After my PhD in microelectronics, I spent many years doing purely technical work for a large American chip company. Although I still very much enjoy tinkering with analog IP blocks every day, I’ve arrived at the inevitable point in my career where I’m asked to take on some organizational tasks. Recently, my boss retired and from one day to the next, without any preparation, I became responsible for a team. As a design manager, I now have to deal with a structural shortage of people, while having to deliver to customers the first samples of a chip that’s not even ready yet.
Being born with a soldering iron in hand and being quite the perfectionist, I’m making long hours. I’m also demanding a lot from my people and tend to micro-manage. This has resulted in some friction with my team members. With one of them, I’m even having regular (civil) disputes. He’s a veteran and only has a few years left until retirement. I suspect that’s why he’s not completely in his comfort zone in this high-tech pressure cooker. It looks like he’s going a bit overboard and I’d really like to improve our rapport.
Unfortunately, in my company, I’m on my own in coming up with solutions for these and other management questions. I’m receiving no support whatsoever from HR. They’re apparently only concerned with salaries and contracts. What can I do to better carry out my role? FYI: I have a budget for training and coaching.
The headhunter answers:
Your question is very recognizable. Many before you have struggled with it, as will many after you. That’s why, in my opinion, every HR department should have a protocol for this. I know of several companies that have a complete program to guide and prepare future management, but there are also those that solely rely on the talent and initiative of their managers.
I think it would be a good idea for you to talk to someone who has experience in similar situations. There are plenty of interim managers with the proper profile who can guide you as a coach. Furthermore, you can consider following a soft skill/leadership training at, for example, High Tech Institute in Eindhoven. “Leadership skills for architects and other technical leaders” or “Team coaching skills for engineers” seem very relevant to me. TSM Business School in Enschede offers development programs and coaching opportunities as well.
To help you when you have underperformers in your team, there are well-known instruments such as performance appraisals, which can lead to a personal improvement plan (PIP) or a job change, for example. Such a PIP can be a heavy measure, though, as in many cases, it leads to file creation for a dismissal case. A job change may also sound like a major decision, but it can sometimes be the best solution for both parties.
In your case, this experienced engineer in your team may also be able to contribute his technical knowledge in a different role, such as quality management or functional safety. My advice is to look at where in the organization the need is high and explore together how you can create a win-win situation.