“What are the boundary mistakes that supervisors make and how do you fix them?” That’s the question I left you with at the end of Episode # 4.
A boundary is border or a limit. At work, boundaries are about acceptable behaviors that ensure:
- Work gets done the right way
- Individuals are treated with respect
- Policies and practices are followed consistently
- Employees conduct themselves courteously, professionally, and ethically
- The work environment is safe
Boundary setting and implementation are the job of every supervisor. It’s how you create a work environment where each employee has the opportunity to shine.
All kinds of problems arise when supervisors falter on boundary setting. Here are some typical mistakes to avoid.
Mistake 1: Boundary Abdication
The worst mistake is to abdicate your responsibility to establish and communicate clear boundaries.
When you don’t set boundaries, your employees will create their own and become self-supervising.
Consider this example:
A client of mine inherited a work group that had worked without behavioral boundaries for years. Several of her direct reports had previously repackaged their job duties to meet their own interests. They followed their own timetables for completing assignments, worked with whom they pleased and shunned others, and built allies in the company who believed they were following their supervisor’s lead. When my client implemented her boundaries, the workplace culture got on the right track in time.
A workplace without clear boundaries soon becomes dysfunctional.
Mistake 2: Moving Target Boundaries
Boundaries need to be consistent to be effective.
Anita is about five minutes late for work every day because she has to drop her child off at day care. Her supervisor lets this go, believing that it represents his support of women with children.
Charlie works with Anita. He’s five minutes late a couple times a week because, when he goes out with his buddies, he has a hard time getting up the next morning. The supervisor says nothing to Charlie but eventually writes that Charlie’s “often late for work” on his performance review. Charlie complains to HR, knowing Anita had been given a pass.
At work, late is late. So the boundary needs to be punctuality for all, because punctuality is about dependability and having all employees available for work.
Anita needs to set her alarm earlier and so does Charlie. Their live style choices outside of work aren’t the issue. Their commitment to getting to work on time is.
Mistake 3: Access Boundaries
A supervisor’s boundaries may turn to mush when certain employees feel like friends and it’s hard to say, “No,” to them.
If, as the supervisor, you’ve asked your employees to make an appointment with you when they have an idea to present or an issue to discuss, that means everyone. If your “friends” are allowed to pop into your office anytime, even just to joke around, while others are required to make an appointment, then it’s clear that your boundaries are for some but not all.
It doesn’t take much to create division, even clicks, in a work group. No-favorites boundaries help avoid that.
Mistake 4: Death-Grip Boundaries
Some supervisors are so unnerved by the potential unpredictability of employees that they set boundaries so tight around every conceivable situation that they squeeze the motivation out of their employees. Fear of loss of control can create a death-grip.
Instead of boundaries, these supervisors create endless hard-and-fast rules that become barriers to initiative and innovation. These insecure supervisors put employees in a vise and, in time, negative fallout and poor results will show.
Aids not obstacles
Effective supervising means adapting to conditions. That’s what makes setting boundaries so difficult in a rapidly changing workplace.
Supervision is as much art as it is method. Good supervisors understand their employees as individuals and as a team, creating boundaries that are aids and not obstacles. Often that starts with getting a good read on who your employees are and what they need.
So how do good supervisors get a correct read on their employees? We’ll tackle that question in Episode #6.