Supervisors need to be superheroes. Numerous studies have shown that employees leave their job because of their supervisor. One survey asserts that 35% of US workers said they would willingly forgo a substantial pay raise in exchange for seeing their direct supervisor fired. That puts the pressure on organizations to make sure they hire the right supervisors and train them well in their supervisory role.
Role of the Supervisor
One challenge we face when hiring is that most supervisors are promoted for their technical skills. They have been rewarded for doing great technical work. And to be sure, they will probably still use those technical skills since most supervisors today are working supervisors. However, entering the supervisory ranks means exercising powers in two other key areas: human and conceptual.
This is a shift from a technical focus to a focus on people. As if being responsible for yourself is not enough; as a supervisor, you are responsible for your team and their results. Your charge is to get work done through others which requires a different skillset. Required skills are self-awareness, communication, empathy, delegation, resilience and developing others.
Supervisors need an awareness of their own attitudes, assumptions, biases and beliefs – all of which must be checked at the door. As a supervisor, you will need to figure out how to communicate with each team member to maximum effect and recognize that one size does not fit all. You will need to understand or find out what is being “said” through behaviors and how to shift behaviors if they are inhibiting individual, team or organizational progress. This means being sensitive to the needs and motivations of others. One-on-one meetings on a regular basis are the best way to accomplish this.
Another muscle that must be exercised is a conceptual mindset. This means thinking more globally and strategically. Supervisors need to see the enterprise as a whole and not only understand how their unit/ department/branch/group fits in, but be able to articulate this clearly to team members. Connecting the purpose of the organization to every job is a key responsibility of a supervisor.
Recognizing how the various functions of the organization depend on one another and how changes in one part affect the others is critical. This is systems thinking. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Understanding and operating like this will help break down silos.
Lastly, visualize the relationship of the organization to the community and the political, social and economic forces at work. What is happening currently ? What is likely to happen in the future ? How can we prepare today ? As a supervisor, you need to be aware of and help your team prepare for inevitable change.
Monitoring and Evaluating
One of the most challenging areas for supervisors is performance management. This is a topic of much debate and experimentation since traditional processes are time consuming and almost universally despised by supervisors and employees. Nonetheless, monitoring and evaluating employees are important parts of the supervisor’s role.
A performance management cycle typically has five steps:
- Step 1. Planning work and setting expectations
- Step 2. Observing individual performance
- Step 3. Developing the capacity to perform
- Step 4. Evaluating performance
- Step 5. Recognizing successful performance
This cycle is moving away from an annual process toward an ongoing process anchored by regular checkins with employees that provide closer to real time feedback, recognition and development. Despite the timing, there are some key factors that lead to maximizing an employee’s performance.
The most important is working with the employee to set expectations. These expectations need to be clear, measurable and jointly created. By eliciting the employee’s input, the employee is more likely to buy into the goals and achieve them. Clarity is achieved by defining what success looks like in measurable and observable terms. Competency models include behavioral indicators which can be used to measure soft skills like customer service, communication and team work.
Once expectations are clear, the focus becomes ongoing monitoring that includes regular feedback. Feedback should take a couple of forms: recognition and coaching. Recognition sets the stage for repeatable good performance. You can reinforce this by articulating the action and effect of the positive behavior. The action explains why it was a good job and the effect ties the behavior back to the outcome for the team/customer/ organization. By saying more than “Good job!” you are encouraging the employee to do more of the same with an understanding of why.
Coaching and Motivation
That leads us into coaching. In a coaching relationship, the supervisor involves the employee by asking questions, listening effectively and following up with more questions. The employee is actively engaged in problemsolving and the supervisor is providing guidance and support. This should take the form of on-the-job training, asking questions to cultivate critical thinking and giving employees opportunities to try new skills. Your employees will become better, more engaged performers if you do not always give them the answers. Help them discover better ways of operating by challenging them to problem solve. Examples of coaching questions include:
- What issue would you like to work on ?
- What outcome are you seeking by the end of this conversation ?
- What action steps have you taken so far and how has that gone ?
- What resources have you used and what further resources would be helpful ?
- What are some different ways you could approach this issue ?
- What would you do if you could start again with a clean sheet ?
- How will you know when you have achieved success ?
- What support do you need from me or others ?
Motivation is another powerful tool for a supervisor. It is important to first recognize that motivation needs to come from the employee.
It is impossible to motivate someone who is unwilling to engage. As a supervisor, you must learn how to tap into the intrinsic motivations of each employee so they will want to engage. Basic principles include:
- Motivating employees starts with motivating yourself; be a role model
- Always work to align goals of the organization with goals of the employees.
- Understand what motivates each employee; it is not the same for everyone.
- Supporting employee motivation is a process, not a task; motivating factors can and will change.
Some simple strategies you can try are handing out lifesavers, writing personal notes, creating career or skill paths, setting up casual or themed dress days, encouraging employees to organize social events, offering training and engaging in regular one-on-one conversations to build a healthy relationship.
The biggest motivator for an employee is knowing that their supervisor has their back. Employees need to feel like their supervisor wants them to be successful. Then a virtuous cycle begins where both employee and supervisor are working together toward mutual goals that can lead to superhero performance by all.