In my last piece I pointed out some of the challenges for engineers in Pakistan. Yet each of those challenges is an opportunity for any engineer who is prepared to take advantage of them. Yes, water and power are far too expensive. However, reliably supplying water and power at a lower cost represents a huge commercial opportunity because ordinary people will happily pay for a high quality service that provides real economic value over the alternatives. Given that water is the equivalent of US$50-$150 per tonne today, supplying safe drinking water at $10 per tonne is a huge improvement.
Here’s an example, my own personal invention, mentioned in the book (Ch13). Air conditioning is unaffordable for the vast majority of Pakistan people because most Pakistan buildings are not insulated. Conventional air conditioning consumes large amounts of electricity. Too many people are using conventional air conditioners, leading to electricity load shedding. Continuous air conditioning requires a generator and the electricity cost (with fuel) for a typical room air conditioner is about 20,000 Rs or US$190 for one month.
Take a look at www.closecomfort.com.
This technology can provide similar comfort, running continuously through load shedding on a UPS, for about 1,200 Rs or US$12 monthly electricity cost which is much more affordable. The first production units will be on sale in Islamabad and Lahore in a couple of months time.
Challenges like climate change also represent a huge opportunity for engineers. Engineers can do more than almost any other occupational group, and can earn high rewards from grateful people at the same time.
Yet, I can hear from many engineers in Pakistan telling me they work for an unimaginative boss who has no intention of letting them take the initiative, who stifles creativity and won’t let them innovate.
That’s just one view, the engineer’s view. To escape from this common situation, it’s necessary to understand your boss’s viewpoint, something that can be a challenge for most engineers. Of course, another way is to resign your position and look for another job, but I predict you will end up in the same situation again if you do.
How to escape?
You can learn most of what you need from my book, especially listening skills in Ch6, understanding the interests and values of other people in Ch8, understanding something about finance in Ch11 and negotiation in Ch12.
Ch13 is especially important because it explains the kinds of challenges you can expect with delivering engineering results in Pakistan. Your main challenge will be to access the crucial tacit and unwritten technical knowledge (Ch5) that technicians and contractors carry in their heads. These people can be reluctant to speak up until they have complete confidence in you, and you need to win that confidence through sustained listening performances, demonstrating you have learned from what they tell you. It can be easier if you’re in telecoms, especially if the technicians speak the same languages as you and share similar social backgrounds.
Put in the effort to develop standardised procedures for your organisation (unless they are already provided): that will help with predictable delivery even though it’s hard to get other people to adopt systematic procedures.
Start with listening and progressively engage your boss in a series of conversations, not necessarily about engineering, and not necessarily about the business either. Your aim is to learn as much as you can about his or her motivations, expectations, interests, fears and constraints. (Given the majority of business owners and engineer employers are men, I will use “he” from now on as long as you know it could be “she”.)
Learn about collaborative discovery learning performances in Ch8.
Remember that when technicians and labourers are involved, supervision and encouragement will be critical. Ch13 explains why work seems to stop without supervision. If you cannot find a good supervisor, then develop effective supervision and coordination skills yourself as outlined in Ch9.
If you’re the supervisor, that can tie you down too much, so you need to tackle the root causes: uncertainty and confidence by workers that their jobs are secure. If they make a mistake, accept responsibility yourself for not having explained it well enough and helped them understand the requirements. That can be hard if your workers speak a local dialect that you cannot speak fluently. Gradually build the confidence and trust of your workers and accept it will take extra time and allow for that in your estimated delivery times.
In essence, your boss is not giving you room to demonstrate what you can do as an engineer because he has insufficient confidence in your ability to deliver a working result, preferably exceeding his expectations. Therefore, you need to build his confidence progressively, step by step, by promising results you know you can deliver easily, and then delivering results that exceed his expectations, earlier than expected.
Start with really simple and easy promises and gradually lift the bar and aim higher. Don’t fall into a trap and try to please your boss by accepting requests with unrealistic aims or unachievable deadlines. Yet at the same time, always deliver a little more than expected, before the expected time.
Depending on the length of your relationship, it could take weeks, months or a year or more to develop his confidence, but make this your primary objective. Measure the result by the degree of independence and financial responsibility he is prepared to let you have. Always, at least daily, keep him updated on any outstanding commitments.
Of course, some people won’t shift their perceptions easily. That’s why it’s important to measure your results by the degree of financial responsibility he awards you. If you see no change over 12 months and you have delivered on your promises repeatedly, then cut your losses, resign and move on. Make sure other engineers know what you have been able to achieve, and as long as you have delivered good results, finding another job will be easy because few engineers can do that consistently.
Good luck, and if this works for you, write and let me know. Send me any tips you have for engineers in similar positions.