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


Successful Supervisor Part 13 – Emotional Intelligence

February 12, 2017

I believe the skill of Emotional Intelligence is the single most significant discriminator between highly successful supervisors and those who struggle.

While Emotional Intelligence (called EI for short) is of critical importance at all levels of management, it is essential for supervisors who have to juggle the needs of first line employees simultaneously with those of upper level managers.

First we will explore what EI is and why it is critical, and then I will describe the process of how any supervisor can gain higher EI.

While the first recording of the phrase Emotional Intelligence was by Michael Beldoch in 1964, the concept was popularized by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence published in 1995.

Goleman hypothesized four quadrants of Emotional Intelligence as follows:

1. Self Awareness – Ability to recognize your own emotions

2. Self Management – Ability to manage your emotions into helpful behavior

3. Social Awareness – Ability to understand emotions in others

4. Relationship Management – Ability to manage interactions successfully

A more recent book (2009) which I found easier to read was by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves entitled Emotional Intelligence 2.0. If you have not been exposed to this book, perhaps my article will whet your appetite to purchase it. I hope so.

The authors start out by giving a single sentence definition of EI. Emotional Intelligence is “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”

The book contains a link to an online survey that lets you measure your own EI. This is an interesting exercise, but it lacks validity, because people with low EI have blind spots as described by Goleman. You might rate yourself highly in EI when the truth, in the absence of blind spots, is somewhat lower.

Still it is nice to have a number so you can compare current perceptions to a future state after you have made improvements. Just recognize that your score reflects your opinion of your own Emotional Intelligence and that it may or may not be very accurate.

Most of the book consists of potential strategies for improving Emotional Intelligence in any of the four quadrants described above. You get to pick the quadrant to work on and which strategies (about 17 suggestions for each quadrant) you think would work best for you.

The approach is to work on only one quadrant, using three strategies at a time for the most impact. The authors also suggest getting an EI Mentor whom you select.

The idea is to work on your EI for six months and retest for progress, then select a different quadrant and three appropriate strategies for that one.

The most helpful and hopeful part of the book, for me, is where the authors discuss the three main influences on our performance: Intelligence, Personality, and Emotional Intelligence.

The observation is that it is almost impossible to change your IQ (Intelligence) and very difficult to change your Personality, but without too much effort, you can make a huge improvement in your EI.

The improvement opportunity is to train your brain to work slightly differently by creating new neural pathways from the emotional side of the brain to the rational side of the brain.

We are bombarded by stimuli every day. These stimuli enter our brain through the spinal cord and go immediately to the limbic system, which is the emotional (right) side of our brain.

That is why we first have an emotional reaction to any stimulus. The signals normally have to travel to the rational (left) side of the brain for us to have a conscious reaction and decide on the best course of action. To do this, the electrical signal has to navigate through a kind of ribbon in our brain called the Corpus Callosum.

The Corpus Callosum is a flat belt of approximately 300 million axonal fibers in the brain that connects the right and left hemispheres. How easily and quickly the signals can move through the Corpus Callosum determines how effective we will be at controlling our emotions. This is a critical part of the Personal Competency model as described by Goleman.

Now for the good news: whenever we are thinking about, reading about, working on, teaching others, etc. about Emotional Intelligence, what we are doing is training our Corpus Callosum to transfer the signals faster.

This means that working with the concept of EI is an effective way to improve our effectiveness in this critical skill. Let’s take a closer look and share an example of how this training can help prevent a situation called “hijacking” where a person over reacts to a stimulus before thinking about the consequences.

People with low EI, often lash out at others based on the emotional response to a stimulus in a process often called “hijacking.” In this case, the emotional outburst is not tempered by a rational judgment of the consequence of that response.

A good example of a person experiencing hijacked emotions occurred at a basketball game in 2014, as described below.

At a critical moment near the end of a basketball game between Syracuse and Duke, the referee made a call that the Syracuse coach, Jim Boeheim, called “the worst call of the season.”

The score was 58-60 in favor of Duke with only 10 seconds left in the ballgame when a basket by a Syracuse player, C.J. Fair, was waived off for what the official called a charging violation.

Boeheim obviously did not agree with the call, but he totally lost his wits and charged the ref while stripping off his coat and yelling over and over that the call was “Bulls%*#.” He stuck his finger right between the eyes of the official.

As a seasoned coach, Jim would have been well aware of the consequences of his actions before he did them. SU was slapped with a technical foul, Boeheim was ejected from the game, and Duke went on to win the game easily (66 to 60).

Even though Jim knew the consequences of his outburst, he was unable to control his rage and reacted in a way that was not at all helpful to his objectives. That shows low EI, right? Not so fast.

This is a prime example of “hijack behavior,” where the emotional reaction simply overpowers the ability to perform logic. Does this mean Boeheim always has low Emotional Intelligence?

I think not, and if you had him do a self evaluation of his EI, he would probably score pretty high most of the time, even though in that instance in front of thousands of witnesses he displayed amazingly low self control. Reason: In his mind the reaction was justified based on the importance of the game, the nature of the call, and all of the other emotions within him.

If it was not justified to him, he would not have done it. If there was a better course of action, he would have done that rather than throw away any chance to win and look like a raving idiot to thousands of fans.

Jim Boeheim could have benefitted by some prior training in EI, so he would have had a split second to let the emotional reaction be tempered by the consequences of lashing out as he did. To do that, Jim should have practiced the art of moving information across his corpus callosum much faster. If he did, Syracuse might have won the game.

After reading Emotional Intelligence 2.0, my awareness of my own emotions has been heightened dramatically. I can almost feel the ZAP of thoughts going from the emotional side of my brain to the rational side. Oops, there goes one now!

Given that roughly 60% of performance is a function of Emotional Intelligence, we now have an easy, and almost-free, mechanism to improve our interpersonal skills.

I hope you will go out and purchase this little book, particularly if you are a supervisor. For leaders at all levels, EI is the most consistent way to improve performance and be more successful.

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 11 – Learning to See

January 29, 2017

One interesting technique I picked up many years ago while studying and implementing “Lean Manufacturing” is the concept of “learning to see.”

Since most of us are sighted, it seems like a funny concept to discuss, but once your eyes are opened to the data that is before you, the revelation is startling.

For supervisors, the ability to really see what is actually happening is a vital skill that should be cultivated.

The concept was first revealed to me in a 1999 workbook entitled, Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Add Value and Eliminate MUDA (MUDA is waste in Japanese) by Mike Rother and John Shook.

The concept was to have a set of rules whereby one could draw a diagram of any process that showed how the materials and value flowed from one part of the process to the others.

Value stream mapping is not rocket science, but the method is pretty technical and has a language all its own, which takes some time to learn. The end result of a value stream map is a cartoon-like diagram of the entire process on one page.

The benefit of a value stream map is that once you go to all the trouble of gathering the data on various aspects of how the process works, you really understand it. All of a sudden you can visualize or see the way things are supposed to work and flow.

That knowledge is invaluable when the process gets off course, because you can quickly identify the root cause of the bottleneck and usually resolve it. You can also redesign parts of the process so there is higher efficiency and lower waste.

One limitation of value stream mapping is that it does not deal with the level of motivation of the people who make the process work. How people interface with the process and with each other turns out to be pivotal considerations.

I like to extrapolate the concept of “learning to see” into the people part of the business. Of course people are not as stable and predictable as things like inventory or shipping, but the notion of a solid feel for how things should be working between people at work is pretty handy.

For a supervisor, as long as everyone is present and doing his or her job correctly, then everything is fine. However, any supervisor will tell you that it takes a rather amazing alignment of conditions for everyone working on the shop floor to be doing the exact right things at the same time.

Imagine the challenge of trying to get an orchestra to operate in perfect sync if there was no conductor marking the time.

The benefit of utilizing lean technology when working with people is that the supervisor can walk out on the shop floor and “see” very quickly what individual needs assistance or coaching. She does not have to wait until the wheels come completely off the process and there is some sort of calamity before taking corrective action.

A good supervisor will instinctively know that the operator over in cell 7 needs some help now. She will notice that the inspector on line 2 is in need of a training refresher. She will identify that the squabble between Alice and Pete is getting in the way of their productivity, causing a bottleneck, and slowing down the entire operation.

The tricky part is teaching the supervisor how to see. To accomplish that, experience and awareness are essential. The more a supervisor knows her people and the potential pressure points in the process, the more she can be alert to the early warning signs of trouble and step in when correction is easy.

Beyond experience, the supervisor needs to develop a kind of sixth sense that allows her to see around corners. It is akin to the concept of Mom having eyes in the back of her head, so she knows to check things out when the kiddies are too quiet.

A really brilliant supervisor can walk out on the production floor and quickly sense the trouble over in the corner operation. As she moves toward the scene, she takes in data through all her senses, and by the time she arrives on the spot she not only has a good idea of the problem but also the root cause and how to fix it.

Here is where the danger comes in. With that kind of instinctive knowledge, she can easily overlook a condition that is different from the normal fault pattern and start correcting the wrong thing or coaching the wrong person.

Tips to consider if you are the supervisor

The antidote is to take the sum total of historical information into account when diagnosing issues, but to keep an open mind to potential new patterns. Listen carefully.

Pause long enough to be certain the symptom you are seeing is real. It is like the situation where the mother whips around to see why things have gone quiet for the last 30 seconds only to see her two children on the floor carefully working on a puzzle together. Nothing is wrong, and no corrective action is required.

Your ability to handle this kind of complexity and have a decent track record of keeping things going is what makes you so incredibly valuable to your organization.

Keep on the move constantly and try to anticipate issues before they become big problems. You need to live and breathe the process on a moment to moment basis and understand it at a level few others do.

If you are a less experienced supervisor or someone new to a particular area, try to see the entire process operating as one flow, and be sure to include people aspects in your analysis. The more you can do that, the more valuable you will be to the operation.

Once you learn how to “see” your operation well, you will be among the elite supervisors, and that is a pretty satisfying feeling not many people experience. Eventually you will know how the entire process works better than anyone else in the organization, and that knowledge makes you one of the most valuable employees in the enterprise.

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 9 – Motivation

January 15, 2017

Many supervisors make some fundamental mistakes in the area of motivation, and it costs them dearly. It seems paradoxical that the actions intended to improve motivation actually have the reverse effect in many cases. This article will untangle the complex ball of string known as motivation and look at why it is so elusive for some supervisors.

The conundrum starts with the way many supervisors use the word in day to day conversation (by the way, everything I am saying about motivation here applies to all management ranks, not just supervisors). The word “motivate” is most often used by supervisors as a verb. “ I need to motivate the team to get this done by Thursday.”

This type of phraseology sounds perfectly natural and, in fact, is the most common form of usage, but it is a huge red flag.

The problem is that when supervisors use “motivate” as a verb, they reveal a thinking process that demonstrates they don’t understand the underlying premise of motivation and how it is created.

Motivate is not something you can “do to” someone else. Motivation is an intrinsically generated phenomenon. It is the role of the leader to generate the kind of culture where the employee chooses to become motivated. The drive to want to do more has to come from inside the employee, not be a lay on from the supervisor.

The best advice is to think of motivation as a result that will naturally occur when people are properly led. For example, if the supervisor has built an environment where people feel respected and trust is high, then the supervisor is already in the area code of high motivation.

On the other hand, if the supervisor has a pattern of telling people what to do, then micromanaging them while they do it, no amount of cajoling or fancy techniques is likely to produce much motivation. It just annoys the employees.

Many supervisors believe that motivation is something that can be bought with favors, bonuses, lax enforcement of rules, or other types of perks for the employees. The truth is that all of these techniques move employees toward lower trust in the end. They may increase satisfaction temporarily, but they will not produce the internal reactions required for higher motivation.

Over 60 years ago, behavioral scientist Frederick Herzberg did a series of experiments designed to uncover what types of things lead to higher motivation in people. He found that material things, which he called “hygiene factors,” often have an impact on employee satisfaction for a brief period, but do little to change the underlying conditions needed to improve motivation.

The secret sauce for motivation lies in things like autonomy, responsibility, recognition, trust, authority, and other intangible ways to demonstrate respect and self worth of employees.

To achieve true and lasting motivation within the work force, supervisors need to continually work on a great culture. Make sure everyone knows the values and goals of the organization.

Have the employees be part of creating the vision for where the organization is going. Continually work on teamwork and care for each other. Those types of things form a culture in which most employees will choose to motivate themselves.

If there is the slightest hint of hypocrisy within the management ranks, where people hear one set of words but observe something else, it will douse the flame of motivation like a bucket of cold water impacts a lit candle.

For example, a favorite value that many organizations espouse is “Our employees are our most important asset.” Well, that sounds really good, but in order to walk the talk, when a business slowdown occurs, the top managers need to sell inventory and buildings rather than furlough workers.

Not many organizations actually act that way, so it is unwise to have a value that is contrary to what the managers actually do.

Hypocrisy is a cancer that will kill most kinds of motivation quickly.

Another common trap that supervisors make is to treat everyone the same way. It sounds sacrilegious to make that statement, but it is literally true. When you treat all employees the same way, you are ignoring that each person has a different set of needs.

The famous basketball coach, John Wooden once said, “The easiest way I can play favorites among my players is to treat every one of them the same way.”

Certainly it is important to enforce rules with an even hand and not favor one person over others, but beyond that, supervisors need to take individual differences into account as they deal with their employees. That means getting to know and respect each one as a person and find out what makes that individual tick.

An example of that occurred early in my career when I was working for a wise manager. One day he pulled me aside and said, “Do you see that inspector over there? We can hardly get him to do anything around here no matter what we do. He is a total slug here at work. But he is a volunteer in the fire house where I am the chief, and the minute he walks into the fire house, he lights up like a Christmas tree.”

The way to get top performance out of each person is to find out what is truly controlling his or her motivation and provide as much of that element as you can. Forget the bonuses, hat days, or t-shirts, etc. and focus on getting to know your people well. Treat them right, and build an environment of trust and respect.

You will see motivation unfold before your eyes. Avoid using the word motivate as a verb, because it is not something you “do to” people; it is something that naturally happens when people are well led.

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 8 – Satisfying the Top Brass

January 8, 2017

While a great deal of the energy of any supervisor is directed toward the people she leads, the practice of managing the relationships upward and sidewise is always an equally challenging dynamic. In this article we shine a light on some dynamics that help or hinder the relations with superiors and peers of the supervisor. Let’s start with superiors.

Keeping Upper Management Happy

It is universal: the boss is looking for performance without problems. As long as things are humming along and there are no major complaints coming from the area, the supervisor will likely be in the good graces of upper management. If delivery, quality, or cost start to slip below the expected level, then the supervisor will be asked to explain why.

Often the true reason is that the variation in performance is the result of common cause variability, so the correct explanation W. Edwards Deming would urge the supervisor to give is, “Nothing is wrong and stop wasting my time trying to explain common cause variation.”

Of course, while that answer is technically correct, it is a stupid strategy to use. You do not wave a red flag in front of a bull unless you are a professional bull fighter. The supervisor needs to come up with some reasons why performance is lagging and be very politic when giving them to top management.

For example, one typical scenario is that the policies set from on high are killing morale on the shop floor. The supervisor needs to frame up the information using positive suggestions rather than fixing the blame at the managers who came up with the stupid policies in the first place. Let’s compare a right and wrong way to explain why productivity has slipped causing costs to go up.

Right – “People seem to be more upset than usual. It may be due to a combination of things, but I think if we can soften how we explain the new overtime policy they may feel like management understands and is sensitive to their situation. Also, maybe we can phase the new policy in more slowly. That would go over well because people will have time to adjust to the new rules.”

Wrong – “Productivity is in the toilet because of the overtime policy you announced last week. When you abuse people and piss them off, they are bound to get even with you in some way. You throw crap at them, and you are likely to get some of it thrown back at you.”

One of the most difficult situations for any supervisor is when she is ordered to implement a management decision that is bound to make her subordinates angry. In most cases, the supervisor will take the side of the employees, so in meetings where the top brass is describing the new policy, the supervisor is likely to speak out about the negative consequences of following it. To the managers, the supervisor is not being a “team player,” and the more she digs in, the worse it gets for her.

When a supervisor is forced to administer a policy that she thinks is ill advised, it becomes almost like an interpersonal crisis. She knows that pushing back is going to hurt her, yet her sense of rightness has been violated and it becomes like a moral decision. These times can be very challenging for a manager at any level, but they are particularly stressful for the first line supervisor.

At times like this, having a trusted mentor or coach somewhere in the organization is quite helpful. The supervisor needs to take the long view and try to understand the logic of the policy. If she can at least partially support the decision, then things will go a lot better in the implementation.

Trying to explain the policy to her subordinates is another moment of truth. It is wrong to say, “I told them they are crazy to implement this policy and I fought it like crazy all along the way, but, of course, they won.”

A much better way to verbalize the situation is, “This policy is probably not what you were all anxious to hear, so let’s look at the situation as objectively as we can. Recognize that to be successful yourself, the organization you work for must succeed. In addition, what is a good move for some people may not be popular for others, but we are all in the same boat ultimately. We need to be successful as a group before any one of us can be successful individually.”

Hint

When the supervisor has to administer an unpopular policy, it is best to give people time to grieve. If the supervisor tries to convince people that they are really going to like the policy in the long run, they will become angry and hostile. Instead let people feel sad about the perceived loss and deal with their emotions over time. After the shock wears off, then there will be time to bring out some points that provide a more positive light.

Getting along with peers

Supervisors are usually intensely loyal to the people working for them. They work incredibly hard to have their employees respect them. They may also be protective over some of the gems in the bunch so as not to lose them. Peers view what is going on from a different vantage point that is often in some kind of competition for resources.

Many supervisors tend to “circle the wagons for warfare” in a visible way that does damage to peer relationships.

The best approach is to earn a reputation as someone who is willing to help out others outside her own influence. That means being willing to listen to contrary opinions without becoming prickly. It means extending favors where possible to help another supervisor look good. It means being the bigger person and not holding a grudge if something does not go her way.

It also means being willing to share vital resources to enhance the development of the best people. The image I like to encourage is to walk around with a bundle of olive branches every day and see how many you can give away.

In the daily chaos of conflicting needs up, down, and sideways, the supervisor needs to be a cheerful and calming influence who is viewed by her workers as a strong advocate and enthusiastic cheer leader who is fair. She must simultaneously be a diplomat with her peers and upper management to influence decisions and create sound policies.

The most successful supervisors have the knack of operating seamlessly in these three modes while maintaining poise at all times. That is a very tall order.

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 7 – Using Peer Pressure

January 2, 2017

Everyone knows there is such a thing as “peer pressure.” It is kind of intangible at times and often hard to control, but the group mentality has a lot to do with how people behave. It is also pivotal for morale and engagement in the workplace.

For a supervisor, trying to harness and use peer pressure is often a minefield. From the outside, it may look and feel manipulative, yet to ignore its existence would be a significant missed opportunity.

In this article, we will examine the phenomenon of peer pressure from several different angles and examine some of the ways to use it with integrity and also some ways it can be abused, leading to the opposite impact than the supervisor intended.

The first principle is that not every situation and group is the same in terms of how peer pressure is manifest in the organization. The wise supervisor realizes that there is such a force but holds back from trying to use it until she has a firm grasp of the social structure and what is actually going on.

Why is peer pressure so powerful?

In any group, from inmates in a prison yard to cabinet members of an administration (can you tell the difference?), a set of interpersonal behaviors emerges that tells the members who they are and how they act in certain situations.

These preferred behaviors are rarely written down, and they are most heavily influenced by the informal leader of the group. Note: the informal leader is the person to whom people listen the most, and it is often not the actual leader of the group, unless that person is an especially talented leader.

For ease of communication in this article, I will call the expected set of behaviors the group’s Code of Conduct, or COC.

In any set of circumstances, the COC determines how the group members are supposed to act and react to the daily challenges that come up. The attitude of the members, in most circumstances, will be consistent with what the COC prescribes.

The COC can shift a bit based on local conditions or periods of uncertainty, but in general it is a stable set of group norms that everyone in the group understands, albeit sometimes unconsciously.

A supervisor who understands the COC is able to predict with reasonable accuracy how the group will respond to a stimulus or challenge. This knowledge can be a blessing or a curse for the supervisor.

If the supervisor uses the knowledge to manipulate people, they often resent it and push back hard, because they have a feeling of being maneuvered into doing something. The Supervisor’s logic would feel like this, “I’m going to lay this out so that you have no option but to do what I want because of your own rules of behavior.”

If instead, she uses the knowledge to demonstrate her affection and understanding of the group, it can endear her to people in a helpful way. In this case, the logic would feel like this, “I know your group prefers to hear things that affect you quickly, whether the news is good or bad. I always provide timely communication, so you know where things are headed. I inform you as soon as I know something out of a sense of respect.”

Follow the Leader

Humans, just like animals, establish a kind of informal pecking order in terms of leadership. In any group there will be an inner council of the most influential people, and typically, one leader of that pack. This person sets the tone of the group with regard to its attitude toward the supervisor and management in general.

Often the supervisor was a former leader of the informal pack who was elevated because of her obvious influence. In this case, another individual will backfill for the, now-promoted, former leader to become the new leader of the pack.

For the supervisor, the good news is that it is not hard at all to figure out who the informal leader is. The territory is staked out and defended by all forms of body language and tonal qualities when the person is speaking. The informal leader does not need to be the most vociferous person in the group, although sometimes that happens. The overarching characteristic is one of greater influence than anybody else in the group.

Once the person has been identified, it provides an opportunity for the supervisor to tap into that person as a resource. I like to think of the process as just becoming a lot closer to the person. When I employed this method, I actually felt like I was “adopting” the person in order to understand him or her at a deeper level.

Whether the informal leader is generally negative toward management or positive, it helps the supervisor to have a wide open channel of communication with that individual. Of course, the supervisor is smart to create a bond of trust with every person in her group, but that mandate is amplified when it comes to the informal leader.

The enhanced communication channel is always a two-way street. The individual benefits from understanding the point of view of the supervisor better, and the supervisor gains the understanding of what makes the person tick.

The supervisor can test possible ideas with the person, in confidence, and get some feedback on whether they might be embraced by the group. If the channel is wide open, then the informal leader will tell the supervisor immediately when she is pushing the group too hard or is about to blunder into an unwise policy for the group.

I like to think of this relationship with the informal leader as having a bottle of “Anti-Stupid Pills” that can be doled out to the supervisor whenever a remedy is needed most. If the supervisor reacts in ways that makes the informal leader glad to have shared the information, it will deepen the relationship of trust, and the leader will be more inclined to share sensitive thoughts in the future.

All of these dynamics usually happen in private, but the information, and the supervisor’s reaction, are quickly communicated to the group through informal channels. In this way, the group becomes well informed and the supervisor is protected from making bonehead decisions inadvertently.

The danger of this method is that the supervisor is singling out a person for more attention. People can easily pick up on this dynamic and become negative about the relationship. The smart supervisor works to maintain constant communication with everyone on a daily basis and fosters a cordial relationship with each person.

Try Better Teamwork

Another common method of appealing to peer pressure without being manipulative is to foster a true sense of teamwork within the group. Supervisors who invest time and energy into helping their teams work very well together gain in numerous ways.

In my division, I encouraged each manager and supervisor to take his or her team off site for at least a half day every month. I found over the years that these team building and strategy sessions paid for themselves ten times over in terms of productivity for the remainder of the time. Reason: when people know and respect each other as mates, then the backbiting and dysfunctional behaviors usually melt away.

The precaution here is to test every time if the off-site work is still helping the team to grow. Sometimes, and with some groups, the teambuilding efforts can become a burden or an unwanted disruption. It is important to test the vitality of the interfaces periodically.

One important ingredient was to have a good facilitator who was not on the team guide the discussions and activities. Paying for these facilitators was an investment I was happy to make because the benefits outweighed the costs by orders of magnitude. When people feel great about being on a winning team, they gladly put forth extra effort daily, and any would-be slackers are brought around through peer pressure.

What to avoid

Basically anything that might be interpreted as manipulation has a bigger chance of backfiring than succeeding. A common mistake supervisors make is to pit some people on the team against others in a form of intimidation. It is a ploy that is easily detected through body language, and it lowers trust instantly. If there is a discipline problem with one or two people, the supervisor needs to own the issue and work with the problem people directly rather than attempt to have the group do it through peer pressure.

Another thing for the supervisor to avoid is participating in any form of gossip or rumors. These hurtful practices lower trust and cause a lot of damage. I once had a supervisor who had “loose lips.” She would go around telling people information “on the QT” and people learned quickly not to trust her.

Basically the logic is simple; while the supervisor was whispering some juicy information about someone else, the recipient is thinking, “I wonder what she tells other people about me.”

A part of integrity is keeping confidential information from leaking out. Further, it is the supervisor’s responsibility to coach any individuals who spread rumors that leaking confidential or questionable information about other people, regardless of their position, will not be tolerated.

These are a few of the tips on how and how not to utilize peer pressure if you are a supervisor. They come from my own experiences along the way. There are countless other techniques that may prove helpful to you. My advice is to monitor what tools you find most effective and practice them consciously and with care. Peer pressure is powerful and can be a significant positive force in any group, if it is properly managed.

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 6 – Pulling Rank

December 26, 2016

Think back to when you were a child and you wanted to bend the rules. For example, maybe you wanted to eat a big ice cream cone an hour before dinner. You probably remember a parent saying “No, you can’t eat one now, you’ll spoil your appetite.”

Then, being a child who knew what he wanted, you would persist and start to whine. “Why is it important that I have a good appetite?” Back and forth you would go with your parent trying every kind of logic you could think of until finally the parent said some form of “You cannot do it because I said so. I am the parent and you are the child, so forget about it.”

Now think about how you felt about that logic. If you were like me, you probably went off muttering something like, “It’s not fair. Someday I’ll be the parent; then I can do what I want.”

Supervisors who pull rank in order to get people to do something are playing the parent-child game, and the employees can be heard muttering to their friends about it in the break rooms. The tactic can work to force a specific behavior or result, but the supervisor will pay dearly in the end.

Pulling rank on people almost always results in lower morale and lower performance with people, so why do so many supervisors use it? Let’s peel back this issue and dissect several things that have a bearing on this conundrum.

You might believe that supervisors have forgotten how it feels to be outranked, but that is not a valid reason because every supervisor has a boss and several others above that person. It is likely that she has the same feelings about some of the things she is ordered to do.

Pulling rank is about obtaining power through position. It is certainly possible to do, but there are definite negative side effects. When people are forced by rank to do something, it demeans them and robs them of their dignity, so they are instinctively vengeful.

When you pull rank to get people to do what you want done, it “feeds the hog.” Let me explain what the “hog” is. In the lumber industry, after they fell a tree and cut into usable boards, there is some scrap wood with bark still on it.

There are various outlets for this byproduct. One method is to use a giant wood chipper and feed the unusable boards into this so-called “hog” to make them into small chips that can be compressed for pellet fuel or used as mulch or to make paper products.

One sawmill supervisor was using a lot of command and control tactics with his shift workers in order to get them to perform. Since the boss had the higher rank, they were forced to comply, which they begrudgingly did.

But the minute the boss left the immediate area, the workers started feeding the good boards into the “hog.” By “feeding the hog,” these workers were getting their revenge on the supervisor in ways he could not easily detect.

Motivation to do the right thing is not enhanced by a command and control approach to people. Oh sure, you can force them to do what you say, but you will regret it later.

The better way is to inspire motivation inside the workers to do things the right way because they are convinced it is to their benefit to do so. They become intrinsically motivated to do what the supervisor wants to have done. We will discuss motivation in more depth in a future segment. For this article let me just list several ideas to create intrinsic motivation so that the supervisor doesn’t need to resort to pulling rank.

Create a culture of trust

This technique was discussed in a prior article. It works because with the right culture, the supervisor is not operating in a hostile atmosphere. People are willing to listen and to extend themselves because they are treated well.

Share a compelling vision

If people clearly see that they are better off doing what the supervisor is suggesting, then they would be foolish to resist. People understand that work is work, but they will willingly extend the needed effort if they see they will benefit by it personally or achieve an inspiring goal.

Articulate a common and aggressive goal

Goals can be burdensome or inspiring depending on how they are presented to people. Stretch goals are often better than mediocre goals, simply because they bring out a desire to reach and stretch. People often rise to incredible levels of performance if they are challenged by a leader they truly respect.

Build a sense of team spirit

People work better collectively when there is a spirit of love and good feelings between the individuals. When the boss tries to demand performance, it creates an instantly hostile environment. If some team spirit does develop in that environment, it will be the workers banding together against the boss. That leads to all forms of sabotage in order to “get even” with the supervisor. Smart supervisors understand that they are on the same team as the workers and build rapport with themselves included in the team spirit.

Reinforce right behavior

Sincere reinforcement done “the right way” is the best way to perpetuate good performance. When the supervisor has an attitude of trying to catch people doing good things so she can praise them, the atmosphere becomes less of a sweat shop and more of a congenial or cheerful workplace.

Advocate for people and their needs

If the supervisor becomes known as a person who will “go to bat” for the desires of her workers with higher up management, it displays that she is a strong advocate for their well being. That does not mean she always needs to take the side of the workers in every conversation, but at least people know she will do her best to argue their case in higher management discussions. That behavior breeds respect, and respect is the fuel required for an engaged workforce.

Study Emotional Intelligence

The ability to work well with people at all levels and read them accurately is an essential ingredient of good leadership at all levels. It shows most starkly at the supervisor position. If she is able to read the emotions of people, even before they verbalize them, then she will manage the daily situations for better outcomes rather than constantly putting out emotional fires. That is a huge advantage.

There are dozens of other things that can be done to allow a supervisor to obtain sustained excellent performance without having to resort to rank. The above list is a good starter kit that will allow any supervisor to do a fine job as she hones her craft, through experience, to become a master leader.

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