Earlier this week, the mwah. team were invited to the annual Innovation lecture held by the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering –running for over 20 years. This year the speaker James Chin Moody, covered a system engineers fascinating path to his current role as Founder and CEO of Australian parcel delivery business Sendle. It was fascinating, and we already look forward to attending next year.

On the surface, hanging with the advanced engineering fraternity is a pretty different place for us people types to be.

Quickly we were reassured given the presenters easy style and ability to make the biggest societal concepts digestible for the whole room. You’ll get what I mean when you hear the last question asked on the night, something like “I see the waves of technological and systems advancement over the last (at most) couple of hundred years you’ve shared. I’d love to hear your view on where we will be in 10,000 years from now”.

Inadequacy felt.

We as non-engineer people types are spending lots of time thinking, talking, debating, and moving to the Future of Work. But little do we consider the future of work 10,000 years from now. Will there actually be work? Full dystopic view everyone is on a universal basic income while robots meet our underlying needs; humanistic view we will have better roles given the many waves of technological and societal advancement to come.

But this isn’t a doom and gloom article.

And the innovation lecture wasn’t all engineering logic and speak; or pondering the meaning of humanity over massive time horizons.

Practical Insights 

There were some great practical insights that we as HR professionals would vouch for. There was power in a simple slide that read “Culture > Strategy” and a really interesting take on team design principles named the 5 Hs (in order of importance) – Humble, Honest, Happy, Hungry, High Performing. There was relatability made on imperfect decisions –the time and effort we spend on reversible and irreversible decisions. Where a decision feels irreversible, incredibly important there should be no time for the ‘tepid yes’, you need to be a clear ‘no’ or a ‘hell yes’. That’s collective, but ultimately a call needs to be made and you need to get on with it. Simple. Lovely. Not the everyday. Not always the mindset in corporate life.

Along with the people stuff, we got the type of interdisciplinary thinking – waves of progress / revolutions, the shifting sands of economic development (from commodities to products to services and now to experience) and we heard loud and clear that the best businesses come from solving the most painful of problems. That feels like the current view on designing experiences.

Although, as non-engineers, we paused on the concept of being able to ‘engineer everything’. As HR professionals do we want to be able to do that? Can we do that, is it possible with people? And if it is possible, should we?

Engineers are people who design, build or maintain engines, machines or structures. That makes sense to me with how I picture engineers. Creators, designers, builders, systematic, calculated, logical, balancers of pros and cons, considered.

HR as engineer

In some ways, with different nuances and challenges, HR plays an engineering role. Ok, with different pre-requisite levels of mathematic know-how.

But in some ways, we have a lot in common.  We also look at building engines and systems around people. And that has its own complexity and would make some other engineers’ shudder at their very foundations.

The HR engineer looks at organisational structures centred around customers, operations, organisation, leadership. And we spend time considering the structural integrity of what we help build, we don’t necessarily lay all the bricks or reinforcements, we do carefully consider how each and every component helps to build a stronger whole.

And we look to call the help of engineers with different specialisations when the going gets hard – OD, talent, workplace and industrial relations etc.

Collectively, and in close proximity with our clients we help lay the plans and foundations for cultures. Like engineering projects, we get thrown off course, delays happen, let’s just say ‘weather’ gets in the way. We move on, the cultures strengthen and shift, incrementally, and strategy and structures evolve seemingly more rapidly.

And we traverse the role we play and who we play it for every day. We are paid for by the organisation we are in (or for the client we are consulting to) and we are not naïve to that. Yet we oscillate focus and care between the organisation, leaders, employees, customers, Governments, other bodies and organisations and society – and that’s significant responsibility.

And the best engineers take that view across the system, and across multiple systems, to deliver the most sustainable of outcomes. There is clearly inherent and significant risk in short termism.

Our Promise 

With that weight on our collective shoulders we simply end with a promise.

At mwah., we will constantly, tirelessly, shamelessly and unapologetically learn more from other professions to glean, take, shape, adapt and reinvent our role as engineer to ensure the structural integrity of organisations into the future.