Getting Your Head Around Supervising–Episode #4 | Setting Boundaries

“What do good supervisors do to set boundaries that minimize mistakes?” That’s the question I left you with after Episode #3.

We unwittingly set the stage for our supervisory mistakes. Setting boundaries helps us minimize them and avoid a chain of calamities.

Think respect.

Boundaries are essential for supervisors and employees, so they can work together at top effectiveness.

On the surface, you might think that setting behavioral boundaries is simply a control tactic, the way supervisors keep their thunderous employee hoards at bay or imprison workers in the darkness of dreary, nose-to-the-grindstone tasks. Not so, at least not in a healthy workplace.

Actually, boundaries, when well used, build mutual respect between supervisor and employees that help everyone avoid making senseless mistakes.

We go to work to exchange effort for reward. It’s the same for both supervisors and employees. We do our best work when we believe that we’re respected for who we are, what we bring, and how we execute the requirements of our job. We determine whether or not we’re being respected by the way we’re treated, individually and in comparison to others.

Respect begets respect, that’s an easy principle to live by.

We earn respect in many ways as supervisors. Most often it’s about the way we treat people: our courtesy, acknowledgement, fairness, and courage to name a few. The platform for building respect, however, is in setting boundaries.

Set unifying boundaries.

Boundaries are limits supervisors set around acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, so employees know what’s within or out of bounds. This makes it clear whether or not it’s acceptable to:

  • Refuse an assignment or ignore required processes and practices
  • Be late or absent from work without notifying the supervisor ahead of time
  • Disrupt the workplace with distracting behavior
  • Barge into the supervisor’s office to complain, make demands, or interrupt
  • Demonstrate insubordinate, rude, or uncooperative behavior
  • Engage with others in ways not appropriate to the company culture or society

The potential list of work place boundaries is unlimited and no supervisor can or should try to figure them all out in advance. You’ll know when you’ve failed to set a necessary boundary when an employee crosses it , you’re caught off guard, and/or there’s been a negative impact on your work group. Some work groups, because of their make up, operate on few articulated boundaries; others need many.

They key is to be honest with yourself about behaviors you absolutely won’ t tolerate as the supervisor. Start by thinking about supervisors you liked and visualize what they did and didn’t accept from their employees. Then reflect on things you’ve seen and heard coworkers do that you know were off base. Then put together your list.

The preparing is always easier than the doing. Always remember that boundaries aren’t just about what makes life easier for you, the supervisor. They’re set to make the workplace a positive, safe, and relatively stress free place for your employees and you.

Your boundaries are there to insure inclusiveness, no bullying, fairness across the board, consistency in enforcing company policies, and a climate of mutual respect. When you have good principles-based boundaries, you have the foundation for teamwork, collaboration, and initiative that builds a sense of value and self-worth in each of your employees.

Boundaries matter.

Boundaries ensure mutual respect among supervisor and coworkers, so everyone can succeed. There need to be standards around quality of work, goal achievement, courtesy and fair treatment, respect for differences, and ways of speaking to each other.

The boundary-setting mistakes supervisors make often mirror Goldilocks sitting at the three bear’s breakfast table, deciding which porridge bowl to eat–too hot, too cold, and just right. Getting the boundaries set right is the next step.

So what are the boundary mistakes that supervisors make and how do you fix them? We’ll tackle that in Episode # 5.

 

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.

 

 

 

Feeling Left Out and Don’t Know Why? Turn Things Around. | Reaching Out

It can’t be avoided but we don’t want it to last.

It’s that feeling of being disconnected, conspicuous, and self-conscious whenever we’re plunked in workplace situations with people who don’t know us. It can happen when we:

  • join a new work group
  • participate in a cross-functional meeting
  • attend an industry conference
  • go to our first company party
  • become part of a new project team

The sooner we feel accepted the better. For some it’s easy but not for others. Feeling excluded  can drag us down and stall our careers.

The “why” of it

We can usually sense that we’re being left out by theses clues:

  • Blatant exclusion — being uninvited to meetings, ignored, ostracized, bypassed
  • Disregard– repeated rejection of input, unacknowledged communication, impolite treatment
  • Avoidance–unwillingness of colleagues to interact, collaborate, or talk with us

The reasons for being left out are many, so it helps to figure out enough so we can try to turn things around.

Generally, exclusion (temporary or permanent) may be the result of some discomfort  our colleagues feel because of our:

  • physical appearance (size, shape, gait, dress, race)
  • sound (accent, tone of voice, pace of speaking)
  • background (ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic group)
  • career specialty (techie, scientist, writer, hands-on worker)
  • reputation (climber, flirt, trouble-maker, boaster, truth-bender)

When  colleagues make us feel left out, their reasons are as much a commentary about them as us. The difference is that we’re the ones who feel the pain.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially at work, since company culture, work demands, and personalities create unique pressures.

Whether what others think about us is fair or correct isn’t the focus. It’s what we’re going to do to correct misconceptions and build positive perceptions that make us an accepted and valued part of the team.

What to do.

Once we have an inkling about the barriers to our being included, we need to shrink them.

It’s easy to be resentful and have a chip on your shoulder. When you do, it makes matters worse.

The reality is that we’re all capable of being excluders, even when while we’re being excluded.  It happens when:

  • We don’t know how to include someone we don’t know well; our tongues get tied and our feet stuck.
  • No one else in the work group has yet made a move, so the ice is not yet broken for us.
  • We’re uncertain about how connecting will affect us one-on-one and as part of the team.
  • There is a fear that our overture will be rejected, misread, or misused.

Inclusion at work is an investment in a relationship. When it’s positive, everyone wins; if not, then the price can be dear. That’s why coworkers are often careful or unwilling to step forward.

Take the pledge.

Healthy, productive organizations need everyone to feel valued. Anyone who feels left out is likely to perform below par, lack motivation to grow, and experience career disappointment.

Supervisors who fail to create inclusive work groups risk escalation of unwanted behaviors that slowly poison the operation.

Each of us is responsible for contributing to a fully inclusive work environment, even when we’re feeling excluded. That’s the big challenge.

We all need to pledge that we’ll extend a hand to a coworker who may feel left out. It’s about doing simple things:

  • Greet him warmly when your paths cross
  • Invite her to join in a discussion, meeting, or event
  • Talk with him about his work
  • Share news that she might have missed
  • Volunteer to work with him on an assignment
  • Commit to kindness

If you are feeling excluded now or if you have been excluded in the past, please pledge to take these small steps. They are a path to inclusion over time that will also benefit you.

Our career success is a product of what we do and how we do it. Remember those who reached out to you along the way and please pay it forward where you work.