Supervisory Leadership

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The Four Biggest Mistakes Companies Make About Supervision, and How You an Avoid Them

No single factor predicts productivity for an employee more than his or her direct relationship with the immediate supervisor. You don't' have to believe me on that one, you can ask the Gallup organization, which did a major study of productivity and supervision. If you want to increase productivity, and profitability, and long-term competitive advantage, the best thing you can do is make sure that your organization has great first-line supervision.

There's good news and bad news here. The bad news is that most organizations simply don't pay attention to supervision. They make four really critical mistakes. The good news is that if you can avoid those mistakes and create great supervision for yourself, you can spring ahead in the race against the competition.

Lots of organizations act like supervision isn't important. What about you?

If you want the key to productivity, it's not in the executive suite, it's out in the field, and at the reception desk, and in the call center, and on the factory floor. That's where the real work gets done and the critical day-by-day decisions get made. And, that's where supervision has its impact.

Alas, even though some organizations give lip service to the importance of supervision, hardly any act like they really believe what they're saying. This might require a basic shift in your thinking; but if you can make that shift, it can pay off big time. Vow right now to review the way your organization selects, trains, and supports your supervisors. Then start making changes immediately to make your supervision better.

Lots of organizations don't tie compensation, and praise, and promotions to supervisory work. What about you?

I've worked with organizations for over thirty years, and one of the things I've found is that an awful lot of the way supervisors are evaluated has absolutely nothing to do with their work as supervisors. To check this out in your organization, pick up the job description for your supervisors and pick up the form that you use for performance evaluation.

If your organization is like many that I've seen, you're going to evaluate that supervisor on all kinds of stuff. But the odds are that you're not going to be spending the critical mass of necessary time and evaluation and training on the core job of the supervisor, which is to supervise.

Supervisors deal with individuals and tasks on a routine basis. If they are doing that and doing it well, they need to be rewarded with praise, compensation, and promotion. Otherwise, you are just blowing smoke.

Lots of organizations don't train their supervisors in supervision. What about you?

Several years ago, I worked with a fairly large organization that told me at the outset that they had a great supervisory training program. I asked to sit in on it. The program for new supervisors took three full days.

During that three days, all kinds of people paraded in front of the new supervisors. They learned all kinds of things. The only thing they didn't learn was the basics of supervision.

So what did they spend the three days on? They spent the three days on policies and procedures and technical manuals. They spent the three days getting exhorted to motivate, but they didn't learn how to do the five critical jobs that every supervisor has to do.

If you want to improve supervision where you work, make sure that new supervisors get training. Some of that will happen in the classroom. Some of it won't.

It turns out that being responsible for a group, which includes supervision as well as management and leadership, is something of an apprentice trade. In research that I've done, it's been interesting to note the "family tree" of great supervisors. In one organization where I regularly did the training, we got to see several generations of one of those trees.

One exercise in the training program was for the newly promoted supervisors to identify a great supervisor they'd had in the past. Even though this organization had well over a hundred first-line supervisors working, only about seven names came up consistently.

And guess what? When we talked to those seven that everybody thought was great, among them they had about a similar number of great supervisors that were their role models.

A good training program for supervisors deals with classroom training in the five basic jobs of supervision and the skills necessary to get those jobs done. It also should include some kind of field training with excellent supervisors responsible for helping new supervisors make the transition effectively.

Lots of organizations simply don't pay attention to the transition. What about you?

You hear a lot about how it's lonely at the top, but hardly anything about how lonely it is when you are a new supervisor, and someone you thought was your best friend is asking you for a favor you really can't grant.

The fact is, that there are two massively tough transitions in business. We've heard a lot about one of them. It's the transition to CEO. The other massively difficult transition is the one from individual contributor to supervisor.

With all the other transitions and promotions in business, there are lots of new things to learn, but the support group that you've had at one level generally will help you along at the next level. With the transition to CEO and the transition to supervision, not only do you have lots to learn about how to do the job, but many of your sources of day-to-day support simply aren't available any longer.

In my research, I've found that it takes somewhere between eighteen months and two years for an individual contributor to make the transition to being an effective supervisor. During that time, he or she makes certain characteristic mistakes. If you can provide training for people at that crucial time, you'll dramatically increase the likelihood that they will move up to being top supervisors, and your company will move up to being tops in your industry.

Bottom Line: Lots of organizations talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. What about you?

You can talk all you want, but what do you do? Do you act like supervision is important? Do you tie compensation, praise and promotion to good supervisory work? Do you train your supervisors in supervisory skills and help them make a successful transition from individual contributor to supervisor?

The way you answer those questions could determine whether you and your organization succeed in today's tough environment.

Wally

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