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.

Learn Something Unrelated. Kick Your Career Up a Notch.

Learning something new gets our attention. It reminds us we have skills to build on,

By: Alan L

dormant interests ready for the light, and talents (latent or otherwise) screaming for an outlet.

It you want to build self-confidence and give your career trajectory a shot in the glutes, find something unrelated to your job and learn it.

Embrace the counterintuitive.

We’re told at work that we need to develop our skills and expand job knowledge. We’re scheduled for training classes, assigned reading, and sometimes told to find a mentor.

We do all that, work hard to master tasks, and wonder why we don’t feel like we’re really growing.

The sad fact is that most employee development programs aren’t geared to releasing our creative energies, raising self-awareness, or expanding the reach of our experiences.

Expansive growth comes from realizing more about ourselves by learning something new, with all the discovery and surprise it brings.

Learning opens gates of knowledge, skill, and awareness. It’s liberating. You decide and commit to what you want to learn, how, and when. Every piece of it reveals something important to you and about you:

  • Can I learn this new information or skill? Do have the aptitude?
  • Do I like doing what it takes to learn it?
  • Is it what I thought it was before I got started? Do I want to stick with it?
  • I never thought I could learn about or do this.
  • I wonder where this new knowledge might take me.
  • I’m meeting new and interesting people who share my interests.
  • I’m developing transferable skills and experiences, building self-confidence.

Each of us brings to our jobs creativity, insight, and connections that complement the performance skills our work requires. To enrich that, we need to keep learning and exposing ourselves to worlds outside of work.

Get started.

Learning is a forever part of our lives if we want it to be. If you’ve been a bit lax, there’s no time like the present to restart your learning engines.

It’s often easier to say, Just do it, than to act. We often feel awkward about committing to a direction when it’s not what our friends or family expect from us.

You can’t let the opinion of others get in your way. After all, learning is about exploring. It’s not like you’re quitting your job to join the circus. You’re just deciding to learn about or how to do something new, something you’re curious about, have always dreamed of trying, or something that takes you out of your comfort zone.

Hey, if you don’t like it, just move on to something else. The key is to pursue something that makes you feel like you’ve added a new component to all that is you.

Learning is about head and heart. It adds insight, experience, connections and even uniqueness. In terms of your career, you’re differentiating yourself, making yourself more interesting, revealing yourself as creative, adventuresome, inventive, and multidimensional.

If you’re still a bit fuzzy about the possibilities, here’s a wildly ranging list of new things to learn that might spark your imagination. Consider learning how to:

  • Play the accordion
  • Use power tools
  • Show cats/train dogs
  • Grow orchids
  • Fossil hunt
  • Write a memoir
  • Raise bees/make honey
  • Become a storyteller
  • Make sushi
  • Learn a foreign or computer language

Each one of these ideas is an opportunity to build one or more career-essential skill outside of your job like: attention to detail, dependability, communication, safety, technical know-how, process management, planning, organizing, and risk-taking. There’s nothing better than growing your skills doing something fun.

Stay committed. Keep reaching.

When I sign copies of my book, Business Fitness, this is my standard inscription: Stay committed. Keep reaching. That’s what your commitment to learning helps you do. Your career is a product of your efforts to expand  yourself and to capitalize on all that you bring to your job. Learning is a faithful friend. Partner up and enjoy the rewards.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Confronting the Employee Attitude Problem | Help for Supervisors

I wrote this post in March 2010 and it has enjoyed the highest number of page views. I realized that during my blog site switchover that searchers were having difficulty locating it. So it seemed like a good time to re-post it with a revised title.

employee attitude472_-3A supervisor’s nightmare—the employee with a “problem” attitude. Makes you feel like you just drew the Old Maid card.

What to do? You have an employee with a personality, work style, or temperament that is driving you crazy or aggravating others, making it harder to get the work done. And you don’t want to fire.

Performance appraisal is how supervisors save us from ourselves. 

Good supervisors use appraisal to teach and guide. Most employees with attitude issues aren’t aware of any problem: it’s just their way.

You know you’ve got an “attitude” problem employee when these things start to happen:

  • Peers would rather do a job alone than work with him/her
  • Discussion at a meeting goes dead when he/she speaks
  • S/he insists that work be done his/her way or hoards work
  • Direction is always questioned
  • S/he consistently criticizes, competes with, or dismisses the work of others

Each of these situations points to an attitude that needs defining. Where to start?

Connect “attitude” to observable behaviors that impact productivity.  

The first step in dealing with “attitude” issues is to demonstrate how the employee’s behavior is affecting the work. Here’s how you prepare:

  • Observe and take notes of specific instances (about 6) where the attitude was obvious.
  • Make a list of the impacts you saw, like defensiveness from others, resistance, stalled decisions, or delay.
  • Determine specifically how these impacts will affect the output of your work group.

Next meet with the employee to talk about their performance to date and your intention to coach them to improve:

  • Raise the attitude issue by sharing your recent observations, naming the dates and situations.
  • Explain what you observed and ask them to offer their perspective.
  • Be specific about the current and future impacts of their “attitude” on the productivity of the group.
  • Ask what they are willing to do to improve and how you can help them.

Raise the stakes and engage the employee in orchestrating his/her own change. 

Most of us don’t change unless there are negative consequences that we can avoid by doing things differently. The more we want to make a positive change and reap the rewards, the more invested we are in the work we need to do.

At this point, explain the next steps to the employee:

  • Together agree on a performance goal(s) for the balance of the year focused on the “attitude” change that needs to be made
  • Require the employee to write and submit a plan of action to achieve it
  • Establish how this change will be evaluated

Gather direct feedback from peers and internal customers. 

Nothing gets our attention more than knowing what others are saying about us, especially in the workplace. So here’s what you can do:

  • Develop 5-8 questions with the employee to be asked of their internal customers, focused on their approach to getting work done.
  • Identify 8-10 peers and internal customers that the employee will ask to answer those questions.
  • Develop a process and timing for collecting the feedback and submitting it confidentially to you.
  • Explain that, as the supervisor, you will also ask 8-10 people to respond.
  • Compile the feedback. Discuss summarized findings with the employee.
  • Reset his/her goals and strategies to improve.

If you are cringing about the effort this takes, I understand. But if you’ve ever fired anyone for poor performance, you know that the documentation, meetings, and general agony of that process make this look like a vacation.

The first pass at this requires the most work. The next time is much easier. How you handle your first “attitude” problem will gain you enormous credibility with your employees. It’s an approach that demonstrates your commitment to helping employees succeed. Being business fit means taking the lead when the chips are down. This is one of those times.

What kinds of “bad attitudes” have you witnessed in the workplace? How were they handled? Any ideas to add? Thanks.

Photo from Freedigitalphotos.net

The Employee Development Bait and Switch—Perpetrator or Victim?

It is a downer when we discover that there are few growth opportunities offered at our jobs. 

When we’re hired, there’s usually someone who talks about how the company is committed to developing employees. For sure there will be a fine orientation program and skills training. Then there may be tuition refund offerings, a chance to go to conferences, those wonderful stretch assignments, and mentoring. 

So we eagerly dig into our jobs to discover that: 

  • Work demands leave no time for development
  • Orientation and training are sporadic and informal at best
  • There are major restrictions on tuition refund
  • No one really mentors or even supervises, for that matter 

In other words, when it comes to our development, we’re often on our own. 

Who’s to blame? 

There’s plenty of blame to go around, and the blame game rarely fixes anything. The problem is: 

  • Many supervisors don’t have the will, ability, and/or time to develop anyone because day-to-day demands don’t enable it
  • Human resource personnel/departments are stretched and employee development initiatives are a low company priority
  • The company’s business strategy doesn’t recognize the bottom-line value of increasing employee capabilities
  • Employees aren’t taking the initiative to develop their capabilities on their own 

In a business setting, growth is about expanding our knowledge, skills, and experiences so we can: 

  • Perform in broader arenas and take on more responsibility
  • Contribute new and better ideas to increase product/service value
  • Be ready to rise in the organization 

Employee development is an advantage to the company and to us personally. 

What to do? 

The economy today is a major challenge to most businesses. The chances of our bosses, HR, or the company looking out for our development are slim, in spite of what’s said. 

So we can sit around and complain or we can take our development into our own hands. 

Your development starts with an awareness of what you want from your career: So, 

  • Write one-sentence describing your career aspirations. (If you can’t write it in one sentence, you’re not truly clear about what you want.)
  • Then write a list of the skills, knowledge or experiences that you want to add or expand.
  • Identify no or low cost actions that you can initiate and manage. List other development activities that you will propose to your boss.
  • Put together your own development plan for the next year, stating which activities you will complete each quarter and their value to the company. 

Coming up with initiatives is the challenging part, so here are some suggestions: 

In-house book club: Offer to organize and lead a book club of coworkers around specific books on topics like leadership, project management, and communication that will meet at specific times on or off the clock.

Free on-line webinars: Identify well-known experts on the behaviors you need for career success, attend their free on-line webinars, or ask your boss if the company will cover the cost.

Twitter chats: Find opportunities on Twitter to participate in topical chats at places like #careerchat, #hrchat, or #leadershipchat. Capture key ideas and input; summarize them and share/discuss them with your boss.

Mentors: Seek out mentors within and outside your company. Be clear about the kind of advice and feedback you’re seeking. Maintain a positive relationship.

Blogs: Follow expert bloggers in the growth areas important to you. Comment, ask questions, and build connections with them.

Courses and conferences: Identify coursework or conferences that are relevant to your work and your growth. Ask to attend and offer to share your knowledge when you return through a staff meeting report, white paper, training session, or presentation. 

Add value. 

Your development has the greatest value when it serves both the company and your career. The more you do to expand what you learn to bring better results, teach others, and add to the capabilities of the company, the more support you’ll get for your initiatives. Please don’t wait to be developed. It’s your career, so own it

Photo from opensourceway via Flickr