Successful Supervisor 23 – Delegation and Micromanagement

April 22, 2017

I have written on the topics of delegation and micromanagement before on this blog. In this article I will describe the issue from the point of a supervisor, because the caveats are even more critical in that arena.

It is normal, but not universal, that the supervisor of a work cell has a very deep understanding of the processes that are performed in her area. This situation is because a common path for an individual to become a supervisor is to work herself up from the shop floor as a result of her content knowledge of the processes.

She has worked in the area for many years and has shown some leadership ability and dedication to the organization, so when an opportunity arose she was promoted to supervisor.

A supervisor taking this common pathway is in a precarious position relative to the concepts of delegation and micromanagement. I will describe these issues separately and then discuss an antidote for both problems.

Delegation

If you start with the premise that the supervisor knows the process at least as well as the people working for her, it is a challenge to delegate because she knows very well how the tasks should be performed. Her employees are often less experienced, so they will need some instruction, which will take time to accomplish.

Picture the logic going on in the head of the average supervisor as she contemplates delegating the task of making a widget to an inexperienced employee.

“I can spend the next three hours explaining to George how to do this job correctly and safely, but there is a good chance he will mess it up anyway because it is very tricky. Chances are I will need to come in and bail him out when he gets stuck, which will take me more time. I could do the job myself in a little over an hour and know it will be done correctly, so I am far better off just getting it done.”

Another issue with delegation is that the supervisor has a rigid picture of what the finished product needs to look like as a result of her history. She will not be amenable to creative solutions that work just as well, or maybe better, than the old way.

If someone comes up with an “improved” version of the function, it will appear to the supervisor as a problem to be resolved rather than a breakthrough to be embraced.

The natural tendency is for the supervisor to limit delegation for the above reasons. That practice stifles the growth of her employees and blocks new methods from being developed.

Micromanagement

Since the supervisor knows full well how the job should be accomplished, she will be quick to intervene if an employee is not on the right track. She will insist that the employee use the standard process in every case and hover over the employee to ensure that happens.

We all know that the impact of micromanagement is highly negative in terms of motivation. We have experienced the exasperation of being asked to do something only to be guided every step of the way as to exactly how to do it.

That practice takes all the fun and initiative out of doing the job, and the employee grinds his teeth and is forced to comply with the instructions.

The unfortunate result is stagnation, because to reach excellence we must go well beyond compliance and achieve the full energy of everyone in the workforce.

In addition, the supervisor cannot possibly witness every step of every operation simply because she has many people reporting to her, so she becomes fragmented and frustrated herself even though she is trying to do things right. What a mess!

The Antidote

To reduce these problems, the wise supervisor leans less in the direction of a manager trying to force everyone into a compliant mold and more in the direction of a leader who empowers people to use their own brains.

She ensures that employees are trained on how to do the job safely and according to specifications. Then she needs to step back and give the employee some breathing room. Quite often the employee will discover a way to do the job faster and better than the supervisor could.

I recall one supervisor who had a penchant for micromanaging. One thoroughly frustrated employee brought in a fake pair of handcuffs and kept them in his work station.

When the supervisor came around and started to bark out orders for how to do the tasks, the employee would get out the handcuffs and put them on. He would say something like, “I will do whatever you force me to do, but I think if you take the cuffs off I will get a lot more done.”

The supervisor got the message rather well and changed her pattern. Of course such a direct approach might be viewed as insubordination to the supervisor, so I would not advise trying it.

If you are guilty of micromanaging more than you should, how can you tell? Look for clues in the body language of the people you are coaching. A stiffening of the facial muscles is an indication of stress.

Also, watch the hands; if you see the fingers clench into a semi fist posture when you suggest that the person try something, it is a good bet that person is feeling micromanaged.

Another easy way to tell if you are too intrusive with your suggestions is simply to ask the person. “Am I being too prescriptive here?” often will generate an honest reply, especially if you have not bitten off the person’s head the last few times he has opened up about his feelings or expressed an opinion.

You can also ask other people if you have a tendency to micromanage. Have the topic of micromanagement be on the agenda for group meetings and have an open discussion about the level of coaching you are giving. It may lead to healthy and valuable input.

When a supervisor does not delegate enough or tends to micromanage tasks, it sends a strong message that she does not trust her employees to do things right. That visible lack of trust will quickly break down a culture, and the work area will become much less productive.

To prevent this decay, she should take the slight risk and delegate tasks more freely. Also, she needs to avoid hovering over people to verify they are doing everything according to her paradigm. Taking these steps will enhance rather than squash employee engagement.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 22 – Foundations to Build Trust

April 16, 2017

We are all aware of things we can do that build higher trust. In my seminars on trust, I ask groups to name some things that build trust, and they quickly create a list of dozens of behaviors in just a few minutes.

For example, here are a few of the things typically named that will help to build trust:

• Operate with integrity
• Do what you say
• Use the Golden Rule
• Be respectful of others at all times
• Admit mistakes
• Be as transparent as possible

These actions and hundreds of others like them are needed to build and maintain trust at all levels of management. Each level has a different focus on why these things are important, and at the supervisor level employees look for these behaviors constantly.

Because of the span of control, supervisors must be alert to applying these behaviors in a consistent manner to avoid the perception of playing favorites, which is a major trust buster, especially among first level employees.

The conundrum is that while we know numerous things that will build trust within an organization, in most organizations there is still a serious lack of trust.

I believe the reason is that there are four conditions that form a foundation on which all of the other trust-building behaviors rest that makes them work. These four conditions provide a deep understanding of the nature of trust in an organization, so they act like the concrete blocks upon which we ultimately construct a lasting building.

This article will name these four conditions and describe why I believe having this foundation underneath the common behaviors gives them much more power to build trust. Then I will explain why these concepts are just as important at the supervisory level as they are at higher management levels.

Condition 1 – The First Law of Trust

Trust is reciprocal. You trust every person you know at some level, and that person also trusts you at some level. The levels are not always the same, and they fluctuate based on the transactions between you and the other person.

Any communication between the two of you will impact the trust level for both people. It may be face to face conversation, a phone call, e-mail or texting, or even body language at a meeting that impacts trust either positively or negatively.

Trust may go up in one direction but down in the other direction from the same transaction. It is a highly dynamic system.

When you extend more trust to another person, he or she will instinctively respond by showing more trust in you. This “First Law of Trust,” as I call it, is not true 100% of the time, but it is directionally right with such high frequency that it makes a pretty good law of nature.

If you want more trust with another person, find ways to show more trust first.

Condition 2 – Values-based Behaviors

When I begin work with new clients, I always ask if they operate from a set of values. Normally the senior leader is able to produce a list of some values that the group has adopted. Sometimes the values are on a plaque on the wall, and other times they are buried somewhere in a desk drawer.

I then ask the senior leaders point blank if they always follow the values, even when it means making a difficult decision.

The question is usually followed by a pregnant pause and finally someone says, “Well we try to follow the values at all times, but sometimes it is impossible.” While the answer is an honest one, it really signals a kind of hypocrisy that leads to organizational dry rot of trust.

The correct answer must be “yes” at all times in order to preserve trust.

When leaders adopt values they cannot abide by in all circumstances, they set themselves up for failure. That is why one tempting value: “People are our most important asset” is a dangerous one.

If people are really our most important asset, then when there is a downturn in business, we will keep the workforce and sell buildings or other assets to survive. Few companies actually do that, so it is unwise to adopt that phrase as a core value. You simply must abide by the values you advertise or trust becomes a casualty.

The specific values adopted at the supervisor level must mirror the values set at higher levels. There may be some different phrasing to make it apply to first line employees, but the intent needs to add up to the same conclusion or the organization will not be aligned.

Condition 3 – Balanced Accountability

The word “accountability” has become more popular in recent years. It is a shame that in most organizations accountability takes the form of a “gotcha” mentality where all accountability discussions are negative.

My observation is that most people on most days go to work intent on doing the right things for the right reasons. They need to be held accountable in a positive way for the things they are doing right and in a corrective way for the things that did not get done correctly or on time.

If the accountability discussions were not always focused on missed opportunities, then people would not get the impression that the only time they hear from supervision is when they mess up.

I invented the phrase “hold people procountable,” which means that we need to feedback performance that is directionally right as well as the corrective feedback. The nature of the feedback needs to be proportional to the holistic nature of the performance.

This philosophy should be spread across the entire organization, but it is particularly important for the supervisor, who is working at the critical junction between management and the workers. Negative accountability discussions are often the downfall of an inexperienced supervisor.

Condition 4 – Reinforce Candor

This fourth condition I believe has more power to create trust than any other leadership behavior. That is why it is one of the foundational conditions. It consists of creating an environment of low fear where people believe it is a good thing to point out areas where the behavior of higher managers is monitored for consistency.

If something appears to be inconsistent with our values or ethical standards, employees know they will be rewarded rather than punished for bringing it up.

I believe “the absence of fear is the incubator of trust,” and the logic holds at all levels of the organization.

Supervisors can improve the level of trust by making sure all employees know their observations are valued and appreciated. In practice it is not easy to reward someone who points out that some of your behaviors appear to be hypocritical.

Make a special effort to make sure when an employee questions a decision or action on your part that the employee walks away glad that he brought it up.

If the preceding four elements are in place, then I believe the foundation is laid where all the other things that create higher trust will be highly effective.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 21 – The Importance of Trust

April 8, 2017

In my seminars on trust, I always do an exercise that illustrates the pivotal importance of trust in any organization.

In this experiential exercise I split the group up into small discussion groups and give each group a different dimension to work on by answering the following question: for your dimension, can you contrast what it is like to try to accomplish it if you are working with a high trust group versus a low trust group?

I could think up dozens of dimensions to explore, but to keep the exercise bounded in terms of time, I use only nine dimensions with groups. Here is a list of the nine dimensions along with my comments on the contrast of trying to do them in a high versus low trust group.

1. Solving Problems

In organizations of high trust, problems are dealt with easily and efficiently. In low trust organizations, problems become huge obstacles as leaders work to unscramble the mess to find out who said what or who caused the problem to spiral out of control.

Often feelings are hurt or long term damage in relationships occurs. While problems exist in any environment, they take many times longer to resolve if there is low trust.

In addition, the creative ideas of people are more readily accessible to the group when people aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

Sometimes a lack of trust can cause small problems to bloom into first class disasters.

A good example of this progression is the Challenger Disaster in 1986. The Rogers Commission (1987) found that NASA’s organizational culture and decision making process were key contributing factors of the accident. Technicians who were aware of a problem did not feel it was safe to bring it up due to low trust levels.

2. Focused Energy

People in organizations with high trust do not need to be defensive. They focus energy on accomplishing the Vision and Mission of the organization. Their energy is directed toward the customer and against the competition.

In low trust organizations, people are myopic and waste energy due to infighting and politics. Their focus is on internal squabbles and destructive turf battles.

Bad blood between people creates a litany of issues that distract supervision from the pursuit of excellence. Instead, they play referee to a bunch of adult workers who often act like children.

Trust leads to constancy of purpose as well as focus. In Managing People is Like Herding Cats (1999), Warren Bennis wrote: “A recent study showed people would rather follow individuals they can count on, even when they disagree with their viewpoint, than people they agree with but who shift positions frequently. I cannot emphasize enough the significance of constancy and focus.” (p.85)

3. Efficient Communication

When trust is high, the communication process is efficient, as leaders freely share valuable insights about business conditions and strategy.

In low trust organizations, rumors and gossip zap around the organization like laser beams in a hall of mirrors. Before long, leaders are blinded with problems coming from every direction. Trying to control the rumors takes energy away from the mission and strategy.

High trust organizations rely on solid, believable communication, while the atmosphere in low trust groups is usually one of damage control and minimizing employee unrest.

Since people’s reality is what they believe rather than what is objectively happening, the need for damage control in low trust groups is often a huge burden. Not only is verbal communication enhanced by trust, all forms of communication including e-mail, body language, and listening are improved by trust.

In A Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven B. Sample (2002) discusses the concept of Artful Listening which enables a leader to “…see things through the eyes of his followers while at the same time seeing things from his own perspective” (p.22). He calls this skill “seeing double.” Sample stresses that Artful Listening is enabled by trust.

4. Retaining Customers

Workers in high trust organizations have a passion for their work that is obvious to customers. When trust is lacking, workers often display apathy toward the company that is transparent to customers.

Most of us have experienced this apathy while sitting in a restaurant where the service is poor. If there is a low trust environment, we feel an uncomfortable tension that discourages our future return to that establishment.

All it takes is the roll of eyes or some shoddy body language to send valuable customers looking for alternatives.

5. A “Real” Environment

People who work in high trust environments describe the atmosphere as being “real.” They are not playing games with one another in a futile attempt to outdo or embarrass the other person.

Rather, they are focused toward a common goal that permeates all activities. When something is real, people know it and respond positively.

When trust is high, people might not always like each other, but they have great respect for each other. That means, they work to support and reinforce the good deeds done by fellow workers rather than try to find sarcastic or belittling remarks to make about them.

The reduction of infighting creates hours of extra time spent achieving business results.

6. Saving Time and Reducing Costs

High trust organizations get things done more quickly because there are fewer distractions. There is no need to double check everything because people generally do things right.

In areas of low trust, there is a constant need to spin things to be acceptable and then to explain what the spin means. This takes time, which drives costs up.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey relates that when trust is low, organizations pay a kind of “tax.” This tax increases costs and reduces speed (Covey, 2006).

7. Perfection not Required

A culture of high trust relieves leaders from the need to be perfect. Where trust is high, people will understand the intent of a communication even if the words were phrased poorly.

In low trust groups, the leader must be perfect because people are poised to spring on every misstep or misstatement to prove the leader is not trustworthy. Without trust, speaking to groups of people is like walking on egg shells.

The irony is that leaders should be glad when people are vocal about apparent inconsistencies between actions and values. People will not do so unless the leader has created an environment of trust.

This phenomenon was described by Noel Tichy (1997) in The Cycle of Leadership as follows: “The truth is that the leader gets nailed to the wall for failing to live the values only if he or she has created an open and honest shop. More often, people simply become demoralized and ignore the values just as the leader does” (p. 43).

8. More Development and Growth

In low trust organizations, people stagnate because there is little emphasis placed on growth. All of the energy is spent jousting between individuals and groups.

High trust groups emphasize development, so there is a constant focus on personal and organizational growth, as described in Treat People Right (Edward Lawler, 2003).

 

9. Better Reinforcement

When trust is high, positive reinforcement works because it is sincere and well executed.

In low trust organizations, reinforcement is often considered phony, manipulative, or duplicitous, which lowers morale. Without trust, attempts to improve motivation through reinforcement programs often backfire.

The trick is to get people to want to do the right thing through reinforcement.

Ken Blanchard (2002) in Whale Done wrote “Instead of building dependency on others for a reward, you want people to do the right thing because they themselves enjoy it” (p. 56).

Once groups wrestle with these nine dimensions and contrast what it is like to operate as part of a high trust group versus a low trust one, they understand the immense impact that trust has on every aspect of how an organization operates.

Simply put, if you have high trust, all aspects of the organization work well, but with low trust, nothing works as expected.

Seek to build trust at every level all of the time. If trust becomes compromised for any reason, move swiftly to repair it (the subject of a future article).

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor Part 19 – The Meaning of Trust

March 25, 2017

I work with supervisors and managers all the time, and one of the things we talk about in depth is the topic of trust, since I believe that is the most powerful positive force in business (and the lack of it is the most negative force).

Trust is such a common word that we hear it and say it numerous times every week. If you watch television, whether it be coverage of worldwide events or advertising, you will hear the word trust several times an hour.

It is astounding to me that when I ask a group of supervisors or managers to define what trust is, I get a bunch of blank faces for several moments. Finally someone will say something like, “It means you can count on another person.”

I think the reason is that there are some words that we know very well but that are hard to define without using the word itself in the definition. Another example of this paradox is the word “time.” See if you can define time without using the word time in the definition. It is more difficult than you think, isn’t it? I will give one definition at the end of this article.

Back to trust; normally, when we think of trust, we picture the concept between us and another person. We almost always think of trust as a singular concept, I trust you at some level or I do not.

In fact, trust takes on numerous forms in our lives that we rarely consider at a conscious level. Here are a few of the categories of trust that you will recognize:

• You have my back – I can count on you.
• You are reliable and do what you say.
• You do what is in my best interest, even if I am not happy about it at the time.
• You are honest and admit mistakes.
• We enjoy a relationship of high esteem.
• It is safe for you to share what you believe without fear of reprisal.
• You depend on another person to keep you safe.
• You have integrity and are not duplicitous.

These are just a few of the categories of trust that go on all the time, but we rarely think of them at a conscious level. It becomes a feeling we have about another person.

Trust not only takes many forms, but it also is manifest in various ways as we interact with our world. Let’s take a few examples and examine them consciously to illustrate how ubiquitous trust is in our lives.

People

Trust with people is the most common form of trust as we think of it. We trust every other person we know at some level, and that person trusts us at some level, but the levels are not always the same. Also, the level of trust is changing all the time as a result of the interfaces or transactions going on with the other person.

I can send a text to you that might make your trust in me go down a bit while my trust in you is going up. I can be sitting across from you at a meeting and when you roll your eyes at something the speaker is saying, my trust in you is impacted.

I might lose some trust in you by the tone of your voice when you complain about the boss. All through the day, in every interface, the trust in both directions is being impacted: sometimes both in the same direction, and sometimes in opposite directions. Trust between yourself and other people is dynamic and does not remain constant.

Products

We must trust the products we use. Most of the time the trust is implied, and we don’t even think about it. When you take a pill, you rarely wonder where the ingredients came from or who made the pill. You simply trust that there are systems in place to take care of any potential problem.

When you walk into the bathroom in the morning and flip the light switch, you trust that the lights will go on and you will not somehow get electrocuted.

You turn on the spigot and water comes out. You don’t think about it unless for some strange reason the water does not come out, or it comes out rusty.

You get into your car and turn the key. You do not think about the fact that thousands of explosions are going on under the hood every minute. When you get to a stop sign, you apply the brake and expect the car to stop.

Systems

Believe it or not, we trust our system of government all day every day. We may not be happy with all the decisions or non decisions our leaders make, but there are thousands of things that the system at local and national levels provide that we just do not think about. If there is an ice storm, you will trust that the salt trucks will be out before you have to go to work.

If you drive over a bridge, you trust that you will not fall into the water (at least on most bridges and overpasses). The mail shows up in your mailbox unless it is a holiday.

An interesting example is trust in the media. Right now there is a lot of discussion about whether you can trust anything you hear in the main stream media, yet most of us still listen to it.

Trust in the media has been declining rapidly for over a decade. There are many reasons for the lack of trust in the media, some of them are legitimate, and some of them are probably “fake news” about the news.

Organizations

We trust that if there is a disaster, the Red Cross will be there for aid. We trust our military to follow the orders of the chain of command, even if we are skeptical about the sanity of some people in the chain.

We trust that if an enemy shoots a missile at us, it will be shot down before it reaches us. We do not consciously think of these protections; we take them for granted every day.

Basically, trust is far more complex and ubiquitous in our lives than we realize. You cannot get up in the morning and go to work without experiencing trust several hundred times.

The vast majority of experiences with trust are subconscious, and we just take things for granted unless there is some reason to be doubtful (like a tornado heading for town).

Now imagine taking several hundred people and putting them together in a kind of pressure cooker called an organization, and you have a rather complex situation.

This condition is the world in which the supervisor works daily. The cumulative level of trust between people in the entire organization is what gives the entity its power to operate.

Supervisors and leaders provide the environment where this fragile commodity called trust will flourish or be extinguished. I believe more than any other factor, it is the behaviors of the supervisors and leaders that determine the level of trust in an organization.

Trust is not dependent on the desires of leaders, their intelligence, or their intentions. All leaders seek high trust. It is their behaviors that govern the reactions in people that lead to higher or lower trust.

I firmly believe that if an organization is struggling with performance issues, regardless of the direct causes, the root cause is the inability of the leaders of that organization to create an environment of sustained trust. That is both good news and bad.

The bad news is that most leaders do not believe what I just wrote. It is easier to blame others or circumstances. The good news is that there is a way to educate leaders to understand this concept and actually do better. The only difference between the bad news and the good news is getting leaders to recognize that the leverage is created by their behaviors.

My mission in life is to educate as many leaders as possible about these ideas, and by doing that, make a difference in our world, one leader and organization at a time.

Oh yes, back to the definition of time. Try using something like, “a measure of duration.”

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 18 – Avoid Playing Whack-a-Mole

March 19, 2017

Unfortunately, there is a situation in most organizations where the supervisor is served up a never-ending supply of tasks to do and problems to resolve.

Let’s picture a supervisor named Marcie. She comes to work on a typical day with 2-3 problems left over from the previous night. Her calendar is jammed with discussions and meetings to report on the status of problems or work on emergency situations.

Perhaps there is an immediate need to reorganize her group because of an unexpected order or the absence of some key people.

She faces several new problems or crises every day. Sometimes the problems are waiting for her outside her door when she arrives in the morning. There are certain to be several new ones when she looks at her inbox or her manager shows up unexpectedly.

She instinctively knows the organization could run a lot better, but there is simply no time to even work on a long term plan. So, poor Marcie runs herself ragged and just keeps her head out of the water on most days. She goes home exhausted, yells at her kids, and tries to clear out a few more issues online before going to bed.

I call this condition the “Supervisor Whack-A-Mole” syndrome, after the famous carnival game. Every time a mole comes out of one of the holes you whack it down, but there are others emerging all the time. You can never get them all down at the same time, and they keep coming up faster and faster.

The poor supervisor feels totally overworked and cannot begin to think strategically about how to improve her conditions.

This problem is not universal, but it is far too common in most organizations. There is a way out of the maze, but it requires courage and vision. The way out is to invest time creating an improved culture within her team.

Supervisors need to see one of their key roles as creators of culture, not just problem solvers. Developing an environment of higher trust is an investment that pays off many times over the cost. This shift in mindset has numerous advantages.

First, carving out time where the entire team can work on trust issues will result in less friction between people in the future. Since many of the “problems” have to do with people being unable to work together efficiently, this investment pays off in two ways: Employees work better together with fewer problems, and employee satisfaction improves, resulting in greater productivity.

Second, by focusing on teamwork, the supervisor emphasizes that many employees are capable of solving the inevitable daily problems themselves. The supervisor has many willing hands to lighten the load of problem solving in the future.

The employees feel good about having greater responsibility as well. They become empowered and trusted to handle many situations previously delegated upward to the leader.

Third, the tendency toward burnout is greatly reduced when there is time set aside to work on the culture. Getting temporarily out of the “rat race” every once in a while to think about what is happening and do some planning is cathartic.

People have the opportunity to vent and rebuild relationships in a “safe” atmosphere. In some situations this is best handled with the help of an outside expert schooled in conflict resolution.

Of course, the supervisor needs to be creative and fit the development work into times when the pace of production is not at a peak level. This means she needs to consider how to get snips of time that would otherwise be not fully loaded and use them to figure out how to improve relationships among the team.

In the time crunch on every supervisor, many believe it is impossible to invest a few hours every few weeks to work on the culture. They are too busy solving problems and juggling all the balls on a daily basis. However, those supervisors who are able to carve out some time, find the payoff is far greater than the investment. It leads to a stronger, more productive, and more smoothly running organization. It also leads to fewer health problems due to burnout.

 

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor 17 – Leader or Manager

March 12, 2017

In my work, I do a lot with the contrast between leaders and managers. The topic takes on a special meaning for supervisors because the vast majority of time they are called upon to be great managers.

In this article I will contrast the difference between a manager and a leader, then I will make a case that supervisors need to be good leaders as well as managers for at least part of the time.

Here is a set of bullets that help describe the pure Manager’s mindset:

• Managers try to be a stabilizing force
• Make sure all rules are followed
• No waste – process perfection
• Minimize conflict
• Try to make people happy/satisfied
• Would like to be popular/liked
• Clone everyone
• Main tools – budget, MBO, accountability, process control, 6 sigma, lean
• Main objective – accomplish the mission
• Focus is on today

The mindset of a pure leader is very different. Here are some bullets on the Leader’s focus:

• Often a destabilizing force
• Are we following our destiny?
• Are people rising to their potential?
• Not afraid to be unpopular
• Get people out of their comfort zone
• Strives to be respected/trusted
• Always looking for potential – what could we become?
• Main tools – benchmarking, next wave, balance sheet, technology, resources
• Main objective – reach the vision
• Focus is on the future

If my contrasts are correct, the world of the pure leader is a very different place from the world of the pure manager. Supervisors naturally gravitate toward the management mindset because of their role.

Supervisors try to maximize the productivity of existing resources most of the time. They want everyone to show up for work on time. They want everyone to follow the rules, so the process runs exactly how it was designed.

Supervisors sweat the details of making sure everyone gets paid on time and that all workers are properly trained on their function. They also think about bench strength and make sure there is an adequate level of cross training.

Supervisors become the mediators when workers quarrel. They do the reinforcing and coaching of workers so they understand when they are doing well or need to pick up the pace.

Supervisors give the performance feedback and help to set organizational goals. All of these functions are management roles.

Mistake

It would be a mistake for a supervisor to stop at this point, because there is so much more that could be accomplished by the same group of people if some leadership skills were also employed.

Supervisors are not usually tasked with creating a vision for the organization, however they should be driving how the vision applies to the group being supervised.

In other words, the translation of the big picture vision into a vision for the shop floor is incredibly important.

In reality all supervisors take on management roles at certain times and leadership functions at other times. If you picture a scale from one to ten with one being pure manager and ten being pure leader, supervisors will be at three (dealing with a habitual attendance problem) one minute and then bounce all the way over to eight (envisioning a new method of cross training) the next.

It helps to picture this dynamic variety and recognize it when going about daily tasks.

By the nature of her work, a supervisor will spend more time on average doing tasks on the management end of the scale, but there will be ample time to function in the leader role.

Try to pay attention to the roles you play during your average day, and you will be surprised with the variety of tasks you do. It will enrich your job understanding and satisfaction as you do this little visualization exercise.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Successful Supervisor Part 14 – Performance Management

February 19, 2017

Preparing and giving performance reviews has historically been one of the most difficult functions for a supervisor. In this article we will discuss several ways to prevent this important function from being a huge chore and also note some mistakes that inexperienced supervisors often make.

For this article, I will focus on the typical pattern of feeding back performance in an annual review. I recognize that some organizations are moving away from the rather arcane process of an annual performance appraisal, but my observation is that the majority of organizations still use some form of it.

If your organization has moved on to more progressive ways to deal with performance feedback, consider yourself fortunate. You may still find some of these tips to be helpful regardless of the pattern your organization uses.

Here are seven tips for creating more constructive and easier performance reviews with employees. Feel free to contact me with other ideas you have on this topic. The potential improvements are almost endless.

1. Create an easier discussion

The formality of the supervisor’s office and a piece of written paper that contains information that has a material impact on the employee’s well being (read that “pay”) can be terrifying to the person.

Some supervisors ask employees to jot down notes in preparation before the performance review is written, so at least the employee has a sense that he or she had some input to the document.

The meeting itself should not be a surprise. Let the employee know at least a day before that you will have a performance review discussion on a specific date and time but don’t make it sound like a command performance at the police station.

Keep the conversation light and show by your body language that this will be a non-threatening meeting.

Say something like this, “The meeting is just a time for me to thank you for your good performance this past year and an opportunity for both of us to explore how you can take the next step.”

2. Do your homework

The appraisal must be fact-based and have specific examples for areas where performance improvement is indicated. Make sure the observations are your own, and do not use any information that is hearsay.

Don’t use a little black book where you jot down notes all year about the sins of the past. People will quickly catch on, and you will lose credibility.

The idea is to have the corrective feedback come via verbal input throughout the year, so there is no need to write down every issue. The exception to this rule is where the problem is large enough or the pattern is habitual, in which case the issue should be documented formally in the employee’s personnel file. That way the supervisor doesn’t need to remember what was said on any particular day of the year.

3. Keep it short

While the discussion may have a lot of words going back and forth, the actual written detail in the performance review should be succinct.

Get the information down and then edit it until it is readable, clear, and easy to digest. Avoid trying to sound professorial by using big or fancy wording. Keep the vocabulary at a level where the person being appraised can understand the written input without referring to a dictionary.

4. Show Respect

Since this input is of critical importance to the employee, give it the proper respect. Make sure your interview does not have any interruptions.

Turn off your phone and absolutely refrain from scanning your inbox or cell phone during the conversation. It is also a good idea to refrain from looking at your watch every few minutes.

Give every signal possible to demonstrate that the employee is important to you and that the conversation has your highest priority at the moment.

5. Watch the Body Language

The employee will be sending signals constantly that will tell you his or her level of comfort, if you are alert to the signals. Watch for wringing of hands, shifting in the chair, loss of eye contact, sweating, or other signs of anxiety and seek to reduce the anxiety by your words and your own body language.

Be aware that you are also sending body language signals to the employee. Try to keep a pleasant and caring demeanor even when the topic may be challenging.

Don’t raise your voice even if the employee does. Keep calm and in control by showing a gentle, yet professional facial expression.

6. Let the employee talk

Do not rush through the material and then ask at the end if there are any questions. It is a good idea to pause at several spots to let the employee get a word in edgewise.

Seek to have an even level of input from both yourself and the employee. Make sure to listen with high intensity to every word that comes back to you. If the employee wants to refute or mitigate a statement you have written, be sure you document his or her point exactly on the form.

Modulate the pace of the discussion so that it is a natural conversation between two adults. Take the time to consider the feelings of the employee and ask for reactions so you do not create an appearance of rushing through a difficult chore you want to cross off your list for the day.

7. Document any points of improvement

Every performance review ought to have the flavor of a conversation truly aimed at helping the employee. If there are areas of specific improvement, be sure to identify how the employee can make those improvements.

There may be a course to take or an article to read. There may be some group work you need to do with the entire team. At the end of the conversation, you want to leave the employee with a feeling of a fair evaluation and a positive path forward.

In addition to these seven tips, there are many things to avoid doing in a performance review.

1. Avoid surprises

Whenever a person receiving a poor performance review is surprised, it is a sign the supervisor has not been doing her job well all year. Performance feedback is best when there is a continual flow of information in both directions. The employee gets positive reinforcement when things are going well and constructive coaching when things need improvement.

If an employee hears in a performance appraisal for the first time that his tardiness and the number of smoke breaks have been hampering productivity, the supervisor needs some coaching.

The first rule of a performance appraisal is that the feedback should be a review of information that has already been shared specifically along the way.

2. Avoid making small talk

The employee knows he is there for a performance appraisal and is on edge. Trying to make things better by talking about the ball game or the weather does little to make the employee less nervous.

It is far better to conduct the interview with a pleasant tone of voice and some friendly body language than to try to make the meeting something it is not.

Forget the cotton candy and get down to business, but do it with a smile.

3. Avoid using the “Sandwich” Approach

There are numerous courses for supervisors. In most of them, one of the techniques advocated is called the “sandwich” approach.

The typical approach when a supervisor has a difficult message to deliver is to start with some kind of positive statement about the employee. This is followed by the improvement opportunity. Finally, the supervisor gives an affirming statement of confidence in the employee.

Some people know this method as the C,C,C technique (compliment, criticize, compliment).

The theory behind the sandwich approach is that if you couch your negative implication between two happy thoughts, it will lessen the blow and make the input better tolerated by the person receiving the coaching.

The problem is that this method usually does not work, and it often undermines the credibility of the supervisor. Let’s examine why this conventional approach, as most supervisors use it, is poor advice.

First, recall when the sandwich technique was used on you. Remember how you felt? Chances are you were not fooled by the ruse.

You got the message embodied in the central part of the sandwich, the meat, and mentally discounted the two slices of bread. Why would you do that? After all, there were two positive things being said and only one negative one.

The reason is the juxtaposition of the three elements in rapid fire left you feeling the sender was insincere with the first and last element and really only meant the central portion.

The transparency of the sandwich approach makes the employee cringe when he hears the first bit of praise because he can sense there is a “but” coming. In fact, it is a good idea when proofreading a performance appraisal before the interview, scan and eliminate every use of the word but.

It is not always wrong to use a balanced set of input, in fact, if done well, it is helpful. If there really is some specific good thing that was done, you can start with that thought. Make the sincere compliment ring true and try to get some dialog on it rather than immediately shoot a zinger at the individual.

Then you can bring the conversation to the corrective side carefully. By sharing an idea for improvement, you can give a balanced view that will not seem manipulative or insincere. Everyone’s performance is a combination of positive activities and improvement opportunities.

4. Avoid the final “pep talk”

Try to avoid the final “pep talk” unless there is something specific that you really want to stress. If that is the case, then it belongs upfront anyway. The supervisor may be tempted to say something like, “With all your skills, I am confident you can solve this little problem so your amazing performance in other areas will shine brighter.”

If that kind of drivel does not cause your employee to throw up on your desk, consider yourself lucky.

The very best advice for any supervisor giving a performance feedback interview is to use the Golden Rule. Just before the meeting, ask yourself how you would like the interview to go if the other person was the supervisor and you were the employee. Being kind and considerate will pay off, and using these do’s and don’ts will help, if you remember to use them.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763