Successful Supervisor Part 7 – Using Peer Pressure

January 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

Why is peer pressure so powerful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the Leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try Better Teamwork

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

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

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

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

What to avoid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Successful Supervisor Part 6 – Pulling Rank

December 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create a culture of trust

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

Share a compelling vision

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

Articulate a common and aggressive goal

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

Build a sense of team spirit

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

Reinforce right behavior

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

Advocate for people and their needs

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

Study Emotional Intelligence

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

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

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

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


Successful Supervisor Part 5 – Testing Limits

December 18, 2016

It seems so simple that there is a set number of rules for workers to follow, and they should always follow them. As any supervisor will tell you, getting people to follow the rules is a major part of the job that is both tedious and thankless.

In this article, we dig into the phenomenon of rules: how people test them and how they react to various approaches to enforce the rules. I will suggest some best practices that allow the supervisor to thread the needle of this immense challenge and will discuss some things that should be avoided.

Regardless of how the supervisor was appointed, there is one thing for sure: people are going to test the limits to find out how she reacts in different situations. Now comes the part where most supervisors can struggle for years.

The desire is to have a pleasant work environment where the tasks get done by cheerful people who follow all the rules. In other words, the supervisor would like to be popular, but being a popular leader is a tricky business. As Colin Powell once said, “Sometimes being a leader means pissing people off.”

Constant conundrum

In most organizations, part of the performance and salary system for supervisors includes an evaluation by the people who are being supervised. The new supervisor knows that if she takes a hard line on all the rules, people are going to rate her poorly, and that could easily have an impact on her pay.

She tries to accommodate people as much as possible and does not “put the hammer down” if people take a few extra minutes for breaks. Note: I will use the length of breaks as an example here. The same testing will go on wherever there is a behavioral rule, like attendance, work hours, housekeeping, or other standard measures.

Once people see the supervisor is trying to accommodate the workers, they will up the ante to push the limits. Five extra minutes for a break will stretch to 15 minutes extra or even more. Without some check, the abuse will continue to become more extreme.

Eventually productivity takes such a hit that the supervisor has to clamp down. This is where most inexperienced supervisors make a fundamental mistake. They issue a note via e-mail or text reminding people that the standard break duration is 15 minutes (or whatever the rule is for that unit). Now she will be faced with what I call “The Bugle Effect.”

The Bugle Effect

When I was a young engineer, I worked in a bullpen area with few partitions. The group was rather lax about quitting time, because people wanted to avoid the rush hour traffic. The published quitting time was 4:40 PM, but if you actually left at that time it would take you an extra 30 minutes to get home. Discipline had been lost over the years, and most people checked out around 4 PM. The supervisor finally had enough and wrote a letter reminding people that the quitting time of 4:40 PM needed to be honored.

One of the technicians in the area made a “bugle” out of some copper tubing, a pneumatic fitting, and a large tin funnel. Every day all the technical staff would be at their desks working away until the clock reached 4:40, then the technician would pull out the bugle and blow it, and everybody would clamor to be the first one on the elevator.

In essence, the population was mocking the supervisor for trying to hold the line on quitting time. They thought she was being petty, and so they developed bad attitudes about the hours of work. Her method of trying to enforce the rules had backfired.

Some possible solutions

I offer a few solutions below, but it is important to judge the group’s personality and operating norms before applying any specific method. I learned that lesson the hard way when I was a new supervisor. I called a special meeting and marched the entire group into a conference room to go over my expectations.

The body language of the participants was terrible, and I lost a lot of ground that day. Think through the possible options and select one that is right for your situation.

An overarching consideration is to avoid being manipulative with people. Rather, seek to influence behavior with the truth served up in ways they can appreciate and always treat them as adults. Work to establish a sense of rightness and fairness that is built on the culture of trust developed within the group.

The symptom of pushing limits is rooted in motivation. I cover the topic of motivation in a later article, but for this article, I will suggest that a best practice is to investigate the alignment and culture within the team. Asking questions rather than making statements is an effective approach.

1. Here are some questions worth exploring with the group:

a) To what extent do all people on the team recognize their contribution to the total effort?
b) How do people feel about the culture and trust level within the team?
c) What are some things the team can do to be more cohesive and more effective?
d) How strongly do people realize that without some controls, we cannot accomplish our tasks well and be fair to everyone?
e) How well do people in this operation understand the rules?
f) Is it in the best interest of the entire group to follow the rules, except in situations of a rare personal emergency?
g) How much better off would we be if we were not trying to figure out who are the worst abusers of the rules?
h) What are some of the advantages of having discipline within our unit?
i) To what extent do people feel reinforced or punished when they bring up things they do not agree with?
j) If we truly respect each other, how can we all abide by the rules without relying on some kind of policeman to enforce them?

2. Another approach would be to put the onus on group norms of behavior to achieve better control.

The central theme is that, as adults, the group owns the process and has the ability to choose the best route to maintain order. The supervisor might lead a discussion as follows:

a) Mention at a staff meeting that she has observed that not everyone is following the stated rules for leaving time.
b) Discuss the reason for having a standard leaving time in the first place. Get the individuals involved in the discussion if possible. How would they like to control the situation?
c) Ask if it is appropriate to have a team behavior that our intention is to follow the published rules unless there is an unusual situation or emergency.
d) If the rule appears to be unfair or arbitrary, she might ask for creative suggestions for how to accomplish the required hours on the job in a different way, such as some form of flex time where people are allowed to leave a bit early provided they started early or took a shortened lunch break.
e) Ask the group whether they understand the need to be more rigorous at following the rules because they are there for a reason (here the trick is to ask the group a question rather than make a demand.)

3. A third approach is for the supervisor to seek out an informal leader of the team and ask that person to help her out with the others.

She might suggest that if the informal leader acts closer to the expected behavior the others may eventually follow. I will discuss the informal leader and several other types of individuals and give some suggestions in a future article.

These approaches might not work in all cases; it depends on the maturity of the group and the individuals in it. The supervisor has to sometimes try different approaches to keep a reasonable discipline.

The magic here is to refrain from continually hounding people and insisting on compliance. When a supervisor demands compliance, it usually results in some form of “The Bugle Effect.” By exploring the out-of-control situation openly and asking questions, the supervisor can regain control while simultaneously gaining more respect with the group members.

Now, the supervisor can suggest that it is the group’s responsibility to reinforce their own behavior and recognize there may be certain circumstances where a person might have to leave early for personal reasons, but most people will stay until at least quitting time because they understand the logic. Most likely you will see several people working well past quitting time, because they are aware the boss notices these things.

An approach that will likely backfire

Some supervisors try to offer an incentive or reward for following the rules. The supervisor might say, “If the group takes breaks according to the standard all week, we can have a pizza party on Friday.” This usually backfires because the rules are in place and are expected to be followed.

A special reward of any kind for compliance may modify behavior for a while but will hurt morale in the end and will definitely lead to loss of cooperation.

You do not reward a driver for stopping at a stop sign. It is expected behavior.

The attitude of the supervisor should be firm but reasonable. The idea is to gain and maintain trust and respect rather than try to trick or force people into compliance. The best approach is to be strong and unbending on matters of principle but approachable and flexible when dealing with individual situations.

It is important to realize that different people react differently to discipline, and you must flex your style appropriately to be most effective. One precaution on flexing is that the standards of deportment must be the same for everyone.

If you let one individual get away with more lax rules because he is a bully or one of your favorite people, then you are in for trouble all along the line. Flex on style and approach to people but remain firm on the standards that apply in the area out of a sense of fairness.

Treating first line employees like adults and being sensitive to their needs is usually superior to the militant approach of barking out orders then trying to enforce them every day.

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 4 – The Role of Trust

December 11, 2016

The topic of trust in organizations has been my life’s work over the past 45 years, and it will be until I am no longer able to communicate. I have written four books and produced hundreds of articles and videos on various aspects of trust.

For this article, I will confine my comments to the role trust plays for supervisors. Obviously, the points made here extrapolate to leadership in general.

Since the supervisor is the link between upper management and the first line employees, she needs to consider the impact of trust and how to achieve it in both venues, and they are substantially different.

First I will cover the bond of trust with her direct reports, then I will reverse the logic and discuss trust with peers and upper management.

Trust with Subordinates

My observation is that without trust between workers and the supervisor, people spend a lot of energy playing games with each other. You can observe all types of childish behaviors on the part of people who want all the goodies they can get with the least amount of effort.

They form cliques in order to protect themselves and work to undermine other people as they jockey for favor with the supervisor.

The majority of people in production jobs have been abused by at least one tyrant manager in their career, so it is easy to mistrust anyone who is perceived as “management.” The suspicions are easily confirmed, as some heavy handed managers in the hierarchy shoot themselves in the foot with respect to trust on a regular basis.

This situation creates numerous headaches for the supervisor, because to the front line employees, she represents “management” and is painted with the same brush as all managers.

If some manager up the chain commits a bonehead move, the credibility of the supervisor will go down, even if she did not agree with what the upper level manager did.

It is critical that the supervisor establish relationships of trust with people in her group. This is often accomplished one person at a time or perhaps with small groups. Since people are predisposed to be suspicious, any misstep or perceived false statement (even if it has been misinterpreted) only makes the problem worse.

There are literally hundreds of behaviors the supervisor needs to exemplify if trust is to be achieved, maintained, or in some cases, repaired. It is not in the scope of this article to list all of the necessary behaviors, as I have written about these in my books. For this article I will mention the most powerful way a supervisor can build trust and apply it in her daily work.

Best Way to Build Trust

The supervisor needs to build a safe environment where people recognize they will not be punished when they bring up perceived problems or things that appear to be inconsistent.

She needs to work tirelessly to instill a fair workplace where people see her as impartial and approachable. It is a tall order to create such an environment, since some individuals will try various tactics to advantage themselves in comparison to their peers.

The Role of Alignment

The best approach for the supervisor is to create full alignment within the group. Everyone needs to know the values of the organization and also the vision: what the group is trying to accomplish.

Each person must buy into the mission and recognize that by accomplishing the mission he or she will be better off. The role of the supervisor is to create this alignment by constantly reminding people that what they are working for is a better future for themselves.

Operating under Different Conditions

The supervisor needs to be the “head cheerleader” when things are going in the right direction and the “coach” when things get off track. She needs to insist that everyone on the team pulls his or her share of the load and not tolerate selfish behaviors. Basically, the supervisor needs to constantly build the team.

Building Trust Upward

At the same time, the supervisor needs to support high trust with her peers and upper management. The origin of trust in any organization starts at the top and flows down throughout the whole organization.

It is the behaviors of the senior-most leaders that normally determine the level of trust in an organization.

It is the role of the supervisor to support the vision of the entire organization through the efforts and activities of her group.

The most difficult conundrum for a supervisor is if she is asked to implement a policy that she personally believes is a mistake. To prevent this, the supervisor must have built up enough trust and stake with upper management to have a seat at the decision table and be listened to as a respected member of the management team.

Sometimes you can find a brilliant supervisor who has the “Midas Touch” for creating a great culture within her group, but that group is placed in a toxic environment from above.

When this occurs, the supervisor ends up trying to translate the needs of her team upward and the demands of the larger organization downward. It is a delicate balancing act, and those supervisors who can perform well in that dichotomy are scarce and precious.

Usually the supervisor ends up trying to influence the organization in both directions. She constantly works to build the culture of the group reporting to her while simultaneously trying to advocate upward for the needs of the group.

This is the reason that I believe the role of the first line supervisor is one of the most important and most difficult in all of management.

The role of the first line supervisor in maintaining trust within the organization cannot be overstated. If she loses the culture of trust, then the struggle will be one of various degrees of warfare, and productivity will be severely impacted.

I think the best approach is to have a solid training program for supervisors that continually builds the skills to manage in a complex world. If the supervisor is not provided with the training program at work, then she should start reading books and watching videos on the topic and gain skills that way.

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 3 – New Sheriff in Town

December 4, 2016

Aside from the promotion from within the ranks, there is a second major way to obtain a new group supervisor. Bringing in a resource from outside the group has some advantages, but there are huge caveats for this method.

In this category, there are two common approaches that are used:

1) bringing in someone who has been a supervisor in another area, and

2) hiring a new college graduate as an entry level position.

In this article, I will describe some challenges and recommendations for each situation.

Transfer from another area

When bringing in a supervisor from another area of the company, or even a different company, at least she has the advantage of being a seasoned person who has experience leading front line employees.

A typical mistake made by the supervisor in this situation is to be too zealous with advice learned on the prior job.

Typical problem

Suppose a supervisor has been moved from the packaging area to the formulation group. She has been successful in the packaging assignment and wants to bring her enthusiasm and knowledge to the new challenge.

She begins by asking questions in meetings about how things are done in the formulation group she is now leading. She will make suggestions with various forms of “When I was with the Packaging Group, we used to have a daily update so we were all informed.”

People in the inherited group will listen politely as the supervisor makes logical suggestions based on her history. Unfortunately, after just a few suggestions, her new employees will start referring to “Miss Packaging” behind her back.

It will be a very long time before the new supervisor has the purchasing power she will need with people in the Formulation Group.

Solution

The antidote here is for the new supervisor to listen to how things are done in the new area without making continual references to her prior experience. The rule I tried to encourage with new managers is to allow them to refer to the old job one time for the first three months. That is a difficult challenge, but it is really important to not be overbearing with pre-existing theories at the start of a relationship.

New hire to the company

A second method of bringing in a new supervisor is to hire a high-potential person right out of school. Often the first line supervisor position is used as a way to “season” a bright new MBA in a large organization. This method is fraught with so many problems, it is a wonder that it ever works out.

Main problem

First of all, the supervisor has no practical experience leading people in the real world. She may have had a leadership course in her MBA curriculum, but her employees will be eager to show her where theory breaks down in the real world.

The cultural gap between a college educated supervisor and the people on the shop floor is huge. There is also a jealousy factor that results from the supervisor being viewed as a “silver spooner” who got a college degree simply because daddy had enough money and who never had to do “a real day’s work” in her life.

The new supervisor does not have the experiential background to handle the myriad of issues she will face in her first few weeks. As she is trying her best to learn, the employees in the area will be polite on the surface, but the breakroom discussions will center on how clueless she is.

It will take a very long time before she has the purchasing power to lead, yet she has been given a position that calls for great leadership from day one.

When you couple the lack of supervisory knowledge with the lack of content knowledge of the processes, the experience for the new supervisor is usually overwhelming, and failure is a typical result.

It is awful for the organization because performance will suffer; It is awful for the people because they are not being well led; It is worst for the new supervisor, because she is going to start out her career with a very bad performance.

Solutions

1. The antidote here is to use a mentoring process where a new person coming out of school has the chance to learn the processes and people before being put into a position of supervisory power. Staff assignments can allow time for this mentoring to occur. Another position that can work as a temporary learning spot is an assistant to an excellent incumbent supervisor.

2. There are many training courses offered on how to make a solid entry as a new supervisor directly out of school. The American Management Association, Fred Prior Seminars, Franklin Covey, and Dale Carnegie all offer excellent baseline courses that are short in duration and not very expensive.

I also have such a course that I run several times a year in my home town of Rochester NY.  They can really help bridge the gap between the sterile world of academia and the messy world a new supervisor will soon face.

3. There are a number of great books on this specific topic. One of my favorites is “Managing People is Like Herding Cats” by Warren Bennis.

4. I have put out a series of 30 videos entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle” that contain tips on how to manage people with less potential for conflict. You can view some sample videos free at the following address.

If you are facing a situation where a new sheriff is coming in to lead a group, make sure you avoid the traps outlined above. You want to set up the new supervisor for success and not let her flounder for months before gaining the credibility to lead.

This article 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 1 – The Critical Junction

November 21, 2016

This is the first part of a series of short articles on how to be or create a more successful supervisor. Each part will be posted in this blog.

As of this writing, I cannot tell how many episodes there will be. Readers are encouraged to comment on any of the parts, which may create additional dialog along with more key points.

I believe one of the most challenging jobs in the management ranks is that of first line supervisor. Since different organizations use various terminology for the same function, let me define the role I am discussing in this series.

In every business, there is a junction between the working group of employees and the management levels. In most cases, the junction is between non-exempt and exempt employees.

Individuals in these roles have huge responsibility and are often caught in a kind of squeeze play between management and workers. Think about your own situation, whether you are operating as a supervisor or trying to coach people in that role; this series provides ideas that can help make work life more enjoyable and effective regardless of your position.

The viewpoint from above

There is a whole network of management layers working in a matrix to accomplish organizational goals. The supervisor represents the layer that translates the needs of the organization directly to the people who actually make the product or provide the service.

From this perspective, upper management counts on the supervisor level to keep things running efficiently and provide the motivational impetus to the workers (Note: this is often referred to erroneously as “motivating the troops” as I will describe in a future post.)

The viewpoint from below

There is a two-level system of workers and managers. The supervisor is the person in the organization that is both worker and manager, but really this person represents “management” to the workers.

The supervisor becomes the focal point for everything going on in the organization, whether that is good or bad in the opinion of the workers.

These two distinct perspectives result in a kind of inter-organizational tension that the supervisor is supposed to resolve in both directions simultaneously. It is incredibly challenging because a statement that might be viewed as positive to the employees, might have the wrong spin from the management perspective, and vice versa.

Recognize that the supervisor role is often a thankless task that is poorly understood from both directions. If you are a management person who is blessed with individuals who are excellent at the supervisor role, consider yourself very lucky and cherish these people for the work they do.

If you have people who are not well suited for this role, consider whether you should get them some training or perhaps find them a different role where they, and the organization, are simultaneously better off.

If you are or have been in a supervisor role yourself, I hope these articles provide some support and ideas to lighten your load. You have an incredibly important role to play, and often are not given the tools you need to do it well.

I will offer many ideas and resources you can use to make your work experience more enjoyable and successful. Here is a partial list of the topics we will be discussing over the next several weeks:

• How to improve the initial success when a new supervisor is named
• How supervisors can maintain control without coming across as a tyrant
• The methods by which supervisors can build and maintain trust
• How to reduce the tendency to use rank as leverage
• How to employ peer pressure without the danger of backlash
• Techniques to please both the top brass as well as the workers simultaneously
• The secret to inspiring motivation, and the mistakes to avoid in doing so
• How body language is the most valuable communication tool that is often overlooked or misunderstood
• How to see what is really going on and not be fooled by the appearance of things
• Employing superior listening techniques to get to a full understanding
• Why Emotional Intelligence is the key leadership skill and how to harness it
• How to give more effective employee reviews that drive true motivation
• The steps to create a great culture where everyone is fully engaged

Whether you are a new supervisor, an incumbent supervisor, or a manager who is coaching supervisors, this series of articles will provide accessible education and insight at no cost.

The segments are laid out in small chunks of pragmatic and tested advice that will provide the basis for continuous improvement and excellence in supervisory skills.

Please join us for this series by clicking on the “Sign me up” button on the right side of your screen. You will receive an e-mail every time a new episode is posted (usually once a week).

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


Open Door Caveats

February 14, 2015

Listening 3If you are like most professionals, your company has an “open door” policy. This is one of the most commonly employed HR strategies to ensure individuals are not trapped under an ogre of a supervisor with no way to communicate their frustration.

Unfortunately, the strategy is often dysfunctional, and it can actually do more harm than good. Let’s put the “open door” policy under the microscope and see what makes it dangerous, then suggest an antidote that can help.

The Open door policy sounds so inherently right, few employees question it until they are embroiled in a problem and have to try to get the intended benefits.

It reminds me of an insurance policy. You think you are protected until you have a claim, then you find out what the fine print was all about.

Likewise many managers hide behind the open door as a kind of cure-all for organizational low trust. Both symptoms mask an underlying malaise that must be rooted out and destroyed.

On the surface, the open door leads to greater transparency and fairness, but in the real world there are several reasons it does not work that way.

1. The “Open Door” policy can be a sham – If an employee wants to use the open door policy it is usually because of some kind of rift with his or her immediate supervisor. There is something bad going on according to the employee’s interpretation, and the supervisor is unwilling or incapable of dealing with the situation.

During these times, trust between the individual and level-one supervision is at an all time low. Since talking it out with level one will only bring additional grief, the employee uses the open door and tries to clear the air by talking to level-two.

The level-two manager is not fully familiar with the issue, so the only recourse is to listen politely to the employee and then have a chat with the level-one supervisor.

In the process, the level-one supervisor immediately becomes aware that he or she has been “blown in” to the boss. Regardless of how professional both leaders are, this series of discussions usually results in a further reduction of trust between the three levels and the individuals involved.

Since trust was compromised to begin with, the poor employee is now under an even more ominous cloud.

2. The “Open Door” leads to games – I recall a discussion with my boss. He wanted to use the open door policy correctly and not jeopardize the employee, who was working for me.

So my boss told me one of my employees had complained that I was not treating the person fairly (he was careful to keep the discussion gender neutral to make it harder for me to guess who might have the issue).

I had taken over a new area, and the trust in me had not yet been fully established. My boss would not tell me who the individual was, or the specific area involved. He would only tell me that there was someone out there that did not trust me to treat him or her fairly.

He would not share the specific area of concern nor give me enough data to have a clue for how to fix it. This discussion served to put me on notice, but it caused me to start second guessing every interface or action attempting to uncover the problem.

In the end, I never did figure out who the person was or what the issue was. For months I went around like Sherlock Holmes trying to figure out what incorrect signals this one individual had been getting.

Meanwhile, the rest of the population, who were not concerned with my fairness, thought I was acting a little weird.

3. “Open Door” has a bad reputation on the shop floor – In many organizations employees are fully aware that the open door policy is something that makes management feel good and looks good in the employee handbook, but it is a poor vehicle to use if there is an actual issue on the shop floor.

If the symptom leading to the need for an open door conversation is low trust, then how can escalating the issue to the next higher level be helpful?

There are also folk tails of the poor soul who got so upset with a situation that he actually did use the open door and lived to regret it every day thereafter until he finally quit the organization.

Far better to suffer the current injustice than call in the big guns and ensure more pain.

4. “Open Door” failures lead to Ombudsmen – When the open door gets a reputation for causing additional grief and not resolving problems, organizations often resort to a third party grievance resolution mechanism called an Ombudsman.

Again, from an HR or legal perspective this practice seems reasonable and fair. It really can resolve some issues, but it is also fraught with cloak and dagger nonsense that usually further undermines trust as the clueless Ombudsman seeks to understand what is really going on without upsetting people.

Meanwhile the employee is on tenterhooks hoping the desperate action to call in a third party will not backfire.

Once again, since the root cause of the problem can be traced to a lack of trust, the Ombudsman approach is at best a last resort effort to save utter collapse.

5. What if the level-two manager is a jerk too? – If an employee has a problem with the integrity of the level-one supervisor, then the level-two supervisor is often in question as well.

From a shop floor perspective, all management is painted with the same brush.

Actually, there are situations where there is a bad apple in the middle and employees really do trust the second level more than the first level.

More often, all management is suspect if there are weak links. After all, if the big boss tolerates a bully in the supervisory ranks, then that manager is not doing his or her job either.

Why would employees feel high trust for that person? They more likely picture the big boss as a well intended but clueless manager who has no idea how miserable things are two levels below.

These are five very real symptoms of problems with the open door policy.

I am not saying it is a bad thing to have or that it never works. What I am suggesting is that there is a better way.

What if we taught managers at all levels to reinforce candor? Employees would learn that is not a career threatening opportunity to bring an issue to the immediate boss.

In fact, when they bring up scary stuff or perceived inequities, they are rewarded in some way. This would be regardless of the level. It would mean that the need for escalation would be significantly reduced in the first place, and for those few situations where a higher level discussion would be useful, then the employee is still reinforced.

Imagine the poor Ombudsman with less work than the Maytag Repairman.

Imagine an entire workforce concentrating on the mission of and vision of the organization instead of constantly negotiating their way through minefields of bureaucratic protectionism.

Imagine running an organization based on trust instead of fear. It is possible if we simply teach leaders to reinforce candor.