5 Measures of a Good Engineering Organisation’s Culture

By Heather Campbell

As an HR Director in the engineering sector, do you find that culture change is one of your objectives?  I’d guess that it’s somewhere on your agenda.

But just how do you know what kind of changes you need to make?  What if your existing culture is already pretty good, and you just don’t know it?  What are the measures of a good engineering culture?

Below are the five measures that represent a good culture in any engineering organisation, whatever its size or commercial focus.

(1) Learning is part of the day job

Engineers are smart, practical problem-solvers.  They operate in rapidly changing, competitive environments. [Check out this research paper from UMB Tech – What’s on the Mind of the Engineer?]

This combination of personal profile and commercial reality means that good engineering cultures focus relentlessly on learning.  Learning is essential if problems are to be solved.  Learning is essential to stay out front.

(2) Mistakes are expected

Mistakes are good for engineering businesses when teams acknowledge them and learn from them because it helps them stay ahead of the competition.

Research by Cranfield’s Professor Mark Jenkins highlights the value that talking about mistakes has in Formula One motor racing – surely one of the most competitive and cut-throat engineering sectors in the world.  Mistakes aren’t hidden; instead they’re expected and talked about, because the learning this brings helps teams make the tiny refinements that keeps them in pole position – literally and metaphorically.

This can be as simple as having ‘Mistakes this month and what we learned from them’ as an item on the monthly team meeting agenda.  It can be about spending more time reviewing what went wrong than what went right at the end every project, including those that have been a roaring success.

(3) Red tape is minimal

Technology is driving rapid change in the engineering sector and, while being first to market isn’t necessarily the best strategy, being fourth or fifth is likely to bring competitive disadvantage.

This means that engineering organisations need to be responsive and agile.

Getting a product to market or introducing change to the process needs to be easy.  It can’t be bogged down with red tape and the need for multiple sign-offs at every level in the organisational hierarchy before something can ‘go live’.

Of course you need to have checkpoints – but really good engineering cultures are continually streamlining sign-off processes.

(4) Boundaries are clear

While a good engineering culture is one that encourages responsiveness and agility due to an absence of red tape, it is also one with clear boundaries.

Engineers like to push the boundaries and innovate.  This means they need boundaries to push if they are to perform at their best.

Creating a culture where boundaries are clear demands that managers set performance objectives for their teams and give regular feedback on how people are doing against these.

(5) Everybody has a commercial focus

Too often, engineers are left to get on with the day job without also being kept sufficiently abreast of the commercial side of the business.  This means that they get distanced from the reality of business pressures that the organisation is facing.

Keeping these smart, practical people up-to-date with commercial reality will help them stay closer to senior leaders’ wavelength and so more in tune with why commercial changes are required.  To do this, managers need to share commercial information – including information that would normally be considered ‘too sensitive’ such as financial data and changes on the horizon.


Chances are that, as an HR Director, changing or maintaining your engineering organisation’s culture is high on your agenda.  But how do you know if you are moving it in the right direction?

In this blog, I’ve highlighted five key measures of a culture that has meaning within the engineering sector.  These take account of the competitive environment, the nature of engineers and the need to be commercial.  In short, critical measures of a good engineering culture are:

  • Learning is part of the day job
  • Mistakes are expected
  • Red tape is minimal
  • Boundaries are clear
  • Everybody has a commercial focus
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