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Navigating the Engineering Organization
A New Engineer's Guide

Transitioning from a new engineering graduate into a knowledgeable engineering professional 

About Navigating the Engineering Organization

Transitioning new engineers into professionals who can immediately blend in and

contribute to the technical organization is, at best, doubtful. Trained in the “nuts and bolts” of a technical subject, new engineers have little to no training in the “soft” skills of how to actually work within an organization. This robust guide shows new engineers how to quickly understand and succeed within their new engineering organization.

Navigating the Engineering Organization: A New Engineer’s Guide focuses on

the group behaviors of technical organizations. It provides a rigorous organizational framework to operate from and delivers guidance using the dual approach of  academic and actual experiential guidance. It then offers a method on how to extend the insights in the book into a valuable personal model, valid throughout the engineer’s career.


Readers will benefit by quickly understanding the unique values and expectations within their new engineering organization, guide them to discover how to correctly respond to these expectations, and then act on these insights to deliver successful results, now and throughout their career.

The approach and goals found in this book provide a building block to help all

new engineers cross the “Great Divide” from student to professional and succeed in their new engineering organization.


Chapter 1 Introduction: The Territory Ahead

1.1 Across the Great Divide: The Need for Change

1.2 Defining a Common Language

1.3 Some Boundaries and Ground Rules

Chapter 2 The Impending Problem: From Student to Engineering Professional

2.1 Welcome to Your Brave New World

2.2 The Basic Transition: Student to Professional

2.3 Easy or Not? Your Choice

2.4 Crossing the Great Divide

2.5 Internships Are Not Preparation

2.6 The Boss Is Not the Professor.

2.7 Creating an Engineering Archetype

2.8 The Past as Prologue

Chapter 3 Embracing a New Mindset

3.1 A New Perspective

3.2 Is What You Know Really True? Contingency Theory as Reality

3.3 The Data Will Set You Free … or Not

3.4 The Fallacy of the Optimum Answer

3.5 The Paradigm and the Paradox

3.6 And Just Who Are You, Anyway?

3.7 The Engineer as Anthropologist

3.8 Nobody Knows Anything

3.9 Taking Comfort from Discomfort


Chapter 4 Establishing the Essential Engineering Framework

4.1 Mapping the Engineering Organization

4.2 Looking Outside Ourselves: The External Environment Element

4.3 More Than We Might Think: The Input Element

4.4 Is This What We Really Want: The Output Element

4.5 Are We Doing the Right Thing: The Feedback Element

4.6 The Heart of the Matter: The Transformation Process

Chapter 5 A Tour of the Inner Core

5.1 The Five Components of the Core

5.2 The Formal Organization

5.3 Human and Hard Resources

5.4 The Technology System

5.5 The Hidden Organization

5.6 Ubiquitous Communication

Chapter 6 Navigating the Formal Organization

6.1 Understanding the Formal Organization

6.2 Management of Management

6.3 The Paradox of Organizational Timing

6.4 The Lure of the Formal Organization Chart

6.5 Different Goals, Different Methods, Different Structures

6.6 Meet Cerberus, the Three-Headed Beast

6.7 Leadership Is Not Management

6.8 Staying Safe vs. Stepping Out

6.9 Standards Are Not Necessarily Standard

Chapter 7 Understanding Human and Hard Resources

7.1 Comprehending Resources

7.2 Human Resources

7.2.1 The Mystery of the HR Office

7.2.2 What Human Resources Does (and Doesn’t) Do for You

7.2.3 Your Objective Set

7.2.4 So What Does Your Supervisor Think?

7.3 Hard Resources

7.3.1 Projects and Their Funding

7.3.2 Budgets and Budgets

7.3.3 Economy and False Economy


Chapter 8 Exercising the Technical System

8.1 A Universe of Systems

8.2 Decision Techniques as Tools

8.3 Measuring System Results

8.4 Types of Technical Systems

8.5 Melding the Technical System to the Organization

Chapter 9 Searching for the Hidden Organization

9.1 Seeing the Invisible: The Hidden Organization

9.2 Representations of Corporate Culture

9.3 Group Culture: The Denison Model

9.4 Self-Awareness in Corporate Culture

9.5 The Quid Pro Quo

9.6 Social Rites and Ceremonials

9.7 The Power of Myth: The Founders’ Story and Others

9.8 The Dynamics of Culture

9.9 Respect the Collective

9.10 Subcultures

9.11 The Stubbornness of Corporate Culture

9.12 Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?

9.13 In Pursuit of Culture

Chapter 10 Ubiquitous Communication

10.1 Organizational Communication: It’s Nothing Personal

10.2 Communicating in Engineering Organizations

10.3 Toward the Great Divide: Navigating Communication Networks

10.4 Special Cases

10.4.1 Communicating in the Senior Management Meeting

10.4.2 Bad News: Reporting Serious Problems to Management

Chapter 11 Final Preparations: Integration and Ethics

11.1 Final Preparations: Reaching the Penultimate Steps

11.2 Melding the Components Together

11.3 The One Critical Exception: Your Personal Code of Ethics

Chapter 12 Crafting the Roadmap: Creating Your Personal Guide

12.1 Constructing Your Roadmap

12.2 Crossing the Divide: Turning Insight into Action

Chapter 13 Coming Attractions

13.1 Previews of Coming Attraction

13.2 Facing the Immediate

13.3 Anticipating the Long Term

13.4 Small Matters to Be Attended to

Chapter 14 Some Final Thoughts

14.1 The Meaning of the Great Divide

14.2 Demonstrating Technical Mastery

14.3 What Makes You Special?

14.4 Would You Rather Be Liked or Respected?

14.5 Committing Engineering

14.6 The Legacy of Your Work

14.7 Across the Great Divide


Robert M. Santer, Ph.D. 


Robert M. Santer, PhD, has over 40 years of domestic and international industry experience in the aerospace and automotive fields as both an engineering management professional. His career at Boeing and the Ford Motor Company covered aerospace and automotive engineering, product and organizational design, research, organizational development and technology futuring. It also included technology portfolio management, innovation methodologies and technology communication strategies. Significantly, he represented Ford in international governmental outreach. He has international automotive design and production experience in the United States, Europe and Asia.

He recently completed his career as Chief Product Analyst for Ford’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO).


Dr. Santer holds a PhD in Engineering Management from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He also holds a bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering and a master’s in Engineering Management, also from the University of Michigan.


While working for Ford, Dr. Santer was also Lecturer in Engineering Management at Michigan, teaching a capstone course on engineering organizations, covering the foundations of technological organization structures, operations, and analysis.


Dr. Santer has significant experience in senior management presentations and speeches, directed at both technical and non-technical leaders, gained from over 400 presentations and written briefings to major national governmental leaders and international audiences.


Management of Management

"New employees like yourself generally begin their professional lives focusing on developing and delivering individual projects or assignments. Hitting the due dates, learning the technology, and figuring out how to get from here to there are all appropriate and necessary to achieve initial success. Here the mindset is self: focusing on the tasks that you as a new employee can directly control and have clear responsibility for."

"At this point, the idea of managing 'up', that is, concentrating on the viewpoints, wants, and needs of your immediate supervisor and your supervisor’s boss may not have occurred yet. Early on, this first- and second-level management territory tends to be a void, and no map is available to even begin to navigate through it."

"This brings us to some key questions about your work. What is the goal of your efforts? Why are you doing it? Yes, a common goal is to complete your assignments successfully. Certainly, you are doing it to create some awesome technologies and solve problems, to make some money, gain position and security, and perhaps earn the respect of your peers and superiors."

What the Human Resources Department Does (and Doesn’t) Do for You

"For an engineer now employed, the three relevant HR areas impacting them are performance management, learning and skills development, and compensation and benefits. Succession planning is strictly a role for management, while human resources information systems and data analytics are back-office functions of the HR department supporting management reporting and analysis."

"Underlying these three tasks is an unstated goal. The HR department operates with the relentless goal of moving the routine functions of administration to “expert” digital systems, making these three HR functions a self-service operation. Remember that HR is viewed strictly as a cost center, and these costs must be continuously reduced. This means that certain functions traditionally performed by HR are being moved to the employee’s desk. Routine, periodic data collection and reporting is now in the employee’s hands vs. HR. A major movement has been to push career advising and planning completely onto the worker’s shoulders: don’t look for career advice in the HR office. As career planning is 100% the employee’s responsibility, this means new hires must find their own support system if advancement is the goal."

Would You Rather be Liked or Respected?

"This simple phrase incorporates several of the points we’ve been discussing throughout this book. A decision is looming: in the workplace, do you wish to be liked or respected? To be either liked or respected is a very personal “Y” in the road, a choice that can have a life-long impact on your work and personal life. The answer to this question can help direct you in so many situations and guide the decisions you eventually will be faced with."

"Being liked involves several beliefs and actions you might consider. If you remember our conversation about conflict strategies, you’ll find being liked tends to fall into the passive category. It involves loss of control where you give up your original position, sacrificing it to be accepted by another person or entity."

"To be respected is a different animal. Respect means that you pursue fair outcomes to conflict, that people trust your actions, words, and beliefs, and will do the right thing even if it causes additional effort or loss. Respect means integrity. It does not mean the avoidance of conflict but the pursuit of fairness."

"Making the decision to be liked or respected needs to be made early and reinforced repeatedly, so it becomes second nature; to naturally follow that philosophy without consciously thinking about it."


""For new engineering graduates, the transition to industry can be particularly challenging, as evidenced by the high turnover rates for new employees. Dr. Santer addresses the problem by helping the new engineer understand the world they are entering into and the rationale behind its structure and operational constructs. This book will also be useful for hiring managers, to better understand the scope of the challenge, as they guide their new employees through the onboarding process."

The Honorable Dr. Donald C. Winter

74th United States Secretary of the Navy

“Every graduating engineering student needs to read Dr. Robert Santer’s new book before interviewing for potential job opportunities in the public and private sectors.  It explores in depth the otherwise little-advertised company cultures, goals, objectives, operations, opportunities, and expectations. It was often my privilege to address many of Dr. Santer’s students about these issues within government-oriented organizations, including NASA, DOD, and their broad spectrum of space and aviation contractors.”

Col. Jack Robert Lousma USMC, Ret.

Pilot, Skylab 3; Commander, Space Shuttle Columbia Flight STS-3

CAPCOM, Apollo 13

“With the benefit of his experiences working in both the academic and corporate world, Bob Santer shares deep insights of what it takes to navigate these complexities, evident in so many large multinational organizations. He walks the reader through those early experiences in a series of logically ordered chapters, each containing practical advice for the new recruit. The book is also a great read for those in leadership positions, as understanding the experience through the lens of a new hire can help accelerate the onboarding process and improve the overall productivity of the organization.”

Mr. Paul Mascarenas, OBE

Chief Technical Officer, The Ford Motor Company (ret.)

Past President, International Society of Automotive Engineers

Venture Partner, Fontinalis Partners

Coworking Space

"Organizations are great at mobilizing resources toward big goals but are also filled with infighting and strong personalities. Navigating through the good, bad, and ugly takes more than high grades in courses and enthusiasm. It takes savvy. By savvy I mean the ability to understand what is going on and overcome obstacles toward your goals. The book you have by Dr. Bob Santer is intended to accelerate the process of developing savvy. Bob became my PhD student at a mature age after years of experience rising through the ranks of the Ford Motor Company. He was an aerospace engineer, a manager of engineers, someone who hired engineers, and ultimately was recognized as having a special ability to connect with people of various persuasions. This ultimately led to this book that is filled with practical advice but also draws on the best research by psychologists and sociologists about what makes organizations work."

Jeffrey K. Liker, PhD

Professor Emeritus, Industrial and Operations Engineering,

University of Michigan Author, The Toyota Way


Navigating the Engineering Organization
A New Engineer's Guide


For Questions or Additional Information:

Elizabeth A. Santer, CEO

Robert M. Santer, Ph.D., Principal

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