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SEMS Says

The Society for Engineering & Management Systems highlights trust and IIE volunteerism

Using process improvements to build trust and delegate

Good managers know the importance of delegation. Delegating improves cycle time by allowing several tasks or projects to be worked on simultaneously, avoiding backlogs on the manager’s to-do list. It also provides an opportunity for managers to develop their employees in new areas.

New managers can get quickly overwhelmed and overloaded if they don’t learn to delegate effectively to their staff. Some newer managers think it may be quicker and easier to “do it themselves” than take the time to teach someone else to do the work. This approach typically backfires: Managers end up spending all of their time working on projects and neglect their employees’ leadership needs, or projects fall behind because there just isn’t enough time to manage employees effectively and do the project work.

However, when a manager delegates a project, she is forced to trust that the employee will meet the project requirements and deadlines. When trust is low, the manager typically ends up “checking up” with the employees frequently to ensure that the project stays on track, taking precious time away from both the manager and employee.

Continuous improvement processes and tools can help managers trust employees to complete assignments without constantly watching over the work. Recently, I was reminded of this when a group of employees was given a project to solve in six weeks using a new process.

Traditionally, the project team had to give weekly updates to the management team because trust was low. With the weekly meeting, the management team knew that not more than a week would pass for a team to be off-track before they could “steer” them back on course. Since the management team was accountable for the team’s results, the weekly meeting helped to ensure that the results would be achieved on time.

The process worked but wasted a lot of time. The team lost time solving the problem to prepare for and give the updates. Management had to listen to the updates each week, and the employees actually felt less trusted and less empowered because of the need to report in so frequently.

This time, a new process was put in place that assigned a sponsor to the project team. If the project team had roadblocks, the sponsor would be summoned. Forced updates to the management team were eliminated. If the team had a roadblock the sponsor couldn’t remove, the team could request time during the weekly staff meeting.

The project kicked off and weeks passed. At the weekly staff meeting, the management team members commented that they felt out of the loop. Several expressed that they had some anxiety building because they didn’t know if the project was on- or off-track to meet its targets. Some talked about reverting back to the old process.

At the end of the six weeks, the team reported to management. The team had exceeded their goals significantly. Team members had used the process and leveraged their sponsor to remove roadblocks. And the team’s engagement was higher because members were trusted to solve the problem. So management learned to delegate and get out of the way as long as a solid process is in place to remove roadblocks for the employees.

Deb Laudenslager works for The Hershey Co. as the manufacturing manager. She was previously director of industrial engineering at Hershey. In IIE, Laudenslager is technical vice president and past chair of the Industry Advisory Board. She just completed a three-year term on the SEMS board of directors.

Getting involved with IIE

Having just returned from the IIE Annual Conference and Expo in Cancun, Mexico, I am reminded yet again of how much I get out of being involved with, and being a member of, IIE and SEMS. Next year, I’ll celebrate my 25th anniversary of being an IIE member. I never would have imagined back then as an undergraduate IE student how much fulfillment, knowledge and sense of professional identity I would gain over these years. I would like to encourage all members of IIE to maintain your membership and to seek greater ways to be involved in the institute. There are both large and small jobs for members, and the benefits you will receive, both personal and professional, will far exceed the time you put in.

First, find ways to get involved with planning the program for the annual conference. There are, of course, the large roles such as the IERC program chair and Annual Solutions program chair, but there are many medium and smaller roles will allow you to contribute your time and talent to IIE. For example, IERC track chairs coordinate the sessions and presentations for their tracks (such as Lean, Engineering Management, Engineering Economy and Engineering Education). Tracks range from just a few sessions to dozens of sessions. In addition, there are smaller roles within tracks, such as session chairs on the IERC side. This is a great way to use and perhaps broaden your professional network, whether you are a faculty member, student or work in industry.

Second, IIE’s divisions and societies increasingly are trying to add more value for members. Many of these divisions and societies have committees and initiatives that need help to implement new projects. Contact division or society leaders if you’re interested in getting involved in any of this work. For example, SEMS will be launching some new initiatives, and we need our members to help us with a number of these (e.g., webinars, improving the website, international presence, etc.).

Last, there are many informal ways you can increase your involvement with IIE. Encourage friends or colleagues in the profession to join IIE. Attend town hall meetings during the next annual conference (in Reno, Nev.), and ask around about ways you can help. If you’re a faculty or industry member, talk to students about their careers and encourage them to stay connected to their profession through their professional society.

I look forward to seeing many of you again in Reno, Nev., in May 2011.

Eileen Van Aken is associate department head and associate professor in the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She is director of the Enterprise Engineering Research Lab. She has been a member of the SEMS board of directors for three years and is now SEMS president for 2010-2011 as well as the 2011 Industrial Engineering Research Conference program co-chair.

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