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

Supervising Employees Who Hate Their Jobs? Step In or Pay the Price.

hate job 3533132079_708cc8953a_mGrumbling  is one thing; hating quite another. Every job includes things we don’t like but hating is big.

Funny isn’t it, that when we start a new job, we’re so gung-ho. The work, the challenge, and the new relationships feel exciting and so promising.

So how do we go from all that eagerness to job hating?

Decline and fall.

Our jobs exist in a culture created by the leadership style of our supervisors who operate in a culture created by their managers and the leadership. It’s a chain.

Daily, we do our jobs along side coworkers who also perform within that same supervisor- created culture. So if we hate our jobs, it’s on our supervisor’s watch.

Alert supervisors pick up on the signs that we’re hating our jobs like:

  • lack of enthusiasm and energy
  • inattentiveness, slacking, and disinterest
  • flat performance levels and unwillingness to volunteer
  • whining, complaining, and fault-finding

More than likely, we don’t realize just how our job unhappiness is affecting us, showing on our faces, and becoming a detriment to our careers.

We should remember that our supervisors too may hate their jobs, creating an even more complex set of circumstances for them to handle.

No matter what, the failure of supervisors to intervene when employees are unhappy contributes to the decline and fall of all or part of any organization.

Step up with conviction.

Supervisor intervention around job hating is not about band-aiding: It’s about taking on the big issues that are turning employees off.

After seeing a study by Dale Carnegie Training that confirmed the extent of employee job hating, Ilya Pozin wrote an article for Huffington Post identifying the top ten reasons full-time employees hate their jobs .

Of the ten, these five, in my view, are ripe for immediate supervisor action. Taking them on and resolving them will contribute to healing the hating and bolstering leadership status. Pozin’s reasons are in bold italics below and my comments follow:

Their boss sucks. Supervisors need to lead so employees want to follow. So stop micro-managing, criticizing, keeping employees in the dark, and treating them like they’re either the enemy, game pieces to be pushed around, or stupid. Instead, listen to what they say and mean, ask for clarity, explain what you can and cannot do for them, and give them a chance to be creative.

They’re not being challenged.  Supervisors need to ensure that employees have diverse and interesting work to do, not just mundane, repetitive, and under-the-radar tasks. Give employees a chance to come up with a new approach, solve problems together, or switch off roles by ensuring cross-training.

There’s too much red tape.  Endless rules and hoops to jump through to complete essential work only frustrate employees who see that their ability to get things done is being hampered unnecessarily. Look for opportunities to increase decision-making authority for employees that reinforces your trust in them.

There’s no room for advancement. Feeling like you’re going nowhere in your job is debilitating. If there is no clear career path, there are always opportunities for supervisors to develop the capabilities of employees so they can cover for each other and for the supervisor. When employees feel they are growing and have added to their value, they see their jobs more positively.

Job insecurity. Employees routinely read the tea leaves about what’s going on in the company. It doesn’t take much to make them nervous about their employment. That’s why supervisors need to keep them informed about how the company is performing, address the rumor mill, and be transparent. Credible information goes a long way to liking your job.

 Avoid loss.

Good supervisors watch out for the well-being of their employees. Their ability to create and maintain a positive, high-performing work group is the true measure of a supervisor’s value.

When supervisors fall short, employees often leave or under-perform. Since both are avoidable, there should be a career price to pay by supervisors for letting that happen.

Photo by Adam Foster via Photoree

 

 

 

Relief for Leaders–Understand What Keeps You Up at Night

lipkin book 17987524I couldn’t resist the invitation to write a post about Nicole Lipkin’s new book with this irresistible title: What Keeps Leaders Up at Night: Recognizing and Resolving Your Most Troubling Management Issues. Having spent my own share of sleepless nights over the years, I could relate.

You’ve made it. You’re in charge. The lead is in your hands. It’s exciting and challenging, an opportunity to set direction, form a productive team, and impact the company.

Leaders set the tone and establish workplace culture. Their decisions affect employees individually and collectively along with the company’s customers, investors, and suppliers. It’s a big deal being the leader, sometimes bigger than we can fully grasp.

As leaders we get our real education about the scope and challenges of the job when things start to go wrong…not when things explode but when they start to erode.

Nagging concerns

As leaders we often get a sense that something isn’t quite right, but, gosh, if the work’s getting done, it can’t be that serious, right? But somehow we just can’t stop thinking about something we’ve done, observed, or heard that was unsettling. Whatever it is, it’s ours to handle.

In her new book, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, corporate psychologist Nicole Lipkin lipkin 6e4120eb91d40a7e9d9ac5_L__V388068734_SX200_targets eight of the most significant management issues that trouble us as leaders. Her focus is on the behaviors that drive both employees and leaders, building understanding through anecdotal situations, psychological studies, and remedies that we can adopt.

As leaders we make mistakes, some big and some small, some consciously and some unknowingly. To that Lipkin writes:

You can’t change what’s already happened, but you can change what you do next…I’ve learned that the solutions always begin with raising my self-awareness and helping others raise theirs.

So instead of self-flagellating, we need to step up to the plate and turn things around. Lipkin covers eight big issues that often plague leaders.Since I’ve written before about bad bosses,  I was drawn to this chapter:

I’m a Good Boss, So Why Do I Sometimes Act Like a Bad One?

Lipkin boils this issue down into three digestible bits. As the leader ask if you’re:

  • Too busy to win…Have I gotten so lost in the trees that I can no longer see the forest?
  • Too proud to see…Letting yourself get so tied to an idea that you won’t let it go.
  • Too afraid to lose…Question and second-guess every step along the way.

The consequences of failing to resolve this management issue are major, so facing your contribution to the problem is key.  Lipkin writes:

Self-awareness begins with admitting that you are human…your natural neurological and psychological make-up must cope with huge pressures….You see what you want to see.

Just pausing to cast an objective eye on your maladaptive or unproductive behavior or asking a trusted ally to tell you the honest truth…can get you back on track.

I have also written about the importance of managing expectations in the workplace, especially by bosses, so I was especially interested in her chapter on this sleep-threatening issue:

What Causes a Star to Fade?

Whenever we take a job or get a promotion, we start with great expectations of what the opportunity will contribute to our careers. In this chapter on the importance of employee engagement, Lipkin writes:

Every company and every boss enters into a psychological contract with their employees…an individual’s beliefs about the mutual obligations that exist between the employee and the employer.

When promises are known or perceived  by employees to be broken, they choose actions, as Lipkin notes, that fall into four broad categories:

  • Exit: Leaving or planning to leave the organization
  • Voice: Speaking up to address the breach with superiors, co-workers….
  • Loyalty: Suffering in silence and hoping the problem will solve itself
  • Neglect: Making a half-hearted effort to do the work

Each of these can negatively affect the business and induce a leader’s sleepless night.

And there’s more. Nicole Lipkin covers these questions too:

  • Why Don’t People Heed My Sage Advice?
  • Why Do I Lose My Cool in Hot Situations?
  • Why Does a Good Fight Sometimes Go Bad?
  • Why Can Ambition Sabotage Success?
  • Why Do People Resist Change?
  • Why Do Good Teams Go Bad?

Bedside reading.

I like a book that I can turn to easily when an issue jolts me into wakefulness. Lipkin’s book is an easy reference for her eight knotty problems. The psychological concepts are written in lay terms and posed in practical situations. Reading adds to our awareness and gives us tools to solve the problems unique to us.The right book and a handy nightlight can be trusty aids to restore our sleep.

Fired, Downsized, or Eased Out–Helping Employees Save Face

It’s awful. Letting employees go, no matter what the circumstance, is a dreaded task for respect 4621075758_6c21beb236_mmost managers.

That’s often the reason why they:

  • put the task off for too long
  • tell HR to take care of it
  • find a way to do it remotely
  • botch the conversation

Good managers understand that when they have to let one of their employees go, it’s the way they do it that will be remembered and become lore.

Be clear about why.

Employees are fired, downsized, or eased out for any number of reasons:

  • Poor performance, rule violations, improper conduct, or breaking the law
  • Company reorganization, elimination of a product or service, merger, process redesign, or technology changes
  • Inability to adapt to change, resistance to direction, or loss of performance value

In each instance there should be a valid set of circumstances to support separating the employee from the company. Whether they accept it or not, employees deserve to be told specifically what has led to the loss of their jobs.

This means the manager who delivers the message must understand and be able to articulate those facts clearly. That’s what often scares them.

No one likes to deliver bad news. In the working world, losing your job, for any reason, feels like career capital punishment.

Sure, there will be opportunities for future career steps–more than likely a job that’s a better fit in a company with a more compatible culture and a boss that you click with.

But when that hammer hits, most employees just feel the crush of it. Finding that new door that will open seems like a million light years away.

So no matter the reason for the “letting go,” the manager who must deliver the message knows that s/he will be facing a difficult conversation that may result in hurt, backlash, argument, or conflict.

Do what’s right.

When we get hired as managers, we’re expected to come to work with our big girl and big boy pants on. That means being present to do what’s right, particularly when it comes to our employees.

You can run but you can’t hide.

Any time you have to let someone go, the onus is on you. Your reputation (yes, brand) as a manager is enhanced or damaged by the way you handle the situation.

I’ve seen and heard about employees who learned they were  being let go when they:

  • came to work and found a dumpster in their offices
  • were met by HR or company security as they came to work and were immediately sent back to their cars with the news
  • called into HR and while there someone from the company was packing up their personal effects
  • got the news by phone or email, even while on vacation

I  worked with a high ranking corporate attorney who didn’t have one personal item in his office. When I asked why, he told me that’s so when he left or was asked to go, there was nothing for him to take along.

It’s about respect and humanity.

Telling employees that it’s their last day is stomach-churning and uncomfortable. You can’t predict how your employees will react and that doesn’t really matter.

What’s important is the way you treat them in their most unsettled and scary hour. That’s what they’ll remember and say about you after the dust settles.

Your respect and humanity toward your employees in those meetings are what enables them to retain a good portion of their self-esteem and self-confidence going forward.

No matter how awful their reactions may be toward you, you need to show them respect, patience, and caring.

That means you need to:

  • Prepare your conversation using respectful language and tone
  • Acknowledge their disagreement agreeably
  • Speak calmly and listen attentively
  • Encourage them to move forward

Losing one’s job can feel pretty humiliating. So anything managers can do to help employees save face and rebound is a gift. Our job is not to ruin our employees’ careers but to help them to plant their roots in the best soil and grow.

Photo by B.S. Wise via Photoree