March 2010 - Seven Sins of Supervision
The Seven Sins of Supervision that Cancel Cooperation
Sometimes, it helps to see what mistakes people make to learn what not to do. This month, we cover some of those with comments about why it is important to pay attention to this area.
Comments: One of the biggest mistakes people make when they move into a supervisory or management role is trying to be "one of the boys/girls." You have to face it ó as the supervisor or manager, you can no longer be part of the same group. You are there to be a leader and people expect you to lead. Yes, itís really great if people like you. And, you have to give direction. And, you may have to give discipline and set boundaries for your staff. Those arenít easy skills to learn. There is a lot of help available if you donít have those skills. Ask your Human Resources department or your training department or find classes outside your own workplace. Donít be afraid to ask for help. Donít be afraid to learn new skills.
Speaking from experience, it took me a few years to realize that it was OK to admit that I didnít know everything. How could I when I had just taken over as a supervisor for the first time with no training. Iíve learned that many others find themselves in the same spot. Still.
Comments: Learning to ask for help is a very important skill to learn if you want to be a good supervisor, manager or executive. There is a false myth that supervisors, managers or executives are supposed to know everything, to never make mistakes and to never need help. That sets up everyone for failure. Often, the staff on the front line know the answers to whatever problem is happening with their work. They may not have learned how to share their ideas or they may have never been encouraged in the past to speak up. You will find a wealth of information waiting for you if you learn how to ask people to participate in finding solutions to workplace problems. And, once they learn, you can help them develop the skills to make changes on their own. Which leads to discussion of Sin #3.
Comments: Allowing people to do express their ideas, to do work in the way that works for them, and to be accountable for results is building a stronger team. Allow your staff to work without constantly telling them what to do.
Take time away from the office and let them make decisions. If they make mistakes, they will learn from them and so will you. Like children, employees need to learn how to fall down before they learn to walk; they need to learn to walk before they can run and they need to learn how to be responsible for their own work before they can be responsible for the work of others.
Allow your staff to learn. Give them opportunities to do things, to stretch their skills, to try something different, to take initiative.
Comments: Not allowing people to do work in their own way constrains their natural abilities and talents and stifles their growth. There are many ways to do a job Ė at least, there are many ways to do most jobs. When staff have the freedom to figure out how to do something in their own way, they learn more than the job ó they learn responsibility, they learn analytical skills and they learn to be creative.
Sometimes, they may struggle a bit before they figure it out. Thatís OK, too. Itís part of the learning and growing process.
Or, they may figure out a way that is much, much better than anyone else has ever figured it out. They will remember a task much more if they have to redo it or have to rethink it before getting it right.
If you are always telling them what to do, you are keeping them from their own learning. Remember: everyone is different, has different background and different ways of seeing the world. Thatís a good thing because each person brings a different perspective that can help others see things differently also.
Comments: Our culture tends to always want to "blame" someone when something goes wrong. Maybe itís not even "wrong" Ė just different. I canít count the number of times I have heard someone jump to a conclusion that something was wrong or someone was at fault before they even knew the situation. When something happens that you are not expecting, take a step back, take a few deep breaths.
Instead of accusing someone of something, ask questions like: can you tell me what happened in your own words so I can understand? Really listen to what the person has to tell you. If necessary, talk with others. Get several perspectives on what happened. Donít get angry; get the facts. Anger only clouds judgment and doesnít do anyone any good. If someone does make a mistake, work with them to understand how to prevent a mistake in the future. Use the experience as a learning exercise. Share with others so they can learn not to make the same mistake.
Company safety committees that are successful have learned that reporting small issues so they can be resolved and learned from can prevent larger accidents and injuries from happening. Use other situations in that way ó as a way to prevent larger mistakes from happening. Maybe, discuss mistakes at a staff meeting so everyone can understand how to prevent them from happening again. If you do that, everyone will be part of the solution rather than feeling like they are getting beaten up for making a simple mistake. If managers are too quick to blame, become angry or judge too quickly, staff learn to cover up mistakes, which then lead to even greater mistakes happening in the long term.
I worked in a place where I was told that some people spent their entire career hiding things from their boss because the boss would erupt in a tirade when someone didnít go their way. Staff genuinely felt that their only way to protect themselves was to hide things from the manager. Obviously, it was not a good teamwork situation and it took years before staff relaxed after the angry manager left.
Comments: If you donít allow people to speak up, they donít have a good sense of what is on their mind and they donít understand what is on your mind either. I remember years ago after taking over management of a group where at one meeting, staff started to tell me about some of the things they thought were wrong with the plans for a major new project. I encouraged them to share their feeling openly with the others in a group meeting. Later, one of the staff told me that the former manager would never have allowed that type of "venting." I was quite surprised. The staff had some very legitimate concerns about the project and the direction it was heading.
As it turned out, they were very right and the project was eventually postponed until sufficient testing could be done to make sure the product worked before being rolled out. Had a few not been willing to speak up, it could have been a big disaster and would have caused a great deal of time, money and energy to fix. Not to mention the damage to the staff reputation. Part of the problem was with the manager mentioned in Sin #5; none of her staff would tell her that they thought the schedule was too aggressive. When she finally did learn about it ó not from her own staff ó she stopped the project until they could all agree on the proper course. The end result was very successful and the revised schedule did have enough time to do the job properly.
Comments: This is such a big one, itís hard to know where to start. Itís one of the biggest mistakes managers can make. They think that if they let people know what is happening, that they will cause problems or "upset" people. Truthfully, when there is pressure and secrets are being kept, many people can feel that energy, can "sense" that someone is wrong. Without facts, people tend to make up their own "stories" about what might be happening. They may become nervous, less productive, worried about their job, worried about things that are not being discussed. They learn not to trust management. That carries over into every day interactions.
In todayís difficult economic situation, many people are worried about their jobs, their futures, their health care, their ability to succeed where they are and their ability to provide for their families. If they know the truth about possible changes, they can deal with reality instead of dealing with rumors and made up situations created by their own fears.
If your company is struggling, donít hide the fact until itís too late. Let employees know. They often can come up with cost-saving ideas, ways to do things more efficiently. Many will offer to help in other ways if it is really serious ó taking time off without pay, reducing their salary, reducing their hours, being more careful with company purchases, looking for bargains, etc.
Be realistic, open and honest with staff and you will usually get back the best they have to give. You may be pleasantly surprised at how hard people are willing to work when they are given the opportunity.
I remember in one of my earliest jobs, the small company I worked for let us know that they were trying to get higher production for a special project and asked people to work extra overtime if they could. Not only did we work the extra hours, evenings and Saturdays, we worked so hard that we were able to finish the job in far less time than originally expected. Everyone really put their heart and soul into doing everything possible to help the company succeed. That little company went on to become a leader in their industry. And, I learned a very valuable lesson that Iíve never forgotten about the power of people with a common purpose.
Source: Adapted from the book The 22 Biggest Mistakes Managers Make and How to Correct Them by James Van Fleet. Parker Publishing Co., West Nyack, NY.
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Page updated: October 16, 2023
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