Process Automation Generations Talk to Each Other

A Dialog Across the Generations About Plant Operations and Each Generation's Different Ways of Looking at Problems

By Danaca Jordan, Greg McMillan, Soundar Ramchandran, Hunter Vegas

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Based on this, I believe that cheap, short-term recognition is much more effective for my generation than an expensive carrot at the end of a long stick. Offering long-term promotions or money is always welcome, but I would appreciate feedback, good or bad, on a very consistent basis. A simple "Thanks" or "This is what I am looking for," or even "Not quite, can you add…" will motivate my efforts, whereas if a project or document is ignored, I assume it was not important and try to work on something worthwhile instead.

Hunter: I would strongly encourage engineers to give presentations at technical forums and write articles and/or technical white papers whenever possible. Volunteer to talk at your next ISA meeting. Such activities allow engineers to be recognized outside of their companies, and such positive recognition is often reflected in promotions and monetary rewards within the company as well.

You did not ask this question, but I will offer one other piece of advice to younger engineers. One of the most difficult situations for a younger engineer occurs when that engineer is promoted over several older engineers. The older engineers often feel that they have been denied a promotion that they deserved, and they are concerned the younger manager will not appreciate their knowledge or experience and try to tell them how to do their jobs. The younger manager wants to make a good impression and show the new direct reports that he/she knows their stuff and deserves the managerial position. This is a recipe for disaster.

If you are ever faced with this situation, it is important to understand the dynamics that are afoot and address them carefully. Engineers of any age want to be a part of the decision-making process and feel that they are heard. They also want to be treated fairly. The new manager must ultimately make the final decision, but if the manager takes the time to elicit the opinions of his or her direct reports and incorporate that information into the final decision, then the initial concerns will often be eased. The best situation occurs when the manager and his reports have mutual respect for each other.

Soundar: Reward and recognition is different for each generation. It is not something we have quite figured out in corporate America. The basis for reward and recognition is still based on merit raises, special awards, bonuses, promotions, etc. The reward system has to be tied to the value system for each generation. For example, for Millennials, being offered a couple of baseball game tickets this week as a recognition for doing something good last week is more satisfying than being given a bigger bonus or higher percentage increase once a year. They live in a fast-paced world, and prompt feedback and affirmation is a critical element for them.

On the other hand, Gen X, while still accepting the baseball tickets would like to be remembered with a bigger merit raise or bonus package in the annual cycle. If the baseball tickets were the only thing they got, they would find it to be very trite. Boomers like promotions and other forms of recognition such as  a bigger office or an office with a door, as a way of recognition for their hard work and successes. We have to learn to use all of the above and not get stuck on one form or another. It behooves supervisors to learn what is important to each generation as they figure out a way to lead their teams. Since more and more Millennials are finding themselves with first-line supervision roles, it is fitting that they also learn about values as perceived by the various generations as they may well find a few Boomers and Gen X on their team. It is very essential that they try to learn the value system and base the rewards and recognition in keeping with that value system if they want to have a winning team.

See the online version for the views by Danaca, Hunter, and Soundar on the relative effectiveness of different types of communication, visuals and levels of information.

Relative Ratings of Ways to Learn and Share

Boomers, Gen X-ers and Millennials not only have different ways of working, communicating and interacting with one another, they also have different ways of learning. We have asked Danaca, Hunter and Soundar to rate the material, methods and techniques for learning. What follows are their ratings and comments.

The ratings for communication largely reflect generational differences. The ratings for visuals and to, some degree, for levels of communication appear to be the result of the differences in the jobs. Hunter is focused on what is needed for project execution as a project manager. Danaca is interested in what helps a new engineer gain general knowledge to support and improve automation systems in a plant as a manufacturing staff engineer. Soundar, as a technology director, is thinking about what will help advance process control applications in the plants of a progressive chemical company.

Effectiveness of Types of Communication

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10 where a 10 denotes "most effective."


General comment by Greg: The virtual plant is an actual download of the configuration and operator displays connected to a process simulation running in real time. I have the used the virtual plant or predecessor (emulated plant runs) throughout my 40+ years to study dynamics and develop and prototype process control improvements. Most of my knowledge was gained from this exploration. The use of process control labs I created as a virtual plant for access over the Internet referenced by Danaca was blocked by company firewalls. The Process Control Labs Download can be imported into a lap top with virtual plant software where the user has administrative privilege and at least 4 GB of memory.

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