Summertime and the livin is...well not quite easy, but here we go. JaneB is hosting the July Scientiae Carnival and I thought I'd finally trick my procrastinating evil twin into taking a nap while the productive half of me writes my first entry. The theme is Fantasy Institute.
The rules of the game are simple - you have been selected as the Director of a newly endowed research institute. It is your job to decide where the institute will be based, its codes of conduct, its structure, and who you will hire.
Naturally I work in industry so mine might be a little different from the usual posters, but variety is the spice of life, yes? A good (profitable) engineering company needs a product. Something that sells so that you can keep all your employees gainfully employed. In DreamLand I'd pick something "friendly" that still required some engineering know-how, but something where I thought there was room for improvement. For me, right now, that is wind turbines.
Designing a blade is no easy task. And once you get past that hurdle, there's material and size. I keep thinking what with all the development in carbon fiber material there's a real opportunity to make bigger, lighter wind blades. If you get the weight right, you should be able to get more power. Plus being green is so the in thing right now, and it's nice to have something your employees can be proud of. Once I've gotten my successful line of wind turbines off the ground and running (or spinning, as it were) I'd try to make the company a better place for my employees. I'd branch out and have a strong R&D department. DARPA has usually got something kickass going and I'd identify defense and DARPA contracts that wouldn't require a lot of capital investment but would rely on the smarts of my engineers. Then I'd use the R&D department as a reward incentive. You do well, you get to spend more time in it. You do great and come up with an idea you'd like to try, we'll roll with it. So much of engineering is reinventing the wheel and I think managers fail to realize engineers need mental rewards just as much as financial to keep doing well.
Work environment would be a maze of offices, rooms and desks. I think cube farms are terrible, but of course where do you stash all your people. It's not always space smart to give everyone an office, but sequestering people into smaller rooms rather than one large one can foster teamwork and positive relationships. On top of that I'd have a few general use spaces; a "quiet" room, and a few open conference rooms anyone could use at any time for group or solo work. There's only so many days a year you can stare at your wall. And definitely would need a lab or two where everyone felt welcome to drop by and tinker on their project. You learn by doing and keeping engineers away from the doing is not creating good engineers.
After all that, obviously there'd need to be free coffee for the employees. And maybe a soda fountain machine. I mean, what can that cost compared to employee satisfaction. I'd make an effort not to grow too big too fast. I think it's a mistake to hire too many new people when you could be using the same money to reward your best people already on the project. I'd fire people who don't do their work, have bad attitudes, and lie. Bad eggs bring down everyone else's morale and most managers are cowards who are afraid to deal with them.
I know that's a lot more "don't do this" than "do this" but they outline what I see as the dream institution. Formal mentor program, and group/specialty training rotations for new hires rounds it out for DreamCorp.