What do effective managers, like Elon Musk, have in common? For one thing, at least part of their incredible success comes from hiring employees who are willing to make incredible sacrifices and go beyond their job requirements in completing game-changing projects for the company.
Dr. Zvi Aronson has distinguished himself as a researcher for his insights into what factors encourage such dedication to the job, which in part led to his appointment to the editorial board of IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, one of the most well-recognized publications of its kind.
Dr. Aronson, an affiliate associate professor of management at the School of Business, first got interested in project leadership and team performance, as well as the role of culture in project-based work, while earning his Ph.D. in applied psychology from Stevens Institute of Technology.
“I’m interested in trying to find what levers are available to the leader to alter the culture and motivate workers to have an impact on teamwork and success in project-based work environments,” Dr. Aronson said. He has examined those cultural ingredients for success in a variety of contexts, such as teams working on innovations under diverse market and technology circumstances in product development.
As technology continues to reinvent what work will look like tomorrow, research like Dr. Aronson’s is increasingly important for leaders uncertain how they will motivate professionals, manage projects and complete objectives in a digital environment, where employees living around the globe will have to collaborate in virtual environments.
“Technology is changing everything, but teams still need to be coordinated, they still need to cooperate to complete projects successfully, and sharing info with colleagues over and above designated responsibilities remains vital for boosting effectiveness” Dr. Aronson said. “Even in a digital work environment, a strong culture is critical in how project managers encourage team success.”
Going beyond the call of duty
How leaders influence success by nurturing what’s called citizenship behavior — the willingness of team members to go beyond the call of duty in accomplishing complicated projects — has been one of Dr. Aronson’s more interesting research themes. He pointed to Musk, whose teams of engineers and technicians have put in incredible extra effort to achieve targets for SpaceX.
“There’s a number of different techniques that leaders can utilize to influence this kind of behavior,” he said, from rewards — which are more commonplace — to leaders setting the right tone by going beyond what’s expected themselves.
“Even in a digital work environment, a strong culture is critical in how project managers encourage team success.”
“Another aspect has to do with when you hire employees, you try to assign them to project teams which you’ve already found are exhibiting high levels of citizenship behavior,” Dr. Aronson said. “That helps new recruits learn what it is these high-performing project teams are doing — how they make things easier for each other, how they share information, how they spend their own time to increase their knowledge. That’s how this becomes ingrained in a company’s culture.”
Dr. Aronson’s work on understanding behavioral features of successful project management and culture in the engineering space piqued the team at IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, which focuses mainly on the management of technical functions like R&D and engineering in industry, government and the nonprofit world. Dr. Aronson has published more than 50 journal papers, conference proceedings and book chapters in technology and innovation management. Among others, his work has appeared in R&D Management, one of the most prestigious publications of its kind.
“This is one of the focuses of this journal, they’re looking specifically at engineers, for example, who come together to develop a new product,” he said. “And that’s a particular interest to me — the best practices for a manager of those projects, how you develop mutual trust in such teams.”
Stevens' unique business expertise
That expertise — understanding what motivates people on technical teams — is a point of expertise for the School of Business, which prepares managers to understand how technology creates opportunities for smart leaders to make better decisions to guide the enterprise forward in an increasingly digital economy.
While Dr. Aronson only accepted the offer to join the editorial board of IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management in late February, the first few manuscripts have already started coming in — he’s enjoying reading an article on building trust in engineering teams — and is preparing for a special issue he’ll lead.
“It’s a great compliment that took me by surprise,” Dr. Aronson said. “I got into this area because I enjoyed it and was trying to make an important contribution. I hope I am able to continue to do so through this position.”