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Supervisors Lead the Way

Author: Steven J. Stowell, Ph.D.

Most of us know from personal experience that supervision is not easy. A lot of research supports the fact that supervision, or the lack of it, is one of the primary reasons why talented people leave an organization. So this brings up the question, what does a good supervisor have to do in order to unleash motivation, keep talented people engaged, and help drive results for the organization?

Our research and nearly 30 years of supervisor
experience, indicates that supervisors must successfully perform 10 tasks in order to make a difference. It's that simple. If supervisors want to obtain discretionary effort, that is effort above and beyond what a person needs to exert just to keep their job, supervisors will need to pay close attention to these things. Supervisors could use these tasks as a checklist of their effectiveness, and then make changes in their practices or behaviors where they may be coming up short as a leader. Let's explore these 10 tasks and what we call, "The Performance Engine."

Task 1. In order to provide some horsepower for the organization, a supervisor has to demonstrate concern, interest, and support for their workers. I think the number one question most employees have is this, "Does anyone appreciate me for who I am and what I do?" In effect the supervisor has to be able to build a relationship with people. A supervisor must be approachable, accessible, even friendly. Our supervisor training does not suggest that a supervisor has to be best friends with employees, they do need to be friendly enough that people feel comfortable communicating and sharing concerns (the good, the bad, and the ugly).

Task 2. High performance organizations need supervisors who can communicate strategy to employees. The supervisor has to be able to convey a sense of the organization's purpose and answer questions and clear up confusion about the organization's mission and goals. The question that most people have is, "Do I feel connected and part of something? Do I like what this organization stands for? Do I know where it is headed?" If a supervisor can manage these questions they will unlock a lot of hidden talent, motivation, and discretionary effort.

Task 3. The third cylinder of the performance engine deals with roles. Everyone has to understand what they are accountable for and what their responsibilities are. Roles need to be clear; they need to fit in with the strategies and objectives of the organization. A role has to offer some challenge, some interest and intrigue. The supervisor has to make sure that the tasks and activities are clearly defined, reviewed, and updated. The supervisor has to design jobs so they offer motivation potential and satisfaction.

Task 4. The next part of the performance engine is targets (objectives) that employees need to reach. People who have clear targets and objectives are more productive and achieve more. Targets give people a sense of purpose and enable them to stay connected to the work. Smart objectives stretch people to new levels of achievement. The question that a lot of people have is: "How do I fit and why do I matter? They want to know how their efforts link into the "big picture?" The job of a supervisor is to make sure these goals fit the organization strategy and that objectives are specific, measurable, are action oriented, realistic, and time-bound (SMART).

Task 5. The fifth cylinder of the supervisory performance engine is feedback and coaching. Some supervisors find this extremely easy to do, others find it very difficult. Some supervisors fear that they are going to hurt a person's feelings if they give employees honest, constructive, and timely information about performance. But people are curious, they thrive on feedback, they are eager to know how they are doing, where they are going, and how do they stand in the organization?

Task 6. The next area the supervisor must pay attention to is skill development. People have a thrust for knowledge and learning. A good supervisor will constantly be looking for opportunities to develop people on and off the job. People want to know if someone will be there to help look after their training. They know the world is changing and that if they don't stay current and up to date, they will become irrelevant.

Task 7. The performance engine will be starved for fuel if the supervisor isn't willing to "go to the mat," be willing to wrestle and fight for resources: the financial support, time, tools, technology, and equipment that people need in order to perform. Everyone wants to know: Will this organization provide the tools I need so that I can successfully perform my job safely and do quality work.

Task 8. The eighth area of the performance engine is opportunity. What we mean is access to future opportunity and potential. Before people will put a stake in the ground and pin their future to the organization, they want to know: Will my supervisor prepare me for the future and the changes that will inevitably come? Will I have opportunities to add value, be relevant, and secure? If people know that their supervisor is looking ahead and thinking strategically about the future, employees will be reassured that the future is bright and they will go the extra mile and step up to challenges.

Task 9. The job of every supervisor, to some degree, depends on his/her ability to get everyone to work collectively as a team. This means that people have to share information, share ideas, be willing to help each other and make some sacrifices for the good of the team. So, a supervisor has to lead by example as they build cohesiveness and unity. Teamwork is important because some individuals feel more responsibility or more accountability to the group than to the supervisor. If a supervisor can create some bonds and a sense of connection with members, they can go a long way to unleashing discretionary effort.

Task 10. Last but not least, good supervisors maintain the performance engine by taking care of rewards and recognition. This means a supervisors has to pay attention and be sensitive to people's unique needs for recognition, reinforcement, as well as economic rewards (pay, benefits, and incentives). Everyone is different and some people "work to live" and some people "live to work." So supervisors have to adjust the way they recognize and reward people. Everyone needs to feel they are treated equitably and fairly in this area. While supervisors may not always be able to fully control the rewards, and they will never be able to fully satisfy this inexhaustible need for material rewards, but a supervisor must be aware of people's needs in this area and talk about them.

There is no question that a supervisor has his/her work cut out in order to stay on top of these 10 tasks. There is always maintenance to do on this performance engine. So a supervisor's job is to pay attention to these 10 moving parts, and from time to time do the needed tune-ups or add fuel to the engine. This means that as a supervisor you must measure and monitor how your people are doing on these 10 dimensions. A supervisor needs to have conversations around these ten areas, they have to watch the gauges and make sure they don't run low on precious ingredients if they want to unlock motivation.

Supervisors have to learn what kind of support people want, what motivates then, what challenges them, and what skills they are interested in learning. Supervisors must know whether or not people have a sense of direction or if their roles are clear. It is only through constant communication, coaching, and awareness of these tasks that a supervisor can make a difference in the organization. We all know that if organizations are going to be successful in the future that good supervisors with supervisor
will lead the way. But supervisors can't do it alone. Supervisors need a good organization that will back them up. Supervisors need to have an organization behind them with policies and procedures that are user friendly. There has to be a well defined organization strategy, institutions, and traditions. There has to be minimal bureaucracy, infighting, and politics. There has to be a strong sense that people truly are important and will make a difference in business.

If a supervisor is willing to step up, willing to have authentic conversations with people about these 10 areas and monitor them, they can be tremendously successful. If the organization stands behind their supervisors and is willing to provide the supervisor
, systems, policies, and resources, there is a great chance organizations can meet the needs of stakeholders, customers, as well as their own people.

About the author:
Steven J. Stowell, Ph.D. is the President and Co-founder of CMOE and has helped organizations around the world such as Pfizer, FedEx, and HP in developing in-house supervisor

Contact 888-262-2499 for more information.

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