Getting the Best out of Your Team – Part 4: Supervisors

Supervisory practices and quality supervisors are important to organizational success.  There is an old adage that an employee joins a company but quits a boss.  While this is not always true – many people leave jobs for advancement and other reasons even when they are happy at their current employer – there are a significant number of employees that quit their jobs each year because of a poor relationship with their supervisor or manager.

The negative impact of poor supervisors and supervisory practices on an organization goes way beyond turnover.  When motivation and engagement suffer, productivity decreases, quality is impacted, absenteeism increases, relationships between employees can experience friction and the overall success of the organization is diminished.

Too many people are promoted into supervisor positions because they are the best at a particular job, or because they get along with everybody. People should only be made a supervisor because they have the competencies, or clearly have the potential to develop them where there is a plan and proper support in place.  The errant promotion of a performance star can be doubly negative as you not only have a poor supervisor affecting others, but you also lose the great performance he/she was delivering in their previous role.

We will leave the discussion about the tools and process of selecting the right person as a supervisor for another post. What we want to cover today are some good basic practices that you and others in your organization who supervise employees, especially new supervisors, should follow:

  • Gather information about the big picture. Talk to your manager, other department supervisors, your predecessor, and even your employees (if appropriate) to understand how the team contributes to the performance goals of the larger organization.
  • Lead by example, making sure your own behaviors mirror the behaviors you expect of others.  You can start by assessing your own strengths and weaknesses, and taking steps to help you build leadership skills.
  • Seek out a mentor.  Mentors are valuable information sources for new ideas and helping you deal with challenges.  Set up regular meetings with your mentor and drive the agenda by coming prepared to discuss specific topics.
  • Keep personal friendships separate from work relationships with your direct reports.  This distance will help you make well thought out and objective decisions, while decreasing perceptions of ‘playing favorites’.
  • Be consistent.  Treat all employees in an equitable, fair and consistent manner in all your interactions.  This includes your behavior and approach in a broad range of interactions from delegating work and providing feedback to approving vacations and other leaves.
  • Learn about the processes and the people in your department.  Regarding processes, learn what and how work is accomplished.  Regarding people, learn about your employee needs, interests, motivations, and how this impacts the work that needs to be done.
  • Identify ways for communicating business information, giving and receiving regular feedback.  You can use team meetings, one on one meetings, or even informal dialogue throughout the day to encourage information sharing.
  • Provide feedback – both positive and critical – to all employees in a fair and consistent manner.  Be specific – highlight the behavior, the outcome, and what you liked or did not like about the result.  Provide suggestions for future, be it ‘keep up the good work’, or what you would like to see going forward.
  • ‘Praise publicly and criticize privately’.  Never highlight errors in front of others.  If you must criticize, focus on the behaviors you are objecting to and provide the necessary support to help the employee improve.
  • Recognize skill level and limitations when assigning tasks.  This means assigning work that utilizes the strengths and talents of employees and then providing the appropriate level of support to set up the person for success.

When supervising employees, it is important to remember that different people are motivated by different aspects of a job, so ask employees individually what they want out of work. Use this information to include these motivators in their everyday job as much as possible.

Consider each employee’s life stage when considering how you are going to motivate one of your direct reports.  For example, young workers are more likely to be motivated by the next promotion, whereas workers nearing the end of their careers are more interested in applying and sharing their expertise.

Try to match motivators to the type of work in which employees engage in the department.  For example, sales people tend to use financial rewards as a way to measure how well they’re doing, while systems developers are likely to be motivated by working on cutting-edge projects. Take personal preferences into consideration when choosing motivators.  When using recognition as a motivator, some people appreciate public praise; while others are embarrassed by it.

Not all supervisors can impact all of these elements, but even if you can’t in your role, you can provide feedback to those who can to try to influence things positively.

Be a great supervisor and you will get the best out of your team!

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