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 Part 2 – Up From the Ranks

November 27, 2016

There are several different ways people find themselves as a newly-ordained supervisor. One common way is a promotion from the ranks to the leader of a group.

Pathway

This person came up through a series of line functions and did well. She (I am going to use the female pronoun for this series to avoid the cumbersome ‘he or she’ configuration throughout. All of the points apply equally to both genders.) showed some potential for leadership and dedication, often through years of service.

Process knowledge

She also demonstrated high content knowledge for the operations being performed having actually performed many functions herself.

She was put in place when an opening became available because she was a logical choice and there seemed to be little training required to just have her assume the new role.

It is a mistake to assume this person does not need training in leadership. Her role in the organization and in the social order has just changed dramatically, even though she has been in place, perhaps for many years. Now all of a sudden, she is the manager of the group.

Her entire point of view has changed, and yet upper management often assumes she can make this “minor adjustment” to a different role without much preparation.

It is common for supervisors in this situation to struggle for years and even to fail, simply because they do not know how to make the transition from a peer to a manager.

The antidote here is to not underestimate the magnitude of the transition and provide not only initial training, but coaching and mentoring for the first several months until the new supervisor feels at ease with the new role.

Understanding the needs of the organization is usually an easy step because of the underling role the person has been doing for a long time. Trying to navigate the new social order is much more tricky than meets the eye and is the area of greatest peril.

If she tries for a laissez-faire management style, then the workers are not going to respect her and will push the rules until it is obvious there is no control. Then if she tries to regain control, they will push back, and there can be an ugly scene because she is not being consistent.

If she tries to establish tight discipline from the start, then she looks like a hard-nosed manager who plays only by the book and is over reaching, simply because she was named as a supervisor.

Suggestions

1. One really good antidote for these problems is to have a kind of “family group” meeting at the start. Admit that the new role is challenging because of her prior relationships and ask for ideas on how to make the transition go well. Listen to the input and acknowledge the feelings of the group members.

This open style of leadership where the manager asks questions rather than giving orders gets people involved in the interplay, and that helps ease the transition.

2. Another suggestion is to have a series of one-on-one discussions to feel out how each person in the group is reacting to the promotion. In these frank conversations, the new supervisor can humbly ask for each person’s help with the transition.

This high-touch approach usually helps to ease the tensions and can lead to some great suggestions. The heart-to-heart discussions can also be helpful in the event there are a few people in the group who have exhibited bad work habits in the past. It is a good opportunity to reset the scale and get people on the right track.

In all these approaches, tact and sensitivity are critical. It helps if the new supervisor is good at reading body language and has high Emotional Intelligence, both of which we will discuss in future articles. Make sure the new supervisor has some specific training in these two topics before she tries to operate 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


Important Tip for Leader Transitions

January 23, 2016

No leadership position is permanent. There is always a transition to a new role coming in the future. This article is about a mistake I have seen many leaders make in the transition to a new role.

Maybe this leadership tip is in a book somewhere, but I have not run into it yet. A mistake is made during the delicate time when a leader is assigned a new position and first moves into a new area interfacing with different people.

The first few days are critical and set the stage for how smoothly (or not) the transition goes. All signals sent during the first days and weeks are important as both the leader and the new constituents learn how to work together.

For illustration, let’s say our leader has just been moved from the Design Department into the Manufacturing Department. The new job is in a new physical area and has a different set of people involved.

The old leader has retired and left the scene, and our new leader has just brought in the first few boxes of possessions to set up his office. He is cordial to everyone and believes he is off to a great start.

This is an important job for the new leader, and he wants to carry on the fine team enthusiasm he was able to accomplish in the Design Department.

During the first couple days, he attends the normal production meetings. He frequently mentions how delighted he is to now be working in the Manufacturing Department.

When a manager is discussing a safety issue, the new leader offers something like this, “We had the same problem over in the Design Department, and what we did was set up a sub-team to come up with some excellent recommendations. That saved a lot of time because it could be done off line by a small group rather than have a bunch of meetings with everyone present.” People in the meeting listened intently and nodded appreciatively that there was a fresh idea.

The next day, the leader was discussing the financial closing information and seemed a little uncomfortable. He said, “In the Design Department we always just showed the data in chart form so everyone could grasp the information easily.” Two hours later he said “In the Design area we had special monitors to ensure the place was cleaned up well before we went home.” You get the idea.

All of the ideas and policies our new leader brought up during the first two weeks were logical and helpful. Nobody in the organization would dare question why they should do these things that the leader brought from the Design Department.

However, by the end of two weeks, this new leader was so far behind the eight ball emotionally with people that it would take nearly a year to get people to really respect and trust him. Why? He was just too forthright with his innocent suggestions for improvements based on his experience in the prior job.

There is an antidote to this common problem. When I would promote or move a manager, I would ask him or her to refer to the prior job only one time in public.

Once that chit was played, I suggested the new leader refrain from other references for at least 2 months.

This gave the new leader the opportunity to appreciate the good things that were being done in the new area before giving a lot of suggestions for them to be more like his old area. The people never knew the difference; they just seemed to like the new guy quite a lot.

To refrain from offering suggestions based on one’s background sounds counterproductive, but it can go a long way toward knitting constructive relationships in the new area.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. 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


New Book: Trust in Transition

June 21, 2014

Trust in Transition Cover060Is it possible to make major organizational transitions without catastrophic loss of trust?  I think there is, but the odds are against you unless you change the conventional thinking process. What is required is a new approach toward navigating organizational change.

My new book, Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change, will be launched on August 18, 2014 by ASTD Press and is currently available for preorder.

The book is about how organizations must do a better job of preserving and enhancing trust when they go through changes such as reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, or other restructurings.

Your purchase of the book includes access to a set of videos that enhance several of the key points.

There are numerous books on managing change, and many books and articles on M&As. My book is unique in that it focuses on the actions and behaviors needed to maintain the vital trust between people and organizational layers during the process of change.

A link between trust and organizational performance has been demonstrated in numerous studies. The correlation is strong, and the leverage offered by high trust is impressive. Most studies show a two to five times productivity benefit in high trust groups over low trust groups.

Can you name any other single factor that can offer a 200% improvement in productivity?

When organizations contemplate changes, the manner in which the effort is planned, organized, announced, managed, and led has everything to do with the impact on trust.

Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, the changes end up having a profound negative impact on the culture just when trust is needed the most. This condition ends up undermining the change effort and leads to a documented dismal track record of almost 80% of transitions not living up to expectations.

Thankfully, failure can be avoided by taking steps right from the start of a change process to act differently and prevent problems from occurring. The old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true for this situation.

If some changes in mindset can be accomplished from the earliest plans for a change, the ability to retain or even grow trust during change is possible.

My book is about how to break the cycle of change failure by focusing as much effort on the cultural integration as on the mechanical parts of the change process.

Unfortunately many leaders have had professional training in the MBA schools that emphasizes the mechanical aspects of the change process such as negotiation, due diligence, financial valuation, or legal implications.

These subjects are critical in transitions, but they should not squeeze out the considerations of how to get people to work well together during and after the transition.

The focus on the financial and legal implications of a change are forced on center stage, and what ends up back in the wings is the fragile culture of trust between people in the organization. That is a problem, because the end result is a change effort that works well on paper but often fails to meet expectations in the real world.

The book contains dozens of areas where leaders unwittingly make errors in judgment which undermine the changes all along the way. By following a parallel path that works just as hard on the culture as the deal, leaders can greatly improve the odds of success.

I will provide a series of articles on this blog over the next few months that look at different aspects of the change process to suggest pragmatic antidotes to common problems.

Investing more leadership attention to the culture early in the change process will have a profound positive impact on the success rate.

I hope you find the tips I offer in the book and in future articles to be helpful at preserving trust in your organization. Nothing could be more vital for your ultimate success.


Improving Leadership Transitions

November 23, 2013

Passing the batonIt should come as no surprise that organizations take on the personality of their leaders. After all, the leader sets the tone for everything that happens in an organization.

It depends on management style how much the culture evolves toward the style of the leader. In some cases, a particularly hands-off leader will allow a culture to define itself, but those situations are rare exceptions. This article gives two examples of how the culture shifts when a new manager takes over and provides some tips about how a new leader can efficiently define the culture after taking over from a predecessor.

Probably the most-watched transition of CEOs in decades was the transition at Apple from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook. Steve Jobs’ style was so different from Tim Cooks’ that the entire culture of the company had to adjust.

Jobs was abrasive, demanding, no comprise, micromanaging, and secretive. Cook is more methodical, thoughtful, consensus loving, and transparent.

The organization is still trying to adapt to the different leadership style while at the same time keeping up the blistering pace of innovation that was the hallmark during the Jobs era. By most counts, things have slowed down a bit.

The embarrassment of the Apple Maps fiasco was an unwelcome speed bump for the new CEO. (Note that Apple Maps was actually engineered during the Jobs era, but it was introduced as a product after his death). Things are settling out now, but few people believe the mature corporate giant will ever get back to the cocky, scrappy, bold innovation pioneer it was a decade ago.

Another famous transition occurred at GE in 2001 when Jeff Immelt took over from the powerful icon, Jack Welch.

Jeff’s style was more collaborative than the combative style of Welch. Jack liked to solve problems analytically by getting information and making very edgy choices.

He would berate leaders in public if they did not measure up to his standards. Jeff was more approachable and liked to work out issues by getting everyone involved. Welch created a combative atmosphere where the winners survived and the losers were out. Immelt tried to bring the best in everyone to the workplace every day.

Both leaders were successful in their time and both struggled with situations as they worked through the inevitable challenges of running a huge multinational organization.

These two examples are from mega corporations, but the same phenomenon takes place in smaller organizations, not-for-profits, government, and even volunteer organizations.

Whenever a new leader replaces an incumbent, you will see a rapid change in the culture that is reflective of the change in styles between the two leaders.

The transition from old to new is fascinating to watch, and there are ways to do it well. There are also potential major mistakes that will hurt the chances for the new administration.
When a new leader takes over an organization, what happens in the first few days, or even the first few hours is important to do with great care. A weak opening gets the new culture off to a waffling start, yet parachuting in with combat boots can lead to fear and rejection. Here are five tips for a new leader to consider during the critical first few days on a new assignment.
1. Introduce yourself consciously
Do not make the mistake of thinking that people will get to know the “real you” in due time. Be more proactive, and set up a meeting where you can share your values, style, expectations, biases, and idiosyncrasies.

Make sure to set the stage where people feel encouraged to ask questions and take the time to answer every question thoughtfully. Be as engaging as possible without being insincere or condescending. Let people get to know the best side of you first. If time allows, these meetings are better if done in small family groups than a mega Town Hall format.
Walk around a lot during the first few days and shake people’s hands. Act and truly be interested in their personal lives. Try to find one common bond with each person you meet, so you can ask her about her sick dog or new house at a later date. Specifically focus on remembering names.
2. Listen a lot at the start
Unless you are taking over for a field commander who has just been killed (or the equivalent), it is a good idea to understand how the current organization works before barking out orders on how you expect to run the place.

It is so tempting to impress your ideas on the group as a leader right from the start, but you will pay a heavy price if you are too overbearing. Some experts recommend an immediate “take charge” approach for a new leader. I admit there are some circumstances when that urgency of command is called for, but in most cases I favor a more metered approach.
A wise move is to heed the words of Stephen R. Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when he wrote “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” By establishing yourself as a good listener first, you will gain much more cooperation, trust, and respect.

3. Refrain from talking about your prior organization
New leaders often make the mistake of referring to the great things done in their prior organization too often. Too much emphasis on a past success will turn people off when a new leader takes over. If you keep saying, “Well, in the XYZ organization, we used to have a daily briefing to keep people on board,” people will eventually roll their eyes when you walk into the room.
When I would promote or move a manager, I would ask him or her to refer to the prior job only one time in public. Once that chit was played, I suggested the new leader refrain from other references for at least 2 months.

This gave the new leader the opportunity to appreciate the good things that were being done in the new area before giving a lot of suggestions for them to be more like his old area. The people never knew the difference; they just seemed to like the new leader quite a lot.
4. Ask for feedback and advice
A wise leader has the Emotional Intelligence to ask for frequent feedback, especially at the start of his tenure. Asking how things are going and how people are reacting during the first several days signals a kind of humility that is cherished by people who report to the leader.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team found two common denominators for what they called level five leaders (the best). They were, 1) passion for the organization, mission, and vision, and 2) humility. The reason being a bit humble at the start is that you will be approachable and coachable, so you have the highest potential for trust to kindle.
If the advice you get is not what you wanted to hear, be sure to be truly grateful for it anyway. Often constructive comments on how things could be done better are the most helpful. When you reinforce people who tell you what they really think, you go a long way toward building trusting relationships.
5. Suppress your ego

You have been given an opportunity to start with a new group. Do not get a swelled head over it.

Make sure people view you as grateful for the opportunity to join their team instead of inheriting all of them onto your team. The ability to establish a helpful mindset before exercising command will put people on your side, and the benefits will accrue throughout your tenure. If you establish yourself as a narcissist from day one, you will never fully win the hearts of those who report to you.
These five tips may seem like common sense, but I see them violated quite frequently by leaders taking over a new situation. If you follow these ideas, you will be off to a great start that will pay big dividends for your organization and ensure you will be viewed as an elite leader by everyone.


Front Line Leaders in a Merger

January 22, 2011

I have been studying the impact of mergers or acquisitions on various stakeholders within organizations. It is impossible to state the impact on everyone in a particular organizational level because of situational and personal differences. It is, however, helpful to think through what a typical person in one level is dealing with even though the exact forces will be somewhat different in each case and perhaps vastly different in outlier circumstances. This article focuses on issues for the first level of supervision in an organization during a merger or acquisition.

In some cases, these leaders are called “group leaders” or “squad leaders;” in others, they are referred to as “supervisors.” There are probably many other names, but for the remainder of this article I will use the word “supervisor.” The common thread is that these people operate at the critical and delicate junction between management layers and workers on the shop floor.

Depending on the type of work being done, these individuals come from a variety of backgrounds. The most typical history is that the supervisor was once a shop floor person who did very well on the job over a long period of time. Eventually this individual was tapped to do the work of supervisor when an opportunity arose.

Another common trait of supervisors is that they are often put in the job with little training. Reason: They already have deep process knowledge and have shown a natural tendency toward informal leadership, so they are given the responsibility with little or no formal leadership training. In most cases it is their excellence at doing the lower level jobs and their process knowledge that enabled their promotion to supervision in the first place.

The attitudes of supervisors during a merger or acquisition are critical to how the shop floor people will react to the change. If supervisors model a cooperative and adventurous spirit and keep looking for the good, it can really help people see that positive outcomes are possible. If the supervisors are rolling their eyes and visibly displaying their own fears, then it is going to be picked up and amplified by people on the shop floor.

In a merger or acquisition situation, the shop floor processes are subject to combinations or modifications in order to accommodate the changing nature of the business. This could be threatening to supervisors, since their license to lead is their familiarity with the work rather than their deep leadership skills. Changing work means their platform to lead has been upset with little warning. Couple that with the inevitable push to reduce supervisory (and all non-direct) headcount, and you have an opportunity for some terrified people in these roles.

I believe the best approach for helping supervisors adapt to the new operating procedures is to have them work intensely with the shop floor people to invent the new combined processes. The involvement will put them in a natural leadership role during a time of significant chaos, which is precisely when a leader’s skill and talent are best developed and tested.

Another way to help these people with the transition is to conduct information sessions with top management just for the supervisors. Of course, they will be part of the general data dissemination program, but their issues and concerns will have a different flavor than other levels, so it is wise to let them vent in a safe environment that is geared for supervisors. You might even want to encourage a kind of support group, because the ability to share experiences during the transition will help ease tensions.

Lastly, if there is time and money available, the transition period is a great time to do some serious leadership training for all levels. This includes the supervisors who may not have received training at the time they were elevated to their job.

A merger or acquisition is a nervous time for everyone in both organizations. Due to the unique nature of their position in the organization, first line supervisors need some special attention in order to help them and the direct workforce cope with the uncertainty and need for change.