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Are Professional Supervisors Leading Your Employees? 4/8/2011

By: Dr. Nick Dayan

Take a look around your organization. You have supervisors leading your employee’s right? Are your front line leaders “Professional Supervisors”? Chances are they are not. Let me explain.

During the last 24 months, there were an insurmountable number of corporate downsizings and layoffs. Economic times were hard and cash flow was short to say the least. When it came time to decide who had to “leave” the company in order to cut “Human Capital” costs, it was not an easy decision. However it has been noted by several media outlets, that these types of decisions were driven purely by economics. In other words, the core decision was based upon what area could survive staffing cuts and would have the most money saved. Thus the salaries of managers and supervisors were under the proverbial “microscope”.

Decision makers made the determination that if they were to eliminate a higher paid position of a supervisor, then they could either pass those responsibilities on to the next lower level or hire another supervisor with little or no experience with a greatly reduced compensation package. A majority of companies decided that it would be best to keep the position in the company and not hire another outside person. They had two choices, either give the responsibilities to an individual who showed some potential as a leader and is making less money, or spread out the duties amongst several individuals. And in order to keep from having to increase wages to those who were fortunate enough to take on the functions, company officials just pointed to one little sentence in the job description. Specifically under the heading of Job Functions: “All other duties as assigned.”

Now everyone who has ever held a job knows that little phrase and in most career paths, we have been susceptible to its ruling consequence. Whether it was taking out the trash or being put on a committee to complete a project in which we had no clue of what we were talking about. But we do know that we had little choice but to accept the task at hand. So if an individual was asked to take over their supervisor’s duties, (which probably included the overseeing of subordinates), they more than likely felt obligated to accept. The issue now becomes two fold.

  • Will the company help the individual become a good supervisor through training and mentoring?
  • Will those individuals who were thrust into an exploited position of authority be expected to just have an innate ability to handle individuals and their workload while maintaining their own sense of self-respect?

Given that the second becomes the norm in most instances, it quickly becomes a recipe for disaster. Not to mention that this selected individual may be dealing with coworkers who were recently peers and are now subordinates. Those peers will almost be guaranteed to harbor ill feelings of resentment against this new supervisor given that they were not considered for this position.

One major mistake a company can make is to have an MBA program.

Contrary to popular belief, an MBA program in a company is not always a good thing. If you are thinking that the acronym MBA stands for Masters of Business Administration, Think again! Those of us, who have worked in the Human Resource field for a number of years, recognize this as standing for “Management by Attrition”. In other words, the position of supervisor or manager is given to either the person who has been with the company the longest period of time or who has been in a position related to the work area in which the next “leadership” position is needed…i.e.….seniority. This can be very unfortunate because it doesn’t take into account any other individual who has the ability to make a solid contribution as an extension of senior management.

Because of the acceptance of Management by Attrition, companies continue to fail at making a good selection for promotion when they don’t consider a person who has shown real quality leadership potential. But again, we as individuals are humans. Humans have one basic character flaw that we are all born with. That flaw is making decisions based purely off of emotional states and traits. Therefore, the decision to place an individual in a leadership position may really come down to two determining factors/questions:

  • Who is next in line?
  • Who do we like best?

Without a doubt, we would like to believe that the role of a supervisor will differ based on the line of work. They know how to negotiate and handle situations in a professional manner. If a supervisor fails to keep staff in line, than it will impact the quality of the company in any area which the supervisor oversees. But there are some core basic principles that must be adhered to. A good supervisor knows how to keep things and employees in line without getting a "superiority complex".

We fail to train on how to supervise.

Is college necessary in order to be a supervisor? A recent article in The USA Today entitled “Less-educated Could Get Left Behind”, basically stated that it is necessary. Actually the basic principle being stated in this article was that companies can be selective when hiring for their future workforce. And given that unemployment for college educated individuals recently was at an all-time high, there is now an abundance of these individuals ready to work. Thus companies are reviewing resumes and choosing only those with college education to make it to the next round of interviews. Companies are ready to hire college educated people to enhance their corporate culture and potential for future leadership because of a perceived level of professionalism. It is well known that merely having a “Sheep Skin” does not make you a leader. One of my favorite sayings is that “The world is full of educated derelicts”.

Sadly, corporate leaders are leaving the supervisor training and the “how to manage people or employees” to the colleges and universities. It is unfortunate, but they have a level of expectation that collegiate level employees come with all the knowledge and traits of a seasoned employee of a star-supervisor caliber. When was the last time you saw any higher level educational course through either a private or public institution that was entitled, “How to be a DAMN GOOD SUPERVISOR” or just any instructional situation on how to be a supervisor, period. Not many, I’m sure. Colleges are not training people to be supervisors and companies in essence are refusing to hire the qualified trainers that come into a work environment and help teach people how to succeed as an overseer of people.

Companies are becoming cheap(er) and lazy when it comes to investing in supervisory training. It is seen as a waste of resources. But if senior management would only follow a course of action that develops the characteristics of a good supervisor, then it would be well worth the money. But most choose to not have training drag out past an initial “seminar”.

A recent study states that the reason corporate leaders do not invest in outside training is because in the past they have experienced less than stellar results. They saw no change in their corporate culture based upon improved supervisor professionalism. But were their expectations unrealistic? Yes, because to their own admittance, in the past with some of these supervisor training classes, it was expected that you take employees and put them through a 2 to 4 hour training course and then expect some magical transformation. They are not realizing that training supervisors is a trait altering metamorphosis as opposed to a snapshot state of change. It must be a continuing change in the life cycle of an organization. It is up to the corporate leaders to push and coach these supervisors to the point where they go beyond being a supervisor and morph into a “professional supervisor.

It is imperative that corporations at the very least develop an in house program (often with the help of professional consultants) that train people how to supervise and hit the ground running with the tools and knowledge needed to lead their team. Corporate leaders often fail to consider the impact such training would have as a form of succession planning process that will put “high-potential leadership candidates” on the fast track to success.

Let’s keep in mind that there are many individuals who are not college educated can and often do become great supervisors. These people in all likelihood have had an excellent mentor that showed by example how to be a good supervisor. A mentor that would lead by example, is fair, and is able to balance the needs of the organization with those of the individuals who work for it. They have lots of patience and understanding and are not too strict and yet not too lenient. These individuals work hard to get the best out all types of individuals. In other words, they are professional supervisors who have received training to lead (yet it was not through formal classes or seminars).

Long term studies have suggested that there are substantial differences between being just a supervisor and a professional supervisor. In general, professional supervisors seem to use more teaching and sharing behaviors, and they (and their supervisees) are more active in managing a work environment as a team. Effectiveness of supervisors who have not been given the tools or training to be in a position of higher responsibility as an “MBA” are found to be less than effective as supervisors.

So if you plan to grow you’re your business, invest in making your supervisors “professional” supervisors. It will become quickly noticeable that they really enjoy supervision and are committed to helping employees grow. It is a must that you engage these people to not only be your human capital resource, but invest in their management education so that they become your intellectual capital resource as well. These professional supervisors will exude a level of commitment to the overall goal of an organization by their preparation for and involvement in all levels of management cohesiveness. Do this and you will find that professional supervisors identify with strong character abilities that will enhance any organization.

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