Successful Supervisor 18 – Avoid Playing Whack-a-Mole

March 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


Successful Supervisor 17 – Leader or Manager

March 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Successful Supervisor Part 15 – The Meaning of Success

February 26, 2017

Since this series of articles is all about success, I thought one article on the actual topic of success would be in order.

Stop for a minute and think about what success means to you. Think about a highly “successful” person you know. How would you describe what it is that makes him or her successful?

I have been doing this exercise in my leadership classes for over 15 years. Surprisingly, the two conventional methods of determining success are rarely identified by the leadership students.

When I was growing up, success was often described in financial terms. A successful person had a lot of money to throw around and lived in a big house.

Alternatively, we used to think of success in terms of power. The higher you were in the organization and the more people you had reporting to you, the more successful you were.

People in my classes do not focus on money or power when trying to describe success. Instead, they mention things like, being happy, reaching a goal, finding love, family and friends, and other more social manifestations of success.

If they mention money, it is only to have enough to not be in need. I then share with the class that two deceased philosophers taught me an alternate view of success.

Napoleon Hill and Earl Nightingale were early pioneers of leadership research who had a major influence on my understanding of the subject. Napoleon spent his entire adult life pursuing the essence of leadership, and he put his thesis in a book entitled “Think and Grow Rich” as well as several other works both written and audio.

Actually, his first book was a set of eight volumes published in 1928, entitled “The Law of Success.” He later distilled his findings in an audio series titled “The Science of Personal Achievement,” where he enumerated his 17 Universal principles of Success.

The work is still available, and I highly recommend it. Napoleon Hill died in 1970 at the age of 87.

Earl Nightingale was a protégé of Napoleon Hill. He was a US Marine Corporal and was one of only 15 Marines who survived the attack on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.

After the war, he became a radio announcer and studied leadership with Napoleon Hill. Earl is credited with clarifying what he called the strangest secret after reading countless books on philosophy and leadership.

After many years of study, he boiled down the wisdom of the ages into just six words:

“We become what we think about.”

Many philosophers and researchers have come up with a similar conclusion about success. Here is a brief video on the topic that I call “Discovering the Same Vein of Gold.”
Earl also wrote about personal success and recorded an outstanding audio program entitled “Lead the Field.”

Over the years I have practically memorized the entire program. Earl wrote that the single word that governs our happiness all the days and years of our lives is “attitude.”

We have the power to choose how we react to the things that happen to us in life. The quote that stuck with me the most from Earl’s program was a succinct definition of success. He wrote:

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.”

Earl’s contribution means that “anyone who’s on course toward the fulfillment of a goal is successful now. Success does not lie in the achievement of a goal…it lies in the journey toward the goal.”

The concept hit home to me because it changes everything. Most people go through life not feeling particularly successful because they have not yet reached their goal in life.

Nightingale said exactly the opposite. You are successful as you strive for that which you seek. Actually reaching a goal is simply a milestone: a moment to reflect and celebrate. But to continue being successful, you must quickly move on and strive for another more lofty goal.

Earl used the example of children at Christmas time to illustrate the point. He noted that kids are excited and happy on Christmas Morning as they anticipate and hope for wonderful gifts.

On Christmas afternoon, once all the presents have been opened, one would think the kids would be at their peak of happiness, yet they are often cranky and a little depressed at that time.

The reason is that all the magic and anticipation are gone. Sure there are toys to play with, but the zest is now blunted, even if what they received was more than they expected.

Success is strongest when we are reaching or striving for something. We feel alive and full of energy. Another way to describe the phenomenon is a quote from Cervantes that:

“The road is better than the Inn.”

Success is in the pursuit of a worthy goal. This means that you are successful right now as you are working and struggling to improve your lot in life, as long as you have a goal.

As a supervisor, if you are reading and studying about leadership, you are successful right now. If you are taking courses or otherwise growing in your leadership knowledge, you are a success.

You do not have to wait for someone to put a crown on your head to feel the elation of success; you already possess it as long as you are a lifelong learner or a person who is giving back to others as a goal.

Imagine the happiness that would exist if every supervisor realized this profound wisdom. As a result of reading this article, you now have that wisdom. You are more successful just because you read this article.

Use this knowledge and teach it to others as just another way to cement your own personal success.

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

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


Successful Supervisor Part 14 – Performance Management

February 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

1. Create an easier discussion

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

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

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

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

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

2. Do your homework

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

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

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

3. Keep it short

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

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

4. Show Respect

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

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

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

5. Watch the Body Language

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

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

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

6. Let the employee talk

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

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

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

7. Document any points of improvement

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

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

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

1. Avoid surprises

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

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

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

2. Avoid making small talk

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

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

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

3. Avoid using the “Sandwich” Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Avoid the final “pep talk”

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

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

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

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

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


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