Being an Engineer

S2E25 Setting High Expectations, Personal Accountability, & “Reading the Table” | Brian Brooks

June 04, 2021 Brian Brooks Season 2 Episode 25
Being an Engineer
S2E25 Setting High Expectations, Personal Accountability, & “Reading the Table” | Brian Brooks
Show Notes Transcript

Brian claims that he isn’t a superstar engineer – we don’t know about that, but what was clear from his interview was that he most certainly is a superstar people person. Brian gets people. He knows how to communicate with them. He knows how to mentor them. He knows how to motivate them. Consider this episode a master class in people skills and emotional intelligence. 

The Being An Engineer podcast is brought to you by Pipeline Design & Engineering. Pipeline partners with medical & other device engineering teams who need turnkey equipment such as cycle test machines, custom test fixtures, automation equipment, assembly jigs, inspection stations and more. You can find us on the web at www.teampipeline.us.  

Aaron Moncur:

The Being an Engineer podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show.

Brian Brooks:

I expect more from our team than I do, from others, and right, wrong or indifferent. I think that's been an element of why I've been successful and why our engineering organization is viewed as a significant strength within our company as a whole.

Aaron Moncur:

Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of the Eeing an Engineer podcast. Today, we're speaking with Brian Brooks, who holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Biomedical Engineering, as well as an MBA. Brian has worked for Terumo Cardiovascular Systems since graduating in 2005, and has held positions from engineer to engineering manager to his current role as director of engineering. Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Brooks:

Aaron, good to be here. Thanks for having me.

Aaron Moncur:

So how did you decide to become an engineer?

Brian Brooks:

Yeah, so for me, it was something you know, growing up, I come from a blue collar family. My dad was very hands on most of the work that was done at our house. He had done so every weekend, there was some sort of house project that he was doing, utilizing his hands construction, you know, basic math functions, things of that nature, figuring out cuts and putting pieces together. So it just sparked an interest in, you know, how do you make things? How do you make improvements, you know, to physical structures, per se. And for me that just sparked the interest, I was always his shadow and I wanted to be involved in these little handyman. So coming from a blue collar family, I was someone who I fared well academically had a talent in the science and math arenas. And, you know, as time came to think about what is it that I want to do when I grow up, and my parents pointed towards engineering, neither of those of my folks had gone to college and for that engineering, you know, it's a, it's a reputable, it's a safe and stable industry gives you the ability to earn a decent salary and provide for your family, you know, unless you invent something, I don't think you're gonna strike it rich and become a billionaire. But it's something that it certainly gives some stability. So I fused my passion for, you know, continuously improving understanding how things work, how things go together. With my junior year in high school, I want to say I was taking an AP bio class. And that was around the time that Dolly the sheep was cloned. And I that just fascinated me. So I took a significant interest in genetics and genomics. And my AP bio teacher was Dr. Stevens, he was the guy he was he was pretty engaging and had a passion for it. And that for me, it's like I want to pursue this. So I started looking at that point, like biomedical engineering was it was growing. But the field of genetic engineering was, I don't want to say in its infancy, but it was still in the early adopter phase, per se. So I looked around programs that had the ability to branch out and get into that. And obviously, from where I'm at now in med devices, and where I started is a bit of a shift. And how I navigated that pathway as I went into Drexel University, and I enrolled in biomed. Engineering. Instead, I enrolled in their bsms program. And I started taking classes towards the genetic engineering track. And one summer I had taken a program through university of Penn and Drexel our neighbors, they're literally divided by a street in Philadelphia. And I had taken a class through university of Penn on genomics. And it was interesting, but what I had found during that is it wasn't tangible enough for me, you know, everything was on the molecular level. And I couldn't touch it, I couldn't feel it. And it didn't. It didn't ignite the passion that I had thought that it would. So I honestly really just given some consideration to is this really what I want to pursue. And the beauty of Drexel is that they do a internship program. So it's a five year program for your bachelor's. And for three years of that you go to school for six months, and then you have the ability to work in industry for six months. So I had utilized each of those six months stints to trial, a different field and a different company. And one of the trials that sparked a passion for me, I worked for a consulting firm that specialized in orthopedic med devices. And that just initiated a law that combined my interest in engineering and how things are made. How do you design things? How do you test Things how do you ensure they're safe for human use with I could actually see it and touch it. And that to me was really important. And then you couple that with just the the impact that med devices have on someone's life in a positive way, and it checked all the boxes as far as what I was looking for. And then from a practical sense of the matter, you know, as I mentioned, my parents had pushed me towards engineering, it's safe and stable. When you get into engineering in your medical device world. That's one of the more stable industries, I would say. Just given that, especially in the cardiovascular space that I've operated, it's, you know, twice tested through my career, and it's fairly recession proof. So it's been a good a good landing spot for me throughout my career.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, people are always going to get sick, right?

Brian Brooks:

Unfortunately, that's the case. But yeah, provides job security and a lot of respects.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, yeah. I love that you talked about at Drexel, how they have this curriculum or this approach to education, where you're doing a six month internship, as opposed to just you know, the the standard academic curriculum that typical universities put the students through, I think that's such a great approach to engineering, education, or really, any education. I have this philosophy that doing is better than learning about doing. And it sounds like you had ample opportunity for for doing through your university experience.

Brian Brooks:

Absolutely. Something for me, you know, it really shifted where I ended up from a career perspective that if I didn't have those opportunities, I would have graduated and stayed on that genetic engineering path, because I wouldn't have really understood what else, you know, what other opportunities were available? And how do I apply what I'm learning in a classroom into the real world? So my first internship, honestly, I worked for a large pharmaceutical company, and I worked in pharmacokinetics. And understanding how drug compounds work, and how do you test things that was interesting to me. But like I said, it was when I did that, that summer stint working in genomics lab that I was like this, it's not for me. And I don't think that there's enough focus on that, as you know, you're 18 years old, you go to school, and you declare a major, especially for those people who come from families who don't have college educations guidance programs in high schools, you know, they vary as far as the quality of the guidance that's provided to students, and even just knowing what's out there from a career perspective. So I agree wholeheartedly with the getting out there and doing is so much more important than just sitting in a classroom and learning that, and it, it truly did. Give me the opportunity to understand what do I like, and what do I not like, and it rather than go into my career, and get a couple years in and realize I don't really like this, maybe I need to go back to school to learn a whole different field, it, you know, it accelerated my career growth by by virtue of knowing I was in the right spot from day one.

Aaron Moncur:

So you are currently the Director of Engineering at a large medical device company, which, I mean, that's, that's a pretty cool business card to have. What what's the best part of your job? Yes, good question.

Brian Brooks:

For me, it's, it's honestly the people aspect of the job. So I'm not gonna lie to you, I'm not the best engineer in the world, right, I can hold my own. I've proven my success in my ability to be successful engineer early in my career. But I'm not the most technically sound mechanically apt engineer out there. I think what separated me from some of my peers enabled me to accelerate my growth is my leadership capabilities. And very early on in my career, just let you know, life in general, I had identified that as a passion for me. So the best part of my job is the ability to, to form those human connections, to hire people to watch their growth and to help facilitate their growth through the organization. You know, I'm fortunate, I know, it's not necessarily the norm in this day and age to stay with an organization for 16 years. You know, thermo has made it appealing for me, I've been successful and demonstrated my worth to them. And I think they've moved me pretty aggressively through the ranks. And the beauty of that is I've had the ability to hire 85% of the team that I have at this point in time. And you know, my first leadership position, I had three engineers reporting to me and I hired all of them. And that was as a supervisor level and now as Director of Engineering and just over the past two years have added operational excellence under my umbrella. It's something I have 46 people on staff and like I said, about over 80% of those I've hired in the 16 years I've been there.

Aaron Moncur:

So just like hired your entire group almost right. Yeah, basically. Can you talk a little bit about how do you know if? How do you know that that a candidate is the right person for the job? What are some of the tools you use to get a sense for the fit?

Brian Brooks:

Yeah, so honestly, especially at this point in my career, our interview process is pretty robust so that I'm typically the last person that talks to our, you know, more junior engineers and your ones and your two senior level engineers, things of that nature, the company, the organization. And through my management team and my peer team, we've created a 360 degree interview process. And that candidate coming to interview for a member of my staff will meet, certainly with the hiring manager, they'll meet with their peers, people they'd be working with on a daily basis. You know, as they progress through that ranks, they'll meet with me. And the way we've structured it is that we have at least two of our leadership staff talk with them. One of them is probing for that fit, competency, just general, well, they mesh into this organization. And then one of them focuses on the technical aspects. And we have designed questions that we use the stock interview questions, and they're rooted in actual problems that we've experienced within termo that say, here's the situation, how would you solve this problem? And there's no right answer, just because the solution that we may have implemented, you know, made it to our production floor, mean that there's not a better way to do it. So it's really just probing, what's that thought process look like? How do you go about solving a problem? So to me, that's really important. And then we've empowered every member of my organization, I expect full transparency when they're meeting candidates and tell them about what's good, and what you love about the job. Tell them about what's bad, like every day is not sunshine and rainbows. And I want people to walk in the organization understanding that, you know, what is your leader good at? What are they not so good at? What are the pros and cons of this place? Because interviewing and making a decision to join an organization, it's got to be a fit both ways. And that's something that for me the last step in the interview process, at the point time, when I'm speaking to those more junior levels, it's just that I assess fit, how are they going to fit into our culture? What are they going to bring? Are they going to add something to our culture? Are they going to maybe shift it in a positive way? Could they potentially shift in a negative way? I think my job as a leader at this point time is really have a vision, set the expectations, hire talented people and then get out of their way, let them do their job. And they've got to be empowered. And then of course, held accountable on the back end. So it's really my interview style, I've been told is it's a bit unique in the types of questions that I ask. And for me, it's really more important of Who are you as a person. And I let liken it back, I think it was Warren Buffett said, and I love it, the quote is, you know, we look for three things. When we hire people look for intelligence, look for initiative, and we look for integrity. And without integrity, the intelligence and initiative will kill you. So if you're going to hire someone without intelligence, you want them lazy and dumb.

Aaron Moncur:

Well said.

Brian Brooks:

Tt stuck in my mind, yeah, I mean, that integrity piece holds it all together. So especially working in med voice and knowing that decisions engineers make and..

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah.

Brian Brooks:

They do, like those products are going to be used as someone's having, you know, potentially open heart surgery, right? You can't sacrifice integrity and anywhere along that pipeline, and have, you know, we operate with the my family mentality, that any device that we design and manufacture, assume that's going to be used on your mother, on your father on your sister.

Aaron Moncur:

That's a good one.

Brian Brooks:

Whatever thatmay be. And that's really what we we look for and expect of our folks, so that integrity piece is huge.

Aaron Moncur:

Can you talk a little bit more about the accountability? That was actually something I wanted to ask you about? And you mentioned it. So how do you keep people accountable? How do you set the right expectations?

Brian Brooks:

Yeah, so honestly, I think that's one of the most difficult aspects of the job because accountability means something different to different people. And even within an organization, it can mean something different to different leaders. And those expectations are different. You know, I would say one of the knocks that I get on me is that I have a very high bar. And I expect more from our team than I do, from others. And, right, wrong or indifferent. I think that's been an element of why I've been successful and why our engineering organization is viewed as a significant strength within our company as a whole. It's those expectations, my job, I always want to be an exporter of talent. So I don't want to hire the smartest people and hoard them on my team. I want them to branch out and move into other organizations and you know, within Toronto, hopefully, but to bring the skill set that we have in that culture and spread it throughout our organization as a whole. So the accountability is it's from a leader, you've got to set here's what I expect of you. And there's coarse adjustment that's required sometimes just clarification, it depends on what the task is. But at the end of the day, I expect ownership from our folks and with that, my family mentality, I want you to own every aspect of this. And when I first started at the facility, I met in Toronto, there was maybe 85 people on staff and it operated very much like a small company and it's grown Now we have 330 people in the facility. So you know, it's tripled in the time that I've been there, if not more, and that growth has been important for us. But it's that mentality of, we got to own things from TD green. Right? If we're designing a new product, working with our product development group, we're responsible for that all the way until the time it gets to the patient. That's that ownership that I want our organization to feel. And then just, I've never been one to settle for the status quo. So everyone on my team knows that like, I want you to be disruptive, in a positive way, challenge the system push us, you know, we've got to empower our people to continue to drive change in our organization. So quite honestly, like, putting metrics on engineers is really hard to do. It's very specific.

Aaron Moncur:

I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Brian Brooks:

Yeah. I mean, there's there's very specific project based metrics you can put in place, you know, earned value analysis, are you on schedule, you're on budget? Are you hitting your deliverables, things of that nature, but all the things that I look for, and we've tried to actually create not being engineers, we want everything to have numbers associated with it on a ranking system. measurable? Yeah, we've put means in place that how do you measure quality? Like, as you're writing technical reports, and validations? How many times does get kicked back through a review process? But then our quality system? How many ncrs? Does your work generate? When you launch something on the production floor? Are there issues in that launch? Is it usable? From a production perspective, that all goes into how we assess quality within the performance of our engineers? And then there's something that, you know, engineers were supposed to be innovative? So for us, one of the things that we've evaluated and looked at on a monthly basis is just that innovation? How many new ideas are you suggesting? And it's one just the volume of what you're suggesting. But then, one things that engineers aren't always great at is being salesman or sales women. So it's great. You suggested your idea. But have you sold me on it? Have you sold our organization on why we should apply resources to implement that change. So they get, you know, on sale, a five point scale, you may get one point for just simply suggesting an idea. But if it gets adopted by our leadership team and move towards an implementation, depending upon the scale of complexity, you'll get more points for that. So we tried to..

Aaron Moncur:

You literally have a point system then?

Brian Brooks:

We have honestly, I'll say we've drifted away from that in the recent years. And there's a lot of reasons as getting for that. But we would every single month, we would, I don't want to say force rank, but we would go and evaluate our engineers performance. And I would, I'm the transparent guy. I remember distinctly having this discussion. And on a quarterly basis, I pull my whole team together. And we do like, you know, where have we been, where we go, and what's good in our world. And when I came up with this idea, and working with our leadership team in some of the input from individual contributors, and like, we need a better means of evaluating our engineering team as a whole. So you can see what how your performance, you know, how does that compare to your peers in some way, shape, or form? Yeah. And I was like, fully transparent. I said, I want and I want to publicize on a monthly basis, here's the top ranked into your own organization. And here's number 45. I

Aaron Moncur:

I'm so curious to hear, yeah. How did that play out?

Brian Brooks:

It was a, it was a divide, but it was probably the split. And most people were like, I don't want to do that. I wanted every time I had performance evaluation, I know where do I fall in the grand scheme of things. And then yeah, but I get not everyone's wired that way. So I'm, I try to be flexible. It was a, I don't wanna say heated, but it was a passionate discussion. And I'm a stubborn guy. So it took a while to talk about that later, I'm like, I don't want this to me isn't worth losing my team over, I don't want them to lose trust in me as a leader. So what we shifted is, okay, if you're not comfortable with that, what we will do is we'll publicize the top five engineers on a monthly basis. So you can see like, Hey, I know that Courtney was our top rated engineer last month, and I saw what she was doing, she was killing it. So if I want to be the top rate engineer, I need to emulate her behaviors. So things of that nature. And on the flip side, I had the expectation that each of our engineering managers and supervisors would share their ranking in a one on one meeting with each of their team members. So I didn't want people to blindly say like, I didn't know that I was the number 44 performing engineer on the team, you know, whether that's public knowledge is a different beast, but that person needs to know where they rank. And that was every member of organization found out where they ranked, and then that there was discussions with the bottom five each, each month, I would say, of like, hey, just want to know, you know, you're in the bottom five from a performance perspective. And it should never come as a surprise. That to me, as a leader, you're failing if either positive or negative feedback comes as a surprise to you. Yeah. So that's something I felt pretty strongly in. And I think there's a lot of work to be done to strengthen and improve how engineering performance can be measured. Because there's no standard way to do it. It varies from organization to organization. It varies from one leader to the next, but it's something I think it's important to Do so I agree.

Aaron Moncur:

That's a really interesting point that you bring up, I've struggled with the same thing like, how do we evaluate how well engineers are doing? I mean, at one point, we track our hours because that's part of our business model. But we track all of our hours. And when we assign a task, or when we create a test together with an engineer, for a project, we there's there's a conversation, you know, it's is the project manager and the engineer talking about how long should it take to do this task? And the engineer will say, Well, I think it's going to take 15 hours. And project manager says, Yeah, that sounds about right. So we'll put 15 hours for this task, then you go do it. And there was a time when we ran reports, each each quarter or each month to see like, Okay, how close Did you get to executing that task based on the number of hours that that, you know, you yourself thought it was going to take? And and what we found was it was kind of all over the place? And when I would talk with the engineers about this, they'd be like, Well, yeah, I thought it was gonna take 15 hours, but then this thing came up, and no one could have seen that coming in. And I had to admit, well, you're right. Yeah, no one could see that coming. So I think the the nature of new product development is such that, you know, inherently, there are, there are unknowns around every corner, and you just can't plan for all of them. So we abandoned that system, because it just didn't seem fair or useful, really. And I still, to this day struggle with like, how do we evaluate productivity? For the engineers? It's a challenging problem, someone out there needs to go solve that.

Brian Brooks:

Yeah, I mean, honestly, for me, we've launched our PMO, maybe three or four years ago, and have improved on that maturity model. And one of the things that was hugely beneficial in that respect, is just the implementation of earned value analysis. So you're looking at what's your schedule completion index? And what's your cost performance index? Right, then the day that's what matters to the company on hard facts. And what we've, we're building is a database. So if you went in and say, it should take me six days to do this testing, and then one day to do this fiscal analysis and report writing, and it actually took you nine days. Okay, well, why? And we'll add that to our raid blog. And within that raid blog, you know, we then at the end of projects, the intent is let's do a post mortem on this project, and how, what was our baseline? And what was the deviation from that baseline, and then the intent is to create a database. So as you're doing similar work in the future, you can go in and look at this repository of data and say, Well, last time Brian did testing that was really similar to that it took him nine days. So we're trying to generate a means of saying, here's the average duration that a task of this nature takes. So as you're creating your schedule, plug in that average, and scale it based upon the complexity of how it differs from what historically has been done on what you're trying to do. But, you know, engineers are very data driven. So having that. And it's not nearly as mature as I'd like it to be, but having at least the ability to go back and say, here's how long it took Brian to do it last time, you know, and maybe Aaron, you're more efficient than I am. And I think I can you know, Brian was at number 44, engineering, an engineer, number one, I can do it in four days, I'm going to build that into my schedule.

Aaron Moncur:

Okay. I love that that data driven approach makes me feel so comfortable, you know, like, cozy corner by the fireplace. For engineers? Well, you talked about this a little bit in terms of cultural change. But I guess you were at the heart of as you describing driving cultural change within the engineering organization. Can you share, are there other like really tactical things that you did to help drive that cultural change? Yeah.

Brian Brooks:

Cultural change is something that it's really difficult, and it requires an investment in, it's not something that happens overnight. And it's not something that happens by virtue of one person. So I don't think that our culture as an organization, is what it is because of me, you know, I have a ripple effect. But it needs you need people to buy into your vision, and then to be advocates of that and add their own flavor to it. So for me, it's it's twofold. It comes into, you know, who you hire, that's the single most important decision you make as a leader, making sure that they're going to bring something or shift that culture in a positive light or contribute to it positively. But you have to listen to people to understand what are their pain points? What are the things that they like, what do they dislike, and you've got to be willing to shift your approach, right, the discussion of I want to publicize number one through 45. And then I'm saying Well, well, while you do this, it's gonna have a negative impact on our culture. And I'm like, yeah, I'll, I'll defer to your judgment. So it's one of those things that you've got to have a vision of where do you want to go? And you got to be confident in yourself to change a decision that you may have made or to shift your approach. You know, for me, it's Something that throughout my career I've learned and we may get into this late in some of your later questions that you, you know, put some food for thought in. But early in my career, I realized that I need to listen better. And it was something that I'm big on 360 evaluations. And as I was doing my MBA I went in, and there was a very formalized process to do a 360 evaluation. And I had done what I termed 360s, in the past every year with my team, and I know what my supervisor and his supervisor or her supervisor, how they evaluate my performance, I asked every member of our organization to evaluate my performance as well, what I was missing was that peer network. So when I got that feedback, it was pretty negative. Because I would have, you know, smartest guy in the room syndrome, I wouldn't value the opinion of other guys. And I'm like, I, here's how I think we should solve this problem. And this is what we're going to do. And success in my career had positioned me in that way. But it was naive of me to not hear what people were saying. So that shifted really considerably my approach to cultural build out. And so my grandmother, someone, she, she moved in with my family when I was two years old. And she was my sounding board, we would, you know, just talk all the time. And one of the things she said to me as I was sharing this feedback, it hit me hard. She's like, no, Brian, God gave you two ears and one mouth, use them in proportion. And it's something from that point, it really clicked with me of I need to be a better listener. So listening to my own team, listening to my peers, that's really helped me to understand what does our team want from a cultural perspective? What makes their jobs better and easier? So an example of how we've just recently deployed that is, you know, typical MBA you do a SWOT analysis. What's our team? You know, where are our strengths or weaknesses? What are the opportunities and threats that we have from a team perspective. And we did that I did that on an individual contributor level, I wanted to hear the raw feedback, and I didn't want to be there as it was compiled. Because if I'm in the room, it may shift what that discussion is. So it comes back. It's all randomized for who says what, and we put it together? And the question is great. Now what do we do with it seems like if you're just collecting feedback, and not doing anything, the result is people are going to stop telling you what they like and what they don't like. So what we've done more recently is I've created a quote unquote, SWAT teams who go in and we take that feedback. And we understand that we can't fix everything at once. It's a continuous improvements, like, so we picked what we thought were the three most meaningful work streams of pain points for our team, and we put a team and it was all volunteer. Listen, if you guys want to be part of improving the culture of our organization, let me know, there's no levels within the SWAT team. Our interns have the same voice as I do in this. And it's we just formed those work streams, and they get to pick which work stream they want to contribute to. And it's let's try to solve this problem break into bite sized pieces. And then how do you communicate that back to the team? Have we heard what your you've said, and here's what we're doing to actually implement and affect change in that matter. So I think when people understand that you value what they have to say, and you take action upon that to help improve their lives, that just positively impacts the culture and builds a followership.

Aaron Moncur:

That's fantastic. I love all of that. And it goes back to what you were saying about accountability, right? Like, if it's the team members that are incorporating or driving towards that change, then it's not like it's coming from the executive team or something. You know, it's it's the, you know, the boots on the ground, people who are making that change, and they have accountability for it. And they have ownership. ownership. There's the word. Thank you. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Brian Brooks:

And that's, I mean, there's not enough time in the day, and I'm not smart enough to fix everything. So it's like, that's why you hire people that are smarter than you and passionate so that they can help to do those things. And just empowering your team, I think is something that isn't done well enough or large enough, like you've hired these people, empower them trusted the decisions that they're going to make. And obviously, you don't want to fail and have a product recall, that's going to negatively impact patient safety. So you should have checks and balances in place. But it's that whole, you know, fail fast, fail cheap mentality. And we've got to be okay with failure. Like, I'm someone with my level of transparency. You know, I want to have the here's the Hall of Fame, for the great ideas and our engineers of the month and here's what they've done. I want to have our Hall of shame. Here's what we did that work out. Like, let's put that out there. So people aren't afraid to challenge the system and to push and fail. Right. That's how we're gonna get better.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, hopefully not with people's faces plastered next to the failures, right? Exactly. We can fail last month. And Rick and Jamie fail. Exactly. I want to go back to this this epiphany that you had about your own listening skills and and changing those because that's like a deep trait, you know, like a personal characteristic of almost not maybe not defining who you are, but it's part of who you are. And it can be really challenging to make a change at that, like fundamental level. How did you go about, first of all accepting that? Yeah, this is true, I do need to listen. Better. And then like, what were some of the steps that you took internally to to facilitate that change?

Brian Brooks:

Yeah, it's a good question. It's something with me, as I said, I don't count myself as the best engineer in the world. But I, I think I've led most of my career with a semblance of emotional intelligence, and understanding in a relationship in a conversation, how is someone else feeling? And how do I need to adjust course, as a result of that, and, you know, early in my career as I was charging the hill, and then quickly moving up the ranks and, you know, having titles above those of my peers who had significantly more experience that in itself can be off putting the people. So I needed to recognize that. So I honestly like I harken back and sharpen some of my skills. So coming out of school, I set up first one to go through college Drexel wasn't cheap, I graduated, I had 140 grand in student loan debt. So for the first eight years of my professional career, I waited tables at a steakhouse on top of working, so I, you know, go to work, get in very early, and then three, not three days during the week, I would leave, go right to the restaurant, get there at six, jump in mid shift, close the restaurant, and then Saturday, or Friday and Saturday night type work as well. That, to me was an invaluable experience of meeting Strangers on a daily basis, the ability to read people, you know, you go out to a restaurant, sometimes you're more chatty, and you want to engage with your server, sometimes you just want them to bring your drinks and your food and leave me alone. So that like, sharpened my ability to read, I call it you know, reading a table to read people. And I was coming off of that as I was going through my MBA and getting this feedback. So I just connected those dots of I need to better read people in the moment and adjust course in the moment. So I got into this habit of reflection. So at the end of my day, I've got an hour commute to and from work. So I try the first half hour of my shift or my drive home, I would think about the day, what went well, what didn't go well, what's one human interaction I had that I thought was a really good interaction. And was there one that maybe didn't go as well as I had planned? And then you just think about that, and well, what could I do differently, and the accountability. So I had to hold myself accountable enough to circle back to that person who maybe that conversation didn't go as planned, I left them with a negative taste in their mouth and say, Hey, you know what, I'm sorry, I, I didn't behave in a manner that was respectful of your opinion, or I was maybe not listening as well as I could. And I want to make sure that I understand what you were trying to say. So you've got to make yourself vulnerable. And for me, what I found throughout my life in my career is that the deepest connections that I formed, are in those moments that I've made myself completely vulnerable to someone else. And that took a lot of work internally, as someone you know, I've been very confident throughout my whole life of sometimes you got to be knocked down a notch. And, and not let that destroy your confidence in who you are. take that as a data point, adjust your approach, but keep moving forward.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, you know, it's funny, as I listen to talk, I hear a lot of the same attributes in you that that I recognize in myself, I have never considered myself to be a world class engineer, you know, maybe number two, number three tops, but no, not even close. But I've always felt like I was really good at communicating with people. I know how to read people. And I got into my leadership role through a different route than you got into your role. But I feel very comfortable in this role. And I think it's a good fit for me. And and I think that's probably true of a lot of leaders that they may or may not be exceptionally gifted in a technical from a technical standpoint, but they probably are exceptionally gifted from a communication, an emotional intelligence standpoint. And I've thought about that a little bit and like, how does one go about developing that skill? I think it can be developed part I think part of it is is who you are, you know, it's in your genes or however you want to say that but I think it also can be nurtured and developed and fostered. And I really love the example that you gave waiting on tables working in a restaurant. I mean, that's that's great experience and you did it for it. Was it eight years did you say that? I mean, wow. Boom, Mind blown right there. That I'm not suggesting that every engineer should go out. But what a fantastic way to get real world experience interacting with lots of people. I mean, talk about rapid development that right there. I mean, what what that was that was that was a big point for me as something I had never considered before. But really glad that you shared that. Well, I'm going to take just a really short break and share with the listeners that team pipeline.us is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterize inspect, assemble, manufacturer and perform verification testing on your devices. We're speaking with Brian Brooks, today, Director of Engineering at terumo. Cardiovascular one. Another question I had for you was, when I when I talked with people on the podcast, one of the questions I often ask is What are you know, the two or three most important skills for engineers to have? And surprisingly, but not surprisingly, one of the most probably the most common answer is really good communication skills. So it's not necessarily that the technical skills, of course, you have to have that to a certain point. But you also need to be able to really communicate well. Can you think of a time when maybe communication among your team was not at its best? And how did your team go about trying to improve communication with with one another? I'm kind of putting you on the spot here. So if you can't think of anything that that's fine to.

Brian Brooks:

You know, it's a valid question. And something you know, whenever you seek feedback from team communication often gets cited as significant as one of the most significant challenges that organizations have. So there's multiple ways that I can answer your question. If you take it from a technical standpoint, some of the issues are, I don't know what's going on in our group as a whole, right? I've got five different groups under my umbrella from Lifecycle Management, sustaining engineering, to Production Development, sort of advanced operations group to our project management office to nonprofit software, and an operational excellence group. There's not all that much crossover other than my staff meeting with each of the managers who lead those functions. So the engineers down the line are like, I don't know what is going on over in Mike's group, I don't see their work on a daily basis. So we did two things with that. One, I had gotten into the habit of sending What started as a monthly, what's good and what's bad in engineering, and I would just pull all of our team of you know, what is it that that you think has gone? Well, what hasn't gone? Well, and I'd summarize that, and it would take me probably 24 hours to craft this email and send out to the team. And then I shifted that back to a quarterly basis, but it's like, here's what's going on, and just highlights and try to name names of who done who did what, and be specific as possible, and try to add some gravity and fun to it as well. And that was one thing that helped resonate, to bring awareness to what was going on. We've implemented in engineer the month end engineer the quarter program, so we just use a survey monkey, and anyone in our whole operation can, it's not just my engineering team, it's all 300 people on our site can go in and say, You know what, I think Aaron did a great job doing x, y. And it can be something as completion of a significant project, or, you know, what, Kimberly stepped in and helped me complete testing late last night, and it was really beneficial to me, and I appreciate her team spirit. And it just goes out every nomination gets included in our survey monkey people who just go in and vote. And then at the end of each month, we say, here's the engineer of the month. And then at the end of each quarter, we send out those three winners, and you get to vote on each of the quarter, and they get some swag. So that was helpful in bringing awareness to some of the good things that were going on. out outside of that, what we've done is within our project management office, we built dashboards within a software system that we utilize. So you can go in and everyone's got access to it. And you can see, here's what our top priorities are, here's what the status of the project is, from a health perspective or earned value analysis, what phase of the project is it in, and anyone has access to that it's not restricted to just engineering. It's something that our VP of ops can go in and know exactly what's going on in any project if he clicks into the overarching dashboard and narrows down to a project specific dashboard. So that's been really helpful in in shifting the the communication. And then the last thing on a much more personal level is, you know, I've always tried to operate with the certainly an open door policy and then I want to get to know people. So I would do, you know, pre pandemic, just breakfast with Brian. And we've literally just picked six, seven different people in the organization across all levels. And we'd go and sit at a Cracker Barrel and have breakfast for two hours, just talk and get to know each other on a human level. And if the conversation veered towards work, it veered towards work. Towards, you know, your personal life, it went that way. And there was no rules around it, but it was just forming those connections. Because for a lot of people, you know, I'm, I operate differently than a lot of director level positions would. And you know, I want entry level engineers to be able to walk into my office and have a conversation with me and it not be intimidating. So I've got to create that environment where people feel comfortable and build those relationships. So I invest time in doing that. And then that whole listening, so I'll think of two examples, two of the managers on my team, I push people hard, I want them to develop aggressively and quickly. There's this one young lady on my team who she is very similar to me and how she's driven and she's moved aggressively through our organization. She's an engineering manager within our production support organization now, and I push her heart, she was an athlete, I was an athlete, and a lot of that coaching is like, not always the rah rah, sometimes it's that you need to hear the hard truth and deal with it. And one of the things that she shared with me is, there's times that she wants me to be more empathetic, and to be with her in the moment. So I, I heard that loud and clear. And I went, and I wrote that on a, post it and it hangs on my monitor on my desk to this day, and it says, Be present with me in the moment. And I've, I look at that. And I try to, you know, as we're having these conversations, and whether we butt heads or challenge each other, it's like, I take a deep breath. What is she saying? How do I need to respond? How do I need, it's not the reaction, there were points in my career where I would react and not choose a response. So I've allowed myself to take that breath to understand what she feeling, and then respond, not react. Similarly, another gentleman on my team, got Keith, I, again, I push people out of high expectations for our team. So a lot of times just in a passing conversation that you don't email like, Keith, I need you to drive this, drive this change with so and so. And my terminology wasn't always indicative of what I was actually asking of him. When I say drive something, oftentimes what I would mean is initiate the conversation. When you talk about responsibility and accountable, you are not the person, we have a racy matrix for here's our issues. And here's who should do what and these times like, Keith, you are not the responsible or accountable party here. But I've shifted my commentary to him of not, Hey, can you drive this, if I wanted to drive something, I say, I need you to drive this and own it. But it's now Keith, can you start a conversation with Stacey about this issue. And I have that posted, start a conversation, not drive literally sitting up, it's stuck on my monitors. So as people give me these feedbacks, and they've been there for probably a year in a year and a half those sticky notes. It's because I want that tangible reminder of listening to people and bring that feedback into your daily actions.

Aaron Moncur:

I want to share something real quickly. I know this is Brian's interview, but I'm going to hijack just for a moment.

Brian Brooks:

Go for it.

Aaron Moncur:

What you share it about being present in the moment, it triggered this conversation I had with a coach of mine recently, Coach Troy, shout out to Coach Troy, I shared with him that I've been feeling a lot of stress where our company is growing right now, and which is awesome and exciting. But it's also very stressful. And I'd wake up in the middle of the night, stressed out over well, how are we going to you know, make sure that project is finished? And who's going to going to do this? And how are we going to make sure our customers are happy with everything that gets delivered, and we're maintaining quality and all that stuff. And so I said, Troy, how do I how do I de stress, you know, like, how do I deal with these emotions? And, and he said something that was really insightful. He said, stress is a stress is what is a reaction to placing your focus on an uncertain future. And if you can take your mind out of that uncertain future and just concentrate on right now be in the moment right now, that that can help a lot. And I didn't really understand it at first. I mean, I said, Troy that sounds kind of woowoo you know, like, what does that mean? And and he says, Well, right now, right now this very second. Is anyone holding a gun to your head? No, no one's holding a gun to my head. Do you have enough food to eat? Yeah, I have no food to eat. Do you have shelter? Well, yeah, I have shelter. Are you in any mortal danger? Or are you deathly ill? No, I'm not in any danger and not definitely ill. He says, Well, in this moment, right now, what do you have to be stressed out about? And I said, I guess I guess nothing like right in this moment. This is okay. So that's that's the start. You know, next time you get into that, placing your focus on an uncertain future. Just come back to the moment think about right now this very second. And is that going to solve all your problems? No, of course not. But it was really helpful for me to to find a way to ground myself in the moment and you know, take a few Deep breaths and then come out of that and say, Okay, well, maybe this uncertain future is not so bad. After all, I can probably figure out a solution to that. But anyway, when you were talking about being present in the moment with people, it triggered that I thought that might be something, you know.

Brian Brooks:

And that's something, you know, if I can build upon that unshared other experience I've had similarly, it's something when you talk, you know, one of the questions you would ask for some preparation and thought it harkens back to that of habits. And one of the habits that I've implemented into my daily practice over the past two years is understanding which, you know, quote, unquote, energy zone I'm in, and I learned this through my MBA, there's an annual Alumni Weekend, and I would go down there, their seminars, and different speakers come in and talk to you. And it was at a point in my career, where I was, I was exhausted, I was burnt out. And the seminar was called How to avoid burnout. And I was like, Oh, I need go. Yeah, so so I attended it. And it was a really engaging speaker. And the premises that there's four energy zones that you can operate within, you can be in a performance zone, you can be in a survival zone, you can be in a burnout zone, or in a recovery zone. And if you put those on a quadrant, you can only move from one zone to the next you can skip. So I literally on the whiteboard in my office, my top right corner is reserved, and I have this quadrant there. And every day when I come in, I move a magnet for what quadrant? Am I and what am I feeling in that moment, because for me, I needed to understand when I shifted from that high performance zone, into a survival zone. And at that point in time, when you're in that survival zone, the only options are to go into a burnout zone, or to go back into that performance zone. And once you get into burnout, you've got to go through the Recovery before you get back to high performance. So for me, it was understanding where am I? And then what are the behaviors and actions that I need to take for that recovery. And for me, the two things are human connection and physical exercise, to the point where I'm, I'm feeling that, hey, you know what, I'm in survival mode, right? Now, I need to either call up one of my mentors or a friend or, you know, schedule a team happy hour and go out, and let's blow off some steam and have some fun and formed, you know, build upon those human connections. Or I need to cut out of here and respect my lunch hour and go to the gym and go for a run or burn that energy off. So it's really, you know, to your point of Whoo, understanding where are you emotionally on that spectrum, and just adapting your behaviors as a result of it. But for me, that was really transformative, because there would be too many days that I would come in and be in that survival mode and not recognize them and I was dangerously close to burnout or in that burnout phase.

Aaron Moncur:

Can you say once more what are the the four stages? Yeah, it performance? survival. burnout, recovery? Great. That's awesome. Well, Brian, this has been awesome. I feel like this has been a masterclass in dealing with people and communication and emotional intelligence, you've shared so many just really profoundly useful insights and, and actionable tips. So thank you so much for doing that. Before I let you go. How can people get ahold of you?

Brian Brooks:

Yeah, um, well, first of all, thank you for your time, I've enjoyed our conversation. Easiest Way, looking up on LinkedIn, it's something you know, I have a pretty generic name, but my LinkedIn, you know, search, Brian Brooks Terumo, you'll find me my pictures there. That's probably the easiest means of getting a hold of me. And then, you know, based upon what the conversation is, I'm pretty open, and I'll share my cell phone, personal email, address, whatever to continue that conversation. You know, for me, mentorship has been huge throughout my career, and I've had really strong mentors. And I've tried to give back in that respect. So, you know, within my organization, there's a probably eight or 10 people that I mentor, across, not just engineering across our organization as a whole. And I, you know, I'm open and eager to meet people outside of my network to continue that one for me to find more mentors and to help pass along, you know, some of my knowledge and experience to others who may be interested, so don't be hesitant to reach out to me.

Aaron Moncur:

Excellent. Excellent. Well, thank you again, so much for spending some time you've been super generous with with all of us today. Appreciate it.

Brian Brooks:

Yeah. Thank you, you take care.

Aaron Moncur:

I'm Aaron Moncur, founder of Pipeline Design, and Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode. To learn how your team can leverage our team's expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at teampipeline.us. Thanks for listening.