
productive team member and also learn the skills necessary to
become the leader of a winning team. And effective team leadership
can only open doors for engineers and scientists as their careers
3. Global Thinking
A third skill required in todays business world is the ability
to function in an increasingly global environment. A business
that is a domestic player today might very well find itself in
the international arena tomorrow. Many engineers and scientists
now work with global partners on joint projects and, in these
circumstances, understanding the environment of the partner is
very important. A scientist working on new product development
in the pharmaceutical industry, for instance, must be aware of
the opportunities for the research environment or the product
abroad. In addition, knowledge about the legal, economic, and
social environment of these markets is critical.
The Opportunities Are There
As shown in recent census information, the new culturally diverse
work force is here to stay in Americaserving as a microcosm of
the global diversity with which all businesspeople must engage.
This represents a distinct set of challenges for team leaders
and team players.
When collaborating internationally, cultural elements frequently
are underestimated and overlooked. While many similarities in
engineering expertise may exist between two cultures, many differences
need to be addressed for the cross-cultural team to be successful.
Daimler-Chrysler, for example, placed a significant number of
resources into bringing German and American engineers together
to build the global engineer. The differences in the two cultures
are, however, substantial. The German philosophy is that the engineers
know best and the customer will eventually realize it. In contrast,
the American approach is very much customer-driven.
When confronting these circumstances, scientists and engineers
recognize the need for formal training in business decision making,
leadership skill building, and cultural diversity. A formal degree
such as an MBA or an EMBA (Executive MBA) can offer engineers
and scientists the opportunity to work alongside colleagues in
similar and diverse industries. These programs afford the opportunity
to explore relevant topics encountered on the job, focusing on
business principles such as developing effective leadership skills,
evaluating emerging technologies, and assessing e-commerce issues,
global issues, and ethical concerns.
Frequently professionals are treated to a team-based approach
to learning and peer mentoring while they are in these programs.
Courses and special topics can be technology-driven, tailored
to the needs of the students, and can evolve as new information
technologies and trends emerge. These programs also contain seminars
or elective courses during which participants can focus on the
social, political, and economic forces at work in different cultures.
Sometimes participants are required to travel abroad and experience
the issues firsthand.
A Win-Win Proposition
So the time is ripe for engineers and scientists to merge their
talents with those of their colleagues in accounting, marketing,
and even the boardroom. Through a formal study in an MBA or EMBA
program, technical personnel can gain a life-long competitive
advantage in an ever-changing and challenging business environment.
In the long-run, it can only benefit the employee and the entire
Copyright © ASTM, 2001