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


Successful Supervisor 25 – Healing Damaged Trust

May 6, 2017

Building trust with employees takes constant diligence. It takes effort and skill on the part of the supervisor. Repairing damaged trust is equally vital, and it takes an extra measure of effort to do it well.

I liken trust with other people to a bank account, where we can make deposits or withdrawals in the account, and it is the current balance that determines the level of trust.

Note: since this series is about creating more successful supervisors, the points in this article will be made from the supervisor’s point of view rather than from the employee’s perspective. Recognize that there are always two dynamics going on whenever we are addressing interpersonal trust.

There are two main ways trust can be damaged: 1) trust lost because of an employee issue, or 2) trust lost because of an action by the supervisor. I will discuss these separately because the actions required to restore trust are not the same.

Trust loss because of an action (or non-action) by the employee

This is a pretty common form of trust problem. You trusted the employee to act in a certain way and were let down. In this case, the employee made a withdrawal to the trust account.

The first order of business is to assess the severity or magnitude of the withdrawal. An example of a small withdrawal might be making a lame excuse for not setting a process up according to procedure.

A large trust withdrawal might be stealing material or tools from the workplace and lying about it when confronted later.

Some trust withdrawals can be grounds for immediate termination of the employee. An example of this would be if the employee was acting in a threatening manner to you or other employees and pulled out a weapon.

While these situations are rare, they do happen and need to be dealt with urgently.

Assuming the employee’s withdrawal is major but not grounds for immediate dismissal, the path forward involves punitive action and documentation. The first point is to avoid procrastinating on taking action.

Once the facts are known, you must meet with the employee as soon as possible. Start by stating your understanding of what happened and ask the employee if that is accurate. If the employee denies the action (this is often the case) then you must produce the evidence. The employee now has a chance to refute the evidence or admit the action.

If the evidence is refuted, then it is best to engage some neutral party to investigate the case more carefully. A typical person to do this would be an ombudsman.

If the employee finally admits the action, then you should assess an appropriate penalty to fit the situation. At this point you should stress that there are two issues to deal with. First is the original action and second is the failure of the employee to fess up when the action was discovered. It is a good idea to keep HR informed of your actions, so in case of any escalation you already have a head start.

If the problem is simply a minor slip, then you need to figure out what form of coaching is the right way to handle this particular situation. The employee needs to understand the consequences of any future repeats of this kind of action.

One minor trust withdrawal can be erased eventually by excellent performance, but a pattern of minor withdrawals adds up to a permanent loss of trust.

Recognize that although the discussion will be between yourself and the employee, others in the area will be observing what is going on, so you may want to have a brief meeting to discuss the situation with the whole team before the rumor mill takes over and blows the event up to be more that it was.

Trust loss because of an action (or non action) by the supervisor

There are two major categories and hundreds of sub categories in this aspect. The first category is the ongoing behaviors of the supervisor and the second one is a single event or situation that is outside the normal pattern. Let’s take them one at a time.

Ongoing behaviors

Basically, any action or even body language, that works against building trust is some form of withdrawal. I have written many articles about how the behaviors of leaders are the most significant contributor to the level of trust in any organization. I believe this phenomenon is true at all levels and is particularly evident for supervisors.

It may not be an overt action at all; it could be the attitude of the supervisor toward the workers that causes a loss of trust. The supervisor is usually not even aware of the damage she is doing, yet it goes on daily.

The problem may also be the ambient culture of the entire organization that is causing the supervisor to behave in ways that cause constant trust withdrawals.

If the culture from above is toxic, it is effectively impossible for a supervisor to maintain high trust within her group. Hence, one conclusion for the cause of low trust is the behaviors of the senior-most leaders in the organization.

Culture starts at the top and cascades down.

A single event or situation outside the normal pattern

In this case, you have done something that undermines your credibility, and the employee (or usually group of employees) will immediately lose respect for you. The problem may have been major or minor, inadvertent or intentional.

For example, a major trust withdrawal made by you would be lying to employees when asked about an impending layoff. This is sometimes advocated by nervous executives who fear some kind of sabotage if the truth gets out early, so they put on a “gag order” on the information.

This is a very bad decision, because people are going to find out eventually anyway. Then you have lost the ball game. The best you can do is explain that the decision was made at a higher level, and you were powerless to go against it.

A minor trust withdrawal might be when you simply forgot to get back to an employee who made a request. Once the gaff is realized, you need to immediately meet with the employee and apologize.

You might explain that you deal with hundreds of issues every day and occasionally reach an overload situation. As long as the situation does not repeat, you will probably be forgiven.

If you get a reputation as a person who does not follow up on promises, then your ability to lead the group will be severely compromised.

Repairing damaged trust is a skill that needs to be learned through conscious effort. Compromised trust should never be ignored, because it can begin a form of organizational dry rot that will threaten the ability of the team to perform and ultimately lead to your removal as a supervisor.

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


A Mirror for Leaders

June 1, 2013

MirrorOne of the most pervasive and vexing problems in organizations is that most leaders do not realize the damage they are doing on a daily basis. When leaders are blind to the trust withdrawals they make, there is little opportunity to create an environment of high trust. I believe trust is the most critical element for any group, so this problem of leadership blindness holds back many organizations. Is there a way out of this conundrum? I think there is.

What we need is a kind of “mirror” for leaders so they can see their own contribution to the problems that they desperately want to solve. If such a mirror existed, how would we get a leader to use it daily? Brilliant leaders have already found the ability to see their own contribution to lower trust, and they are able to change things themselves. Unfortunately, the world is not full of brilliant leaders, so the average ones, and especially the poor ones, need some assistance.

We have ruled out the individual leader as the person who has the ability to see his or her contribution to a poor culture, so it must fall to some other person or force to do it. In the mind of most leaders, things would be vastly improved if only “they” (other people) would be more dedicated, smart, open, cooperative, cheerful, willing, trustworthy, and a thousand other things. If we asked a random person from the organization to step up and be a sounding board for the leader, it would not work. That person is part of the problem, in the leader’s opinion, so the information brought by the individual would fall on deaf and annoyed ears.

A better approach would be to identify a “Mirror Coach.” This is an individual whom this leader really does trust (there is always someone). This person is the key to having the leader begin to see that she is frequently operating at cross purposes to her intent. In most cases leaders want higher productivity, greater teamwork, people showing initiative, good attitudes, a pleasant place to work, etc., but on a daily basis they do things that take the organization 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Once a leader begins to understand this paradox and is willing to ask, “What do I need to change in my own behaviors to have the kind of results I want from my team?” the door is open to better leadership.

There are four steps to create an effective Mirror Coach for leaders:

1. Identifying the right person

We must identify an individual who has enough purchasing power with the leader to allow a series of frank conversations. This person must not be perceived by the leader as a primary source of the problem. It might be a kindred spirit within the organization to whom the leader has confided in the past. It could be the leader’s own manager, if that person is not also clueless. It could be a coach or outside mentor who is brought in to help clarify improvement opportunities. It really does not matter where this person comes from, as long as he or she has the ear of the leader to discuss some uncomfortable topics without getting thrown out of the office. A trained coach is often the best solution here.

2. Getting the person to agree

The appointed individual needs to understand the assignment is fraught with peril. There is already some rapport established with the leader, and the education process requires some frank discussions that are not comfortable. Change is difficult. The Mirror Coach must honestly believe that he or she is there to provide a crucial service to help the leader grow. Sure, there are going to be some tense moments, but if a stronger and more healthy organization is the result, the Mirror Coach can visualize the role as vital to the future of the organization as well as to the leader. It is an ultimate challenge.

3. Getting the leader ready to listen

This step is the hardest part of the process. The leader has been convinced for a long time that the problems reside with “them” not “me,” so focusing energy on how “I can change my own behaviors” will feel like it is misdirected. It is an act of faith to take the first step.
One way to enable helpful dialog is to have the leader verbalize that things could be better for the organization. Bring in a coach who can work with the senior team (not just the boss) in a series of “lunch and learn” sessions. Eventually, the coach will earn the trust of the boss and gain the purchasing power to have some constructive, albeit difficult, conversations.

Once a leader is willing to get help in the form of a Mirror Coach, something magical happens. The stark realization of the unsuccessful nature of what has been done up to now is a good place to start. Also, the leader may have associates or mentors outside the organization who can advocate that a different approach is worth a shot. All that is required is for the leader to be willing to examine his own contributions to his problems and be willing to explore possible alternatives.

4. Reinforcing the leader for making behavior changes

By taking some baby steps in the direction of modifying behaviors, the leader will be showing a different side, and the people in the organization will react very positively to it. They have been living in a kind of tyranny for so long, any movement in a positive direction will produce endorphins of positive energy that will be obvious to the leader, especially if the actions are encouraged by the coach. Continual reinforcement of the small behavioral changes will persuade the leader to keep the momentum going.

After some initial cautious steps, the leader will become more bold about changing his own behaviors to create the kind of environment where his goals are easily met. The process becomes self-sustaining rather quickly. There is one caution during this transformation.

The behavioral changes needed to sustain a culture of higher trust are not the natural style for the leader, at least in the beginning. There are going to be some relapses and false steps along the way. Both the general population and the Mirror Coach must not lose faith when the leader hits a speed bump. It is important to put any missteps into the perspective of what has already been gained in order to recapture forward momentum.

Progress in the leader’s ability to see the trust problems as rooted in his own behaviors defuses the culture of blame. No longer does the leader see workers as the primary source of problems. While this may be unsettling at first, it is really liberating for the organization because significant progress toward a higher trust environment is apparent every day, and productivity will skyrocket.

Having a Mirror Coach help the leader shift focus from blame to one of behavior modification creates more objectivity because the emphasis will be on understanding cause and effect rather than witch hunting. The new habits will allow more heart-based communications to occur in contrast to the prior one-way directional communications. The leader will learn to relax and have more fun at work while still getting much more accomplished. The source of a poor environment is always a mutual problem for everyone in the organization.

Everyone in the organization stands to benefit from a better environment, so everyone needs to be a part of the solution. With care and patience, the entire team can create a culture where behaviors support the values and vision, so it becomes a win, win, win. The organization wins due to better performance, the workers win due to fewer conflicts, and finally the leader wins because he or she reaches the challenging goals quicker and with less turmoil.