Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #3 | You and Your Mistakes

So what do good supervisors do when they make mistakes? That’s the question I left you with after Episode #2.

Supervising is murky. It doesn’t lend itself to measurement. Subjective evaluation, yes, but hard measures, not that I can see.

There are terrific books on how to become a great supervisor, like Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break All the Rules, but they aren’t recipes. You can’t put your interpersonal style, employee performance expectations, and feedback methods in a blender and serve up the perfect smoothie every time.

Doing a good job as a supervisor takes a realistic frame of mind, accepting that a lot of the time you’re good, sometimes even great. But there will be times when you’re woefully deficient, times your employees remember most.

You will make people mistakes, some big and others relatively insignificant. You’ll learn a ton about your employees and yourself each time you foul up.

Supervisors not cut out for the job don’t react well when they mess up. Some withdraw, lose confidence, wither, or self-flagellate. Others get defensive, resentful, or disillusioned.

Good supervisors see every misstep as a learning experience. They know how to recover. Their frame of mind is always focused on progress. When there’s a setback, a miscue, or a failure, they act fast.

Concede mistakes.                                                                                                        

Supervisors often derail their own careers because they’re afraid to make a mistake, especially with their employees..

Trying to be a perfect, by-the-book supervisor takes all the fun out of it. It’s a job more like white water rafting than a canoe trip. You get all wet, bounced around like a pinball, bashed against the rocks, and even thrown into the drink when you don’t hold on tight enough.

But, when you’re finally on dry ground, you realize how exhilarating it was: the risk, the camaraderie with your raft-mates, the demands of the river, and the courage you discovered was really in you.

Supervising is a wild ride. It tests you like the river. Your employees are about as unpredictable as the speed of the rapids and the rocks hiding below the surface. No one knows what they’re getting into when they agree to supervise.

We might like to predict how it will be and convince ourselves that we know what to do when the raft gets swamped. But we’re only kidding ourselves.

It’s true that some supervisor mistakes are more egregious than others. You can’t, on a bad day, speak abusively to an employee, even if it’s someone you and others believe has long needed a tongue-lashing. Abuse of any kind under any circumstance is both wrong and an indelible black mark.

You also can’t behave unethically: steal time, permit employees to break company rules, violate laws, and misuse company resources. These bad behaviors should go without saying, but I’ve read enough news coverage on errant business leaders to know that they need to be said.

Unless you want to make yourself into neurotic, hyper-controlling nut case, it’s just better to accept that you will make mistakes and do your best to fix them.

Think first.

Most mistakes that create employee problems come out of our mouths. We say the wrong things, at the wrong time, and in front of the wrong people in a tactless tone of voice, with bad body language, and without full awareness of the situation.

Sometimes we know right away that we bumbled, so we can correct ourselves. But most often, we don’t understand the impact until there are signs much later, signs that spell trouble.

We unwittingly set the stage for our mistakes by not thinking about the significance of what we, as supervisors, say and do. Clearly we don’t want to set ourselves up for calamity, but to avoid it, we need to adopt some important mistake-minimizing steps, like setting and maintaining boundaries.

So, what do good supervisors do to set boundaries that minimize mistakes? We’ll tackle that question in Episode #4.

Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode # 2 | It Starts with You.

What does it take to provide good supervision? That’s the question I left you with after

Episode #1.

The quick answer:  

Stay connected to the needs of your employees.

Supervisors affect the ability of employees to produce good work through words and behaviors that either positively or negatively affect self-esteem, self-confidence, growth, and optimism about their career future. That’s a very big deal, one that makes being a supervisor deeper than it may sound.

The you-role connection

Too many supervisors forget that they’re leaders. Their job is to create an environment where employees want to be followers, willing to stretch themselves to achieve results that will pay off and make a difference.

Earning that employee following starts with understanding what you do that attracts or repels it. There’s no formula for that, alas.

Supervisors need to face and master their hot buttons. There are employees who can spin gold out of straw (Yay) and others who inevitably turn gold into cow patties (Boo) because their work ethic and attitudes fall short of expectations. Some employee behaviors  may frost you, likely to bring out your worst. As supervisors, we’re all tested.

Each situation teaches you something important about yourself. How you handle each one showcases your respect for individuals, the team, the work, the company, and yourself. Strike the right balance and increase the depth and range of your following.

Supervising reveals what you stand for, the principles you won’t compromise. I knew what they were for me when I was willing risk my job or my influence to:

  • go to the mat for employees I thought were being unfairly treated
  • challenge policies that made it impossible for employees to serve the customer well
  • openly voice objections to  company mixed-messages that were demotivating

Being a good supervisor means getting over yourself.  Big shot supervisors end up as easy targets for undermining employee noise. Supervisors with humility earn the respect of their employees when it’s evident that they’re working to help employees succeed, not the other way around.

Getting it right

Every day supervisors need to make decisions and take actions that must balance the needs of the organization and their employees.

Good supervisors understand how to adhere to policies and practices without being shackled by them. They can resolve difficult employee problems without compromising the standards of fairness to others. They can advocate for their work group with upper management  without undermining others.

Good supervisors need to know what’s going on without micro-managing and to intervene for the right reasons at the right time.

On that point you may be asking yourself, “How do I know what to do, when to do it, and how?”

I’d like to say there’s a formula for that too, but there isn’t.

Every supervisor learns how and when to intervene by doing it. When you see, overhear, or sense a problem, need, or infraction, you must act.

Some situations require immediate action and others give you time to think. Getting it right is the challenge; mistakes are inevitable but rarely lethal.

Sometimes supervisors must be judge and jury, teacher and Dutch uncle, coach and referee, cheerleader and conscience. The buck always stops with you, that’s why you’re earning them.

Supervising people well (yes, they are people first) can be the most important contribution you make to their careers, even their lives. There lies the true weight of the role.

The payoff

With the challenges of supervision come great rewards, so remember to savor them: the satisfaction of seeing your employees perform at their best, of contributing to their growth and future success, and of discovering your best self  as you grow as a leader.

Good supervisors have the courage to do what’s right even when there’s a price to pay. They’re honest about their deficiencies and mistakes; care genuinely about their employees, even the one’s they don’t like or who fall short; and insightful about what’s really going on around them, enabling them to take the right action at the right time.

So what do good supervisors do when they make mistakes? That’s a topic for Episode #3.

 

Getting Your Head Around Supervising- Episode #1 | What’s Your Take?

Supervising  doesn’t seem that hard.  It sure didn’t to me at first.

I never set out to become a supervisor, but I always paid attention to the supervisors I had, particularly what I did and didn’t like about the way they treated me.

I figured that, given the chance to supervise, I’d just imitate the good and exclude the bad stuff. How simplistic was that?

Ah, the memories

I can recite with ease every boss who helped me improve my skills, build confidence, and prepare myself for the next, usually bigger, career step.

I also remember the duds vividly. If I were to sketch a cartoon version them, you’d see a clown, a sexist, a scaredy-cat who kept a log of his pocket change (Don’t ask!), a stuffed shirt, and an empty suit. Funny, isn’t it, how those ineffective supervisors live forever as caricatures and the great ones as idols.

You can probably make your own list of loser supervisors pretty easily too. You may still be working for him or her. The most important thing is not to become one.

That’s why I’m writing this series.

Embracing the gig

Supervision is an endless initiation, a testing ground for your ability and courage to own it as your profession.

If you’re lucky, you’re chosen to supervise work you know something about with good performing employees. Hardly anyone is that lucky.

Good supervisors learn, in short order, that their effectiveness hinges on how they connect with their direct reports. That includes demonstrating humility, sensitivity, awareness, firmness, consistency, and courage, delivered predictably and sincerely.

Good supervisors help their employees get better.

The big revelation

Supervisory success  comes down to [drum roll] actually supervising. Not pretending to supervise. Not over- or under-supervising. Not supervising some people and not others. And not giving up on it.

I wouldn’t write this, if I hadn’t seen it all (even done some of it) and the havoc not supervising creates.

Look at your list of awful supervisors, and you’ll see what they generally had in common: The inability to deal effectively with you and others around you.

Since employees do the work, good supervising is about delivering the support employees need to do it well. Employees don’t get the right work done just because there’s a goal, a productivity report, or an assignment made and checked on by the supervisor. They get it done because the supervisor figures out what’s in the way and removes it.

You don’t have to be called a supervisor to be one. Anytime you have a direct report, you’re a supervisor. You might have the title of manager, director, project leader, or even vice president.  In every case, you  have to supervise real people, so they can get the work done without imploding, rebelling, subverting, or hurting their careers, the business, and your professional brand too.

I spent over twenty years at a Fortune 500 electric utility company supervising both small staffs and large, multifunctional groups. I’ve supervised all kinds of employees in diverse functions, doing challenging, stressful, and important work against demanding timetables and performance goals.

Those employees counted on my direct or indirect supervision for their job success and satisfaction. That’s a pretty heavy responsibility, in my book.

How well you supervise underpins your career legacy.

The struggle

I’ve repeatedly asked myself:  “Why are so many supervisors poor or mediocre at best?”

Here’s my best answer:

Supervisors are often uncomfortable, even intimidated, supervising their employees. Why? Because people are unpredictable. They come to work with attitudes and expectations unique to them that need to be addressed.

People are a supervisor’s biggest challenge because, quite simply, they aren’t the same. They aren’t programmable, automated, or mechanized. They can’t be predicted with precision–not their output, their emotional responses, reactions, or intentions.

Every supervisor needs each person to function at his or her best every day and the only way to ensure that is to provide supervision that works for them.

The big question is: “How do good supervisors do that?”

Episode #2 will start to answer that question. Please come back.

The Four-Eyed Supervisor: It’s All on Your Watch. | A Leadership Paradox

You either are a supervisor or likely have one.

Supervisor effectiveness boils down to what you think the job is or what you want it to be. In the end, performance under the supervisor’s leadership is what counts.

Facing the paradox

Supervisors are told that their job is to provide direction and oversee the successful completion of work by individual employees and the team. That means different things to different supervisors.

Some supervisors focus on the “provide direction” part which sounds important and grand. They spend their time on strategic direction, tracking goal progress, and analyzing measures around quality, customer satisfaction, output, and costs.

Their perspective often is: Just give employees their job descriptions, tools, and requirements, then expect them to deliver.

Then there are supervisors who mainly embrace the “oversee the work” expectation.  They’re all about requiring detailed and frequent status updates, identifying errors and  their makers, second-guessing decisions, and holding everyone’s feet to the fire. These supervisors see their jobs as checkers, controlling for any mistake that will compromise expectations.

The paradox is that, as leaders, supervisors need to embrace, in a healthy way, both the strategic (direction) and tactical (oversight) requirements of the job in equal measure.

Four eyes see more.

Effective supervisors see their work groups as small businesses within the larger company. They develop goals based on the company’s needs and the work output they’ve been assigned. In a blink, they become intrapreneurs, accountable for the way their internal business runs.

Every supervisor needs to understand what his/her work group must achieve, why it’s important, what it takes, what the risks and obstacles are, and the resources needed to be successful. The supervisor’s job is to make decisions and problem solve to achieve expectations.

Every supervisor needs to understand the engine of the work group. What are the processes, policies, and practices that need to be executed cleanly in order to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, quality, and safety? If the work group doesn’t hum, the output will be affected.

The bottom line is: Everything that takes place while you’re the supervisor is on your watch whether you’re watching it or not. That’s why cultivating a four-eyed approach to supervising is important.

Of course supervisors don’t have four eyes, even with glasses or contacts. But, with the two eyes they have, they need to double focus on all aspects of the work and the needs of their employees .

Eye catchers

Keeping your eyes on the right things makes supervising much easier and removes pitfalls that catch you on the wrong side of expectations. Consider these supervisor toolkit essentials to sharpen your focus:

  1. Big picture goals (direction)–statements that spell out in specific terms what your work group business is trying to achieve, written for employees doing the work not for business professors
  2. Process maps (oversight) –flow charts that follow the paths the work takes, including the hand-offs, so you can improve efficiency, figure out where errors occur, and find out where the ball is dropped and why.
  3. Performance measures (oversight)–metrics and observables that track progress, output, quality, customer satisfaction, and results, defining effectiveness and success
  4. Debriefs and Root Cause Analyses (oversight)–meetings with employees following events that fell short of expectations, led to accidents, or uncovered new issues; meetings that, without blame, attempt to figure out remedies to avoid repeats
  5. State of the Business Presentations (direction)–Periodic and timely high-level communications delivered in person by the supervisor that illustrate how the work group is performing against expectations; meetings that incorporate the information revealed by the first four items above and invite discussion.

Supervising matters

Anyone who supervises, no matter your title, owns the challenges that come with the role. To do it well, you need to do the whole job, but you have to see it first. Keeping your eyes on all the moving parts takes commitment and discipline. The payoff is well worth the effort.

 

 

Is Your Head Ready to Explode? 4 Ways to Keep It Together. | Simplifying

“Make it stop,” you say,  “–the noise, the confusion, the stupid mistakes, the wasted time.”

When our work days amount to one distraction and miscue after another, we feel caught in an endless squeeze, desperately trying to get our work done in spite of it.

If we could only find the cause and do something about it. Or if our boss would just stop contributing to or ignoring  the problems.

Alas, we’re left helpless and ultimately succumb to our new reality– frustrating disorder.

Disorder creeps up on us, our coworkers, and our boss. It grows microscopically in the folds of our daily tasks and gradually infects the way work gets done, relationships evolve, and organizations perform.

The symptoms are often in full view, but we’re too busy to notice them, until they stop us cold.

Early detection

Disorder is a work management issue. You know you’re mired in it when:

  • It’s unclear who’s responsible and accountable for specific work products.
  • Work stalls because someone in the process flow keeps dropping the ball.
  • The same errors are repeated by the same or different people.
  • Mistakes are made and no one notices for a long time.
  • Assignment specifics are changed mid-stream or shifted to different employees.
  • All direction is by e-mail: You miss one, you lose.

If you’re a supervisor reading this, you’re perfectly positioned to fix things. If you’re an employee feeling crushed by the weight, here’s your chance to showcase your value by stepping up, identifying the cause, and proposing a solution.

If no one does anything, the disorder will get worse and all you can do is wear a helmet to keep your head together.

Simplify

Lack of clarity around expectations and processes is most often the cause of disorder and confusion. The more employees and layers of management a company has, the more the internal working parts (roles, processes, and strategies) need to align.

When you feel like the air is being sucked out of you, it’s time to stop and look at what you’re doing and how. In most instances the fix is about simplifying–reducing complexity, getting back to basics, and realigning

Here are four ways to recalibrate the way you work and uncover fixes:

  1. Tune in: Listen to the voice that matters. Tune out the coworker noise around you. Your boss is the person whose expectations you need to meet. If you don’t understand his or her direction, then be a pest and keep asking until you do. Get clear and then get on with the work.
  2. Own it: Follow or create a process. Most work includes a process that, when executed effectively, delivers consistent output. You’re part of the work flow, so take ownership of your role. If there’s a snag, figure out where it is and suggest a way to alleviate it. Your fix adds value.
  3. Get it: Recognize boundaries. Organization charts supposedly reveal the hierarchy of roles and responsibilities in the company. When you  can’t tell who’s accountable for results by the org chart, you need to ask your boss. Knowing where the buck stops can absorb some of the pressure you’re feeling.
  4. Do it: Prepare and submit performance goals. Self-preservation is a motivator and having specific written goals that your boss has agreed to can be a career-saving initiative. Write goals whether your boss asks for them or not. If s/he gives you goal statements, edit them to make they’re measurable and observable. If your work changes, revisit your goals with your boss. This might make his or her head explode, but it will save yours.

Elegance

Simple is chic in fashion and at work. When leadership, processes, roles, and goals are aligned, outcomes take on both ease and elegance. You have more power to impact the way work is done then you think. Go ahead and seize it.

 

 

 

When Hiring an Outside Consultant Can Make a Manager’s Problem Worse

You just can’t take it anymore.

You’re a manager with a supervisor whose work group is in shambles.

You’ve had multiple performance discussions with the supervisor and recorded deficiencies in his/her performance review. Every time there’s another incident, you call attention to it.

You know the situation is out of control. Deep down, you know you let it happen.

Now you’re feeling the heat. The embers are ever closer to your door.

So you’re ready to call in the fire brigade.

Wait.

When work group problems get gnarly, it’s because someone in leadership didn’t lead. The supervisor was increasingly ineffective. And the department manager didn’t intervene. Now everyone is paying the price.

Panic drives the manager to look for a quick fix because s/he wants the problem to go away, the noise to stop, the complaints to cease, and the fallout to disappear…fast.

Making matters worse.

Many  managers believe that by hiring an outside consultant to address the problem, they will come across as take-charge, decisive leaders.

They often overlook (even deny) the fact that, as leaders, they:

  • Made a poor supervisory hire or promotion
  • Weren’t engaged enough with employees to recognize discontent
  • Didn’t intervene soon enough when there were signs of a problem
  • Failed to communicate clearly their concerns and expectations for improvement
  • Obtained no formal commitment from the supervisor for change
  • Didn’t provide essential training in skill areas needing improvement
  • Failed to establish consequences for not turning the situation around

If the manager had addressed the supervisor’s deficiencies early on, the situation wouldn’t have escalated.

We can’t forget  that supervisors want to do a good job. They don’t intentionally make a mess of things. Situations get gummed up one misstep at a time.

You don’t completely fix situations like these with outside consultants. But you can surely  make them worse.

The consultant trap

I feel free to say these things because I am both a performance management consultant and coach.

Consultants are geared to take an aerial view of workplace/business conditions. Coaches most often provide individual support.

There is a place for both, but managers need to fully understand what service they’re buying and how it will be perceived and received.

When you bring in a consultant to “fix” a supervisor, you’re announcing, directly or indirectly, to the workforce that:

  • Your supervisor’s performance problems are excessive
  • You are incapable of addressing them
  • Employees were right to believe that they’ve been subject to ineptitude
  • The consultant will try to fix your supervisor and you will all get to watch, albeit by peeping behind the curtain
  • If the consultant can’t fix him/her, then something serious will happen

What are the chances are that the supervisor will survive this gauntlet? Or even the manager?

Provide a fair chance.

I believe strongly that struggling supervisors (managers, executives, team leaders) deserve legitimate help and support. It’s good business and fair.

When managers don’t know how to help a supervisor overcome performance issues, hiring a coach/consultant can be a  great idea, just keep them out of sight.

A coach/consultant is a tutor, someone who helps the supervisor and the manager figure out what went wrong and how to remedy it…together.

Once a manager knows  the breadth of the issues, they’ll know what kind of coach/consultant they need. If it’s just about supervisory skills, a coach might do. If it’s about how to deal with and navigate internal politics, a consultant may be the choice. If it’s both, then a coach/consultant.

You don’t use outside resources in ways that demean or humiliate your supervisor…or anyone. It’s hard enough for anyone to turn a personal performance issue around, so you don’t make someone’s efforts into a side-show.

Being a manager or a supervisor is a hard job. It takes a long time to get really good at them. Everyone stumbles along the way. Over time we learn that early intervention is the gift that helps us get better. Outside help is a plus when it’s carefully and effectively done.

Employee Behavior Troubling You? Time to Intervene.

path 126441045_0121483a49_m“What you resist, persists.” Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist/psychotherapist, is credited with this powerful quote.

If more supervisors followed it, fewer problems would develop on their watch.  Sadly, most don’t.

 

Balancing acts.

Supervisors are busy. Some even overwhelmed.

They’re like the circus act where someone spins a plate on the end of a stick, puts it on his head, then takes two more sticks with plates and spins them in each hand.

No applause if the plates fall off…only sad sounding oohs from the crowd and maybe a boo from someone feeling mean.

Supervisors dread noise that doesn’t sound like attaboy or attagirl. Their job is to build a work group where employees keep lots of plates spinning, in spite of interruptions, faulty sticks, or a lapse in concentration.

Supervisors are continually on red alert for the material stuff that can disrupt performance:

  • Equipment needing repair
  • Technology flaws
  • Processes that break down
  • Cost overruns

They often see their job as running interference to avoid plates falling off sticks, when their most important job is to provide clear, consistent direction and behavioral standards to employees.

When employees know what is expected, they can do their best work. However, they don’t know if they’re meeting your expectations unless you tell them.

And you can’t tell them if you don’t pay attention to how they are working and acting. Or if plates 2333375431_5857d7e3f3_myou pull the covers over your head. (Crash go the plates!)

All behavior matters.

In general, supervisors don’t like to confront employees about problematic behavior, particularly when it seems incidental.

They chalk it up to:

  • A bad day or a slight misstep
  • A brain cramp
  • No big deal
  • Typical of “their” generation

Until, of course, you end up with a pattern, a full-blown employee problem that’s taking a toll. Your employees start looking at you with the unspoken question: “Why are you letting this happen?”

Crash go the plates!

Problematic employee behavior is a gift that keeps on giving if you don’t intervene early. Three typical categories are:

1. Testing the rules

  • Periodically arriving late to work for legitimate sounding reasons
  • Coming back “a little late” from lunch or breaks
  • Missing meetings here and there
  • Not reporting off as required

2. Reliability and dependability

  • Not completing/submitting work on time
  • Failing to communicate project status and/or needs
  • Finding reasons not to support coworkers
  • Making excuses

 3. Interpersonal conduct

  • Way of speaking to coworkers (harsh, demanding, critical)
  • Negative body language, one-on-one or in groups
  • Impatience, bullying, resistance
  • Gossiping, nay-saying, over-socializing

Signs of these behaviors usually surface within the first three months after a new employee joins the work group.

When a supervisor takes over a new group, those behaviors have already taken root.

Job one is to take inventory of how each employee is conducting him/herself, assess what is positive and what isn’t, and immediately have a sit down.

Persist.

The longer you wait to confront unwanted or problematic behavior, the worse it will become and the more misery it will bring to your job as supervisor. What you resist, persists!

The earlier you call attention to what you don’t want, the easier your employee discussions will go:

  • Employees will know what you see and don’t want. That may be enough for them to change without further action.
  • You obtain a commitment for behavior changes which will launch improvement.
  • A dialogue starts, so you and your employee can get in a helpful performance feedback loop together.
  • Employees will recognize your commitment to fairness and a positive culture.

Good supervisors are teachers. Their primary role is to let each employee know what it takes to be successful in his/her job and how to contribute to the work group’s success.

It’s a lot easier to keep the plates spinning when everyone holding the sticks operates in a constructive work environment where they feel confident, safe, and understood.

Early intervention when employees are out of sync with your expectations positions everyone for a winning performance.

Opening photo by Polpulox !!! via Photoree                   Plate Photo by fonso via Photoree