Malicious Obedience

After posting about the difficulty in keeping my “inner engineer” under control outside the workplace, several readers admitted to the same trouble. This brings to mind a former boss who decided the best way to improve our working relationship was to send me to an expensive, two-day seminar on “Managing Technical Operations.” I was not eager to go, and actually “forgot” about the first reservation and had to scramble to get into a later session.

My discomfort over this assignment was quickly soothed. As soon as we were settled in our seats, he asked how many of us were engineers; most of the hands went up. He followed up by asking how many of us had been sent to the class because our bosses thought we needed “fixing;” very few hands went down.

He chuckled and said these results were typical of his classes. He chuckled some more at the joke really being on the boss, because the true title of the class was “Malicious Obedience.” After years of conflict with his own superiors, he had developed some simple steps to reduce the friction while staying employed. Even thirty years ago, engineers worried about having a steady job.

It is unfortunate that our profession has seen its status so diminished. Up until that time smart companies looked at their engineers as critical assets — not expensive employees who could be easily outsourced. So much so that there was a saying that “A good engineer works for free; he saves the firm more money than we pay him.”

That instructor’s major point was to never, ever tell the boss something couldn’t be done. Instead, you were to respond “yes sir” and then add a very detailed list of resources needed to make the project happen — on schedule and on budget. It was good advice then and remains good advice today.

Unfortunately, it is the rare boss who remembers much past the “yes sir.” The promise date is quickly etched in stone whether the required resources are provided in a timely manner or not. In blogs to come I will share some tips on minimizing those conflicts.

About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.