Successful Supervisor 35 – Communicating with your Group

July 16, 2017

In my last article, I dealt with improving face-to-face communication with individuals using the VARK Model, but often supervisors are called on to communicate information verbally to their entire group.

The skills to do this successfully are different from the ones used to get a message across to a single person, because the group contains people with different communication styles.

There is a group dynamic that can create negative momentum that is not present when working with one individual. Normally, you can read the body language of one person rather easily.

When the information to share is good news, supervisors usually have no problem just getting everyone together and sharing the information. When the news is problematic for the workforce, supervisors often make mistakes that lower trust or even cause more angst than is necessary. It is this case that I want to explore in this article.

When the supervisors are faced with trying to explain information that people really don’t want to hear, it is a real test of their leadership ability and communication skills that many supervisors cannot pass.

Here are some tips that will be helpful to improve the results when communicating negative information.

Have a Plan

If the subject is difficult, it is worth the time to do some concrete planning. Don’t just call everyone together and “wing it.” Consider the reaction you are likely to get and think through how to keep things from spiraling out of control.

You may want to have an HR manager attend the meeting, or you may want to even have some security people available and ready just in case.

Outline the key points, and make sure the sequence is not confusing. Put yourself in the seat of a person who is known to react strongly and test the validity of your approach based on that insight.

Anticipate the issues, fears, and questions people might have and be ready to address them.

Use Different Forms of Communication

Each individual will absorb information most readily based on whether he or she is a visual, auditory or kinesthetic communicator. If the supervisor just speaks (auditory) the information, it will be picked up accurately by the auditory learners but often not by the people who have alternative styles.

Use a chart or a slide to illustrate (visual) your message visually and then get people to share their feelings about the message (kinesthetic).

It will not make the information any easier to take, but it will ensure a better understanding of the message by everyone.

Try Communicating with Smaller Groups

If the news is particularly bad, like an impending layoff, the supervisor would be smart to deal with small family groups rather than a large room full of all the people impacted.

For example, she might get together with the crews on a packaging line for a briefing early in the morning and have a separate meeting with the inspectors later that same morning. Recognize that the rumor mill will spread the bad news very quickly, so do not space out the small groups with a lot of time in between.

Since this communication is one person to many by design, it is important to keep people from shouting insults or derogatory comments and keep the focus on questions for clarification. The smaller group format will be particularly helpful for this.

Body language is extremely important to convey a calm demeanor, even though the topic is troubling. The tone of voice should be soft and low, and the information should be shared in its unvarnished ugliness, but avoid using inflammatory words in the description.

Rehearsing the delivery is important for very sensitive discussions. Trying to sugar coat bad news is a mistake many supervisors try to use in order to get out of a tough situation. It usually does not work.

Allow People the Opportunity to Grieve

Upon hearing bad news, people tend to go into shock. They need to go through the stages of grief in order to work their way through a transition. If you try to deny the grieving period by promising some good things to come, they will become hostile and make the situation worse.

Allow them to feel badly, if that is appropriate, and promise that you will be there for them as they work through the situation. By acknowledging the grief and showing you care about them as people, you will actually be helping them cope during the shock period.

Don’t Lie or Weasel

Often supervisors try to protect themselves by blaming other people or some situation out of their control in order to soften the blow. This strategy will usually backfire.

People have a keen ability to sniff out the BS, so be sure to tell the truth and do not try to weasel out with some lame excuse why it is not your fault. If they are going to blame you anyway, there is nothing you can say to stop that, and any attempt to deflect blame will make things a lot worse for you in the end.

Keep in mind that to these people, you represent the organization.

Set up an Open Channel for Future Communication

Most supervisors have an “open door” policy where people can stop in the office to chat whenever they need it. When there is bad news, it is smart to redouble the accessibility and make an overt attempt to be out there with people.

In doing so you will be one-on-one with individuals, so you can use the VARK Model to match your communication style to their preferred channel.

As a division manager, I noticed that when there was bad news in the air, supervisors tended to cloister themselves in their offices, thinking it would reduce exposure. That behavior only inflames the matter.

I always advocated that supervisors (and managers at all levels) consciously double the time they spend mingling with people in the difficult times. It allows people more opportunity to vent, which reduces the pressure.

In addition, you have the opportunity to squash any false rumors that happen to spring up. During difficult times, rumors seem to take hold and spread with ease.

Make Small Gestures that Show You Care

There is an old saying that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Look for ways to show empathy, but avoid saying something false like saying “I know exactly how you feel.”

I learned a long time ago to avoid saying that phrase to someone who just lost a loved one. It is better to say something like “I cannot imagine the pain you are going through now.” At least that is an honest statement.

The very best approach to use with people is to ask yourself how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed. This “Golden Rule” approach normally is the safest one to use in sensitive times.

All supervisors and managers go through times where difficult messages need to be disseminated. If you approach this task delicately and with sincerity, you can get through it with grace, and your subordinates will appreciate it, even though they are not happy about the message.

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 33 Passive Aggressive

July 2, 2017

I have mentioned all kinds of difficult employees in this series, but as yet I have not mentioned the “Passive Aggressive.”

On Wikipedia, the malady is described as “the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, stubbornness, sullen behavior, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.”

For a supervisor, dealing with a passive aggressive is particularly challenging because this individual will eventually do the work requested, but the supervisor has to deal with a lot of pushback and rotten attitudes on a continual basis.

This employee has a kind of disease that is like a cancer that will spread if left unchecked.

If the passive aggressive employee was operating in a vacuum, the supervisor might be able to endure the strain, but the impact this type of employee has on the whole team becomes a huge impediment to the culture of the organization, and thus he or she must be dealt with effectively.

To give you a sense of what a passive aggressive employee might sound like, consider a situation where the supervisor is trying to create some energy to tackle a particularly challenging task for her team.

The passive aggressive might listen with a bored look on his face and then utter one of his favorite expressions: “Whatever…”

Let’s look at some tips for dealing with a passive aggressive (PA) personality.

Tips for Supervisors

Call them on it

The PA employee appears to be uncooperative as a way of gaining attention. His ultimate goal is often to skate the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior with great care to remain employed but still make life miserable for his supervisor.

If she would simply indicate that his pushback has become an unacceptable level, then the PA employee is likely to change behavior, at least temporarily.

Once a change in attitude is obvious, the supervisor can give gentle but not effusive praise. In some cases, this shift in feedback is enough to make a more lasting shift.

If the employee falls back into a pattern of PA behavior, the supervisor can say something like, “Oh, you were doing so well with a more positive attitude; let’s not slip backward at this point.”

Take a direct approach

With some people, a direct approach of a heart to heart discussion with the employee will work. Simply point out your observations and let the employee know you are not going to tolerate his antics. In some situations that will be enough to bring the employee around.

You can ask the employee for help because of the negative effect his passive aggressive behavior is having on the operation.

In taking this approach, refrain from threatening the employee with an “or else” statement; simply put the request out there and appeal to his nobler side.

Work on Accountability

I have written extensively on Accountability earlier in this series, so I will not repeat the ideas here, but in the accountability discussions, the supervisor can gain some leverage with a passive aggressive.

Stress that it isn’t enough to be accountable for the work getting done. Each person needs to realize that he or she has an impact on other people as well.

The PA employee can reduce the effectiveness of any group by lowering the morale of everyone. That action will lower productivity and cause missed commitments.

A process of peer pressure that sends a signal of unwillingness of the group to let the PA employee hamper the success of the group can be very helpful.

Don’t Accept Excuses

Part of the way a PA employee gets to slack off without repercussions is to make lame excuses for not doing what was expected. The supervisor can thwart this kind of behavior by simply refusing to accept excuses for poor or late work.

Just be alert to the words being used by the employee and when the word “because” comes up, make a statement that you are not going to tolerate it.
Simply blow by the excuse as if it was not even stated, and get back to the requirements.

Soon, the PA employee will realize that the ploy does not work with you and stop trying to use it. Be vigilant, because he will continue to test you periodically to see if he can wear you down. The message needs to be that missed deadlines are not erased by cooking up some reason why the problem was not the employee’s fault.

Focus on reality

The PA employee lives in a kind of fantasy world of his own making. You can bring the conversation back to reality by simply restating the requirements. If the employee is resistant to this approach simply state “The situation is XYZ and you need to do ABC now.” You can also spell out the consequences of not complying with duties.

Hide Your Goat

Often the passive aggressive employee is just trying to push your buttons to see how far he can go before you get rattled. Basically, he is trying to “get your goat” to see what you will do about it.

Steve Gilliland, an acquaintance from the National Speaker’s Association, suggests that you can simply hide your goat.

You need to refuse to get upset and just turn the negative energy back at the employee with a comment like, “I know what you are doing, and it is not going to have any impact except to make you look immature in the eyes of your friends.” Now you are using a form of peer pressure to bring the employee back into line.

Confirm Established Goals

The PA employee is compromising the ability of the group to accomplish its goals. Point out that there is no relief from the pressures on the organization, and that the entire team is responsible for meeting the goals. Point out the employee’s contribution to the common goal and relate the situation to a sports analogy where the entire team needs to perform well for the mission to be accomplished.

Working with an employee who uses passive aggressive tendencies can be exasperating, but you ultimately can control the behavior and shape it to be acceptable. Use the tips in this article to help you win the battle and remain in control.

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 31 – Reducing Conflict

June 18, 2017

Conflict between people is simply part of the human condition. Organizations are a good place to observe conflict because they have all the ingredients that encourage people to bicker.

First of all, people are in close contact for many hours a day. It is a fact that if you put people together for a long period of time, they are going to end up driving each other crazy. It happens like spontaneous combustion at the bottom of a pile of oily rags.

The second condition that encourages conflict is stress. Organizations are constantly under stress to optimize performance of all their resources. The most typical stressor that causes conflict is time.

People tend to overvalue their own contributions and undervalue the contributions of their work mates. It is just the way we are programmed.

I got interested in this topic of conflict a couple years ago and actually wrote a 30 part video series entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.” Each video is only 3 minutes long and each one has an exercise to instill a new habit that can reduce conflict between people. The series was produced by an organization called “Avanoo.”

Here is a link to a free sample of three videos from my series.

In this article, I want to give a few overarching tips that may be most helpful at the supervisor level. The subject is endless, so you may wish to contribute your favorite tips after reading mine.

Appreciate Differences in People

Each person is unique, so what works for one person may not be ideal for others. In addition, we each see the world through glasses that only we can see through.

When we witness another person doing something that does not look or feel right to us, we grit our teeth and instinctively push back, trying to get the other person to see it our way.

I call this phenomenon the “I AM RIGHT” condition, and I have purchased hundreds of three-inch buttons with those words on them. I give them out at all my seminars on trust.

The tip for the supervisor is to recognize that each person is wearing an imaginary I AM RIGHT button all day.Since each individual experiences every facet of organizational life through his or her own paradigm, it is no wonder conflict erupts.

The supervisor can help people recognize that we have no choice but to see things from our perspective, so it is perfectly natural that there will be tension at times. Try to see the other person’s perspective as being valid, and you will reduce conflict.

Go Back to the Sense of Purpose

Even though people may see things from different perspectives, we can usually get along much better if we remind ourselves that we share a common purpose.

We may have different functions, but we are all important parts of the process, and we are all needed to be at our best if the job is to get done well.

The supervisor is the main coach to help people understand the purpose and remember the larger mission when tempers flare about how to do things.

The supervisor paints the vision of the whole organization onto the canvass that represents her part of the whole and makes sure everyone sees that connection. When people recognize that they are all pulling in the same direction, the individual idiosyncrasies don’t have as much power to polarize them.

Build a Culture of Trust and Love

When a group of people trust and love one another, the seeds of conflict have a difficult time taking root. Building a culture is a daily task that never ends, but the task is a joyous one because the end result is a much happier existence, not only for the supervisor, but for everyone on her crew.

Building that kind of culture takes tending and constant effort. First of all, the supervisor must model the right kind of behaviors herself at all times. She must be the source of love and trust between people, even when things get tense.

It is her actions and words that make the difference every day. The most powerful thing a supervisor can do to build that kind of culture is to make the environment safe and not phony.

Eliminate Playing Games

If you observe most stressful groups at work, you can see that much of the time people are playing head games with each other in order to gain advantage. The environment is phony and full of intrigue. The supervisor needs to create a kind of culture that is real, where people are able to disagree without being disagreeable.

Hopefully the organization has a concrete set of values, and the supervisor must adhere to those values in every conversation and action (especially body language).

The workers are there to do a specific job, but that does not mean the atmosphere needs to be heavy. Great teams make the work light and fun, because they support each other and bring each other up. The supervisor needs to understand a great culture begins with her.

Avoid Inter-Group Conflict

Another common problem is that group cohesion can become so strong that silos begin to form. The workers bond together and against another group in the process as the enemy.

You can observe a kind of Civil War going on in many organizations on a daily basis. It is amazing to witness this hostility, because if you go up to the next level the warring groups are really on the same team.

It is up to the supervisor to keep her area from losing this larger perspective. One idea to accomplish this is to share resources with parallel groups. If team members see an unselfish person in their supervisor, then the ability to maintain proper perspective is easier.

These are just a few of the ideas in my series on “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.” For the supervisor, these ideas may seem like a heavy load, but the joys of doing things in an uplifting way makes the work a labor of love.

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 30 – Finding the Key to Motivation

June 11, 2017

I love the study of human behavior and have been actively pursuing it for about 40 years. Maybe if the good Lord gives me another 30 years I will begin to understand the subject more fully.

Human behavior is as complex and far reaching as any topic I can think of, yet for any manager, and especially for a supervisor, the more insight she has the more effective she will be.

A few decades ago, I learned that the sources of motivation are intrinsic and each person is unique. We can see some general patterns in large groups, but the individual differences swamp any ability to understand what drives a person by looking at the group they belong to.

That is why I avoid trying to characterize people by their demographic.
When people ask me how to motivate a millennial, I tell them to stop thinking of the person as an age group and think of him as an individual.

When students get into arguments about whether men or women make better leaders, I tell them to forget the gender stereotypes and think about the unique gifts of each person.

I once had a wise mentor, as my direct boss who happened to be a volunteer fire chief on the side. He and I were walking through a manufacturing plant one day and said, “Do you see that inspector over there? He is a total slug at work. We have to light fire crackers under him to get him to even move. He has no motivation at all; but you should see the transformation when he walks into my fire station. He becomes a ball of fire who does extra duty without even being asked.”

That conversation has stuck with me for years. The key to motivation is to get to know what lights up a person and find a way to provide more of that element.

Using that method, I was able to turn around numerous people who seemed to be lost causes in terms of motivation. I just needed to find out what was in their firehouse and bring more of those elements into the workplace.

If you are a supervisor, try to avoid thinking of all your workers as basically the same. Study their body language and observe what is going on when they get fired up.

Talk to people about their hopes and dreams. Find out what they are looking for in life and show them how you can provide that better than anybody else can. You will see a metamorphosis of motivation that is truly amazing.

Looking for the particular key to a person’s motivation takes a lot of work, but it is like fun detective work, and the impact you can have as a supervisor will be huge if you master this skill.

Think of yourself as the “Columbo” of your organization; just forget about the cigar.

Don’t worry about converting every laggard in the organization. You cannot save everyone. Some portion of people just want to remain lifeless and miserable.

Focus your attention on the people you can fire up. In my experience, roughly half of the people who are underperforming can be super stars, if they are properly led. It is your job to make that happen.

When you can take an individual who is basically dead weight or a complete albatross and convert that individual to a sparkling example of motivation, your reputation of being exceptional about leading people will be assured.

Have fun with the technique, because only you will know the secret to how you are achieving such remarkable results.

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 28 – Dealing with Bullies

May 28, 2017

In any group of people (or even animals) there is usually one or more bullies. For this series I will give tips for people, but if you spend much time watching animals you will see ample evidence of bully behavior.

For any supervisor, the bullies take up an inordinate amount of time and energy to keep in check. Reason: these people have found out that they can usually get their way by being the most formidable people in the group.

They learned that the technique works years ago on the school-yard playground.

In order to have peace in the valley, other people eventually learn to not challenge the bully, so it falls on the shoulders of the supervisor to maintain order. Sometimes it is the supervisor herself that exhibits the tendencies of a bully.

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the school yard to Congress, from the boardroom to the barroom, and from the Waffle House to the White House. We universally abhor the behavior in school kids, but yet we often see it practiced every day as adults.

We know the incredible destructive nature of bullying because all of us have been bullied at some point in our lives, and we know it does not feel good. We know it leads to suicide in rare cases, especially in children, because they do not know how to cope with the powerless feeling of being bullied. They would simply rather die.

It is also true that each one of us has been guilty of bullying another person at some point. If you wish to deny that, you need to think harder. Some of us have played the role of the bully more than others.

Some supervisors have bullying down to a fine art. Unfortunately, people in power positions have a greater temptation to use bullying because it is a way to obtain compliance. The problem is that, in organizations, mere compliance is not going to get the job done.

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language. It also occurs when headstrong managers or supervisors become so fixated on their own agenda that it renders them effectively deaf to the ideas or concerns of others.

They become like a steamroller and push their agenda with little regard for what others think. In this area, there is a fine line between being a passionate, driving leader who really believes and advocates for the goal versus one who is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view.

While we are mammals, we have a more developed brain and greater power to reason than lesser species. If we use that power, we should realize that bullying behavior usually leads to the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

Bullying may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run.

If you are an elk, I suspect you are only thinking of the situation at hand and reacting to a threat to your power or position. You are not thinking longer term about relationships and possible future alliances, nor do you care how your behaviors might inspire other elk to perform at their best.

The aptitude to plan and care is what separates man from the animal world.
Applying this logic in an organization is pretty simple.

Supervisors who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility. While this practice may produce short term compliance, it works against objectives long term.

By taking a kinder approach, supervisors can achieve more consistent results over the long haul and obtain full cooperation from people rather than simple compliance.

Here are ten tips to reduce the tendency to bully other people:

1. Ask if you would want to be treated this way – Simply apply the Golden Rule.

2. Observe the reaction and body language in other people – If they cower or retreat when you bark out commands, you are coming on too strong.

3. Be sensitive to feedback – It takes courage to listen when someone tells you that you are being a bully. Ask for that feedback, and listen when it is given.

4. Speak more softly and slowly – Yelling at people makes them feel bullied even if that is not your intention. When you get excited, lower rather than raise your voice. Keep in mind that the definition of what constitutes being yelled at is in the head of the “Yellee” rather than the “Yeller.” (My apologies to “Old Yeller”).

5. Ask for opinions often – Managers who seek knowledge, as opposed to impressing their brilliance or agenda on others, have less tendency to be bullies.

6. Think before speaking – Ask yourself if this is the way to gain real commitment or just temporary compliance. Is it good for the culture?

7. Reduce the number of absolutes you use – Saying “You never do anything right” cannot possibly be true. Soften absolutes to allow for some reason.

8. Listen more and talk less – When you are shouting at people you cannot possibly hear their rationale or their point of view. Hear people out; do not interrupt them.

9. Don’t attack or abuse the weak & Don’t be a “Steamroller” – Just because you know an individual is too insecure to fight back is no reason to run over him or her. It only reveals your own weakness.

10. Write your epitaph – Regarding your relationships with people close to you, how would you like to be remembered after you are gone, or even tomorrow?

Supervisors must recognize that when they are bossing people around, they are really working at cross purposes to the culture they would like to have in their area. It takes effort to retrain yourself to avoid bully-like behavior if you have been practicing it since you were a child. Following the tips above is a good place to start changing.

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 27 – Keeping Discipline

May 21, 2017

There is a natural tendency for people to test their supervision. I believe this universal condition stems from people’s desire for maximum comfort and the ability to control how they use their time.

In most, but not all, cases this condition forces the supervisor to maintain discipline within her group. I will deal with an exception at the end of this article.

In order to obtain maximum efficiency, most organizations establish rules that are expected to be followed. For this article, I will use the example of the length of breaks, but the same logic holds for all rules that employees are expected to follow.

Let’s say that in this organization there are two breaks from the work, one about half way between the start of the shift and one midway between the lunch break and quitting time.

The standard break has been set in this organization for 15 minutes. It is up to the supervisor to enforce this rule along with all of the other rules of deportment.

She notices that the time her employees are actually off the job for break time has started to creep higher than 15 minutes because employee need to shut down the process and travel to the break room.

First they go to the bathroom to take care of physical needs and wash up, then they go to the break room, or some of them go outside for a smoke break (more information on smoking later in the article).

The employees sit in the break room chatting and snacking for 15 minutes, but the actual time off the job turns out to be closer to 25 minutes. The supervisor wonders if she should say something because the total lost production time for the break is typically nearly twice what was intended.

The supervisor decides not to be hard-nosed on this point and gives the extra time so employees can have a reasonable break. Then she starts to notice the actual time in the break room starts to lengthen to roughly 20 minutes, making the total production loss more like 30 minutes.

She still wrestles with whether to come down hard on the crews, because she can anticipate they will get even with her in some other form of work slowdown over which she has little control.

This pattern of extending breaks goes on and continues to get worse with time until the supervisor is forced to do something. What she does and how she does it will make the difference between success or failure. It will also determine the level of true respect she receives going forward.

The easiest way to handle this situation is to put a notice on the bulletin board or write an e-mail to all employees that “from this point on we will adhere strictly to the 15 minute break periods.”

That course of action may work in certain cultures, but it will backfire with most groups. What she will get is a kind of scorn that mocks her attempt at discipline.

I recall one manager early in my career tried to enforce quitting time by memo. What happened is that one of the technicians built a “bugle” out of copper tubing, a funnel and a pneumatic fitting.

Every day at precisely quitting time he would blow the bugle to signify time to go home and everybody would stampede to the elevator. Essentially the employees were mocking the manager’s attempt to control the time employees left for the day.

Solutions

1. Discuss in small groups

One way to control the following of rules is to work with people in small groups and discuss the reasons for the rules. The supervisor can be open to suggestions but ultimately has to ask the group if they intend to follow the rules.

If they say “yes” then she should ask them to police themselves in that behavior. If they say “no” then the supervisor might ask what it would take for them to comply. I believe asking questions in these situations is more helpful than citing rules from the book.

2. Identify the informal leader and enroll that person as an ally

In every group there is one or more informal leaders to whom the rest of the people look to for guidance. Usually this person is easy to spot.

The supervisor can confide in the informal leader her dilemma at getting people to keep breaks to a reasonable level. She can ask for the informal leader’s help or suggestions as to how to get people back to a reasonable break length. If the informal leader gets up from the table at roughly the specific time for end of break, then the others will notice and break up their visiting quickly.

3. Join the group but leave at the proper time

The supervisor can actually join the group of workers to have some social time and have a break along with the others. She can then get up from the table at the appropriate time. This action puts everyone on notice through behavior rather than trying to reason with people verbally or by e-mail.

4. Avoid trying to incent people to follow the rules

I knew one supervisor who tried to regain control by offering a pizza party at the end of the week if the crews would only comply with the specified break times. This approach is a kind of slippery slope that will become an albatross down the line. Do not provide additional incentive for people to do what is expected of them. You do not reward a driver because he stops at a red light.

5. Examine the rule to see if it should be altered

If shutting down the process plus a bathroom break take so long that there is no real “break” without stretching things, maybe the rule is too restrictive. The supervisor could lead discussions on how to make up the productivity losses to give employees a sense of ownership.

Often some form of staggering break times is a reasonable solution. That way the process can limp along and never shut down throughout the break period.

Special situations with Smoke Breaks

Smoke breaks are a special condition that can easily get out of hand. The ultimate problem with frequent smoke breaks occurs with fellow employees who have to cover for the person who is outside indulging his habit. This stress can become a real problem for any group. Here are some ideas:

1. Make it illegal

Many organizations have made the entire premises a smoke free zone, and that ends the stress of people taking too many smoke breaks. Supervisors need to be sensitive to people who are truly addicted. Sometimes medical assistance during the transition is helpful.

2. Confine the activity to the standard break time

Some groups allow smoking only during standard break times in an effort to be fair to all employees. In other words, let it be known that a person can smoke on break time but then not be allowed to take an additional 20 minute break for another smoke the very next hour.

3. Have a Wellness Program

Many groups run wellness programs that encourage employees to do a number of things to improve their overall health. Coaching on quitting smoking can be one of the major things a supervisor can employ to help people improve the quality of their lives. This may involve professional help from the outside.

Owning the Rules

At the start of this article I promised to address a different kind of ownership of the rules. Many companies have adopted practices that allow employees to feel true ownership of the business. There are several organizational techniques that can lead to this kind of ownership.

One such arrangement is an ESOP, where the employees are literally the owners of the business. As the business does well financially, the employees are directly compensated for that good performance.

There are several other methods to achieve a similar dynamic, and where it is truly embraced throughout the organization, the need for a supervisor to enforce rules becomes significantly diminished.

If you are a supervisor in a conventional organization, realize that the employees are going to test you in every way imaginable. You must be worthy of the test and maintain good control without becoming like Ebenezer Scrooge.

You also need to determine when it is necessary to bend a rule for a personal emergency situation. These tests will determine your level of effectiveness, because they ultimately define the culture in which your employees work.

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 26 – The Supervisor in a Transition

May 14, 2017

Organizations go through changes periodically. I wrote an entire book on the topic of Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.

In the book I highlighted the role of the supervisor when organizations make large scale changes that impact how people work.

This article will highlight some tips from the book to help managers guide their supervisors to be successful when transitions occur.

When I discuss transitions in organizations, I am referring to any structural change in the way the people interface with their jobs. The spectrum runs the gamut from small department restructurings all the way up to corporate mergers and acquisitions.

In this article, I will refer to mergers and acquisitions, because the challenges of these kinds of transitions are easier to visualize, but the same issues also exist to a lesser degree in other transitions.

Whenever people are forced to deal with a new set of rules and different set of people, there is a transition that has to go smoothly or the organization will suffer or even fail completely.

There are some unique issues that make supervisors particularly vulnerable, but at the same time extremely valuable in a transition. Get this part wrong, and you will severely hamper the reorganization; get it right, and you will be halfway to success.

The common thread with frontline supervisors is that these people operate at the critical and delicate junction between the management layers and workers on the front line. Depending on the type of work being done, supervisors come from a variety of backgrounds.

The typical history is that the supervisor was once an individual contributor who did very well on the job over a long period of time. Through dedication and deep content knowledge, this person sparkled relative to her peers. When an opportunity arose, this individual was tapped to become a supervisor.

Another common situation with supervisors is that they often are put on the job with little training. They already have deep process knowledge and have shown a natural tendency toward informal leadership, so they are given the responsibility.

Often they receive no training at first, and later it is forgotten because the person does just fine from the start. There is, however, a lurking weakness that surfaces during any kind of transition.

The attitudes of supervisors during a transition are critical influences on how the employees react to the change. More than any other relationship in the organization, trust is maintained or lost by the workers’ relationship with their direct supervisor.

If supervisors model a cooperative and adventurous spirit and keep looking for the good, it can help people see that positive outcomes are possible. If the supervisors are rolling their eyes and visibly displaying their own fears, then that attitude is going to be picked up and amplified by the people who work for them.

It is impossible to act out positive behaviors if they are not deeply implanted, because people are reading body language at every interaction, and they will pick up the true attitude of the supervisor quickly.

In reorganizations, the operational processes are subject to combinations or modifications in order to accommodate the changing nature of the business. Often the new entity will be a combination of companies with completely different cultures, perhaps even different languages.

This new dynamic could be threatening to supervisors, since their license to lead is often their familiarity with the work rather than deep leadership skills. Changing their work means their platform to lead has potentially been compromised. Couple that with the inevitable push to reduce supervisory headcount, and you have an opportunity for some terrified people in these roles.

You absolutely cannot afford to have any weakness showing through to the workers during the process, and the supervisor is the critical link to demonstrate the management point of view. This issue can be a huge problem in a transition. Thankfully there are approaches to deal with it.

Training

The antidote here is training, and the cost for the training program should be included in the original financial analysis for the merger. Front-line leaders need more and different skills during a transition. They also will require some cultural training if the combined organization involves groups from other cultures.

The training should begin as early as possible and contain supervisors from both groups so that early team bonding can occur. Getting to know the front-line leaders in the other half of the organization will pay huge dividends as the process unfolds.

For one thing, these supervisors can be more easily interchanged later on. Also, having personal relationships with other supervisors enables more sharing of resources.

This integrated training is a major way to prevent the “us versus them” thinking that hobbles so many reorganizations.

Coaching

Another suggestion is to develop a “coaching corner” for all supervisors. This is a mechanism for management to work face to face with supervisors during the planning and execution phases of a transition.

It is important to have all supervisors emotionally engaged and pulling in the direction you wish to go. If they favor a different path, they will take the spirit of the masses in the wrong direction every time and you will not get them back easily.

Special briefings and team activities for supervisors will keep them actively supporting the effort because they are helping to design it. Remember the old adage, “Change done to me is scary, but change done by me is energizing.”

Convert or Remove Naysayers

Finally, it is vital to cull out any supervisors who would sabotage the effort, even unwittingly. It is not hard to determine who might undermine the effort. Some supervisors will not agree with the change.

Try to convert those who would push against the change. Many times, through careful attention by management, an individual can be turned around. I call this process “adopting a supervisor.”

Basically, the manager gets very close to the supervisor through a series of informal conversations to figure out what makes the person tick. It takes time to do this, but the payoff is very high.

The advantage is that after a while you get to identify which reluctant supervisors are worth trying to save. Focus your efforts on them and develop a plan to move the others out of leadership positions.

This action can, and should, be done routinely, but it becomes an essential ingredient during reorganization. You cannot afford to have a supervisor who is not completely on board with the effort. She will poison the attitudes of people who work for her.

The most wonderful part of this coaching process is that you have the opportunity to turn some powerful negative forces in the organization into powerful allies. Keep in mind that the supervisor was originally selected based on her ability to be an informal leader.

Turning a negative person into a positive force is a huge swing in the right direction. If you can simultaneously remove the sour individual, who will never change, that is also a blessing.

Adopting a supervisor may seem like a very time-consuming effort. The change is not going to occur in a week, but the daily time investment is not great. What it takes is resolve and persistence to work with those you want to convert. Select the people who are worthy of your limited time and invest in them.

Recognize that the supervisor is a key position during any kind of organizational transition. If you work hard to provide the ideas and tools in this article you will go a long way toward having the transition be successful. If you ignore these ideas, then the entire change process will likely be compromised.

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