The transition from employee to supervisor involves many changes that require both hard-work and concentration, but the payoffs are enormous, both personally and professionally. It is the beginning of a tremendous growth process—becoming part of a management team.
A supervisor’s job differs from that of an employee in many ways:
- The objective(s) of the supervisor job is different.
- The supervisor’s job requires new skills and techniques.
- The supervisor’s job offers different opportunities and satisfactions.
It is critical for the supervisor to understand how to fit into an organization, and this understanding does not occur without training and coaching. A challenge for newly promoted supervisors is always the realization that former peers now view them as management. Additionally, the supervisor must recognize that, at different organizational levels, management has various concerns. These differences can be best explained by separating the organizational levels according to purpose and role:
Senior-level managers are concerned with the relationship between the organization and the outside world. They are interested in the corporate position, profits, and the needs of customers and the community.
Middle-level managers are concerned with designing and maintaining systems and procedures. Their job is to make sure that internal operations are adequate, coordinating employee efforts to meet corporate goals.
Supervisors are also responsible for monitoring workgroups so that they may function effectively and efficiently.
In addition to regular supervision, a supervisor must also act as a leader. The supervisor uses both words and actions to set the tone for positive attitudes and approaches to work. Thus, an employee’s opinion about the organization primarily comes from the supervisor.
The following include essential principles that management conveys to the new supervisor to help ensure that the influence of the supervisor is a positive one:
- Be clear
- Expect the best
- Stick to the objective
- Test commitment
Clarity is the first and most critical principle. Employees cannot do what is required unless they understand the task and a supervisor’s expectations. The following guidelines are provided to supervisors to ensure clear communication:
- Use specific terms and language that conveys what you mean. For example, a simple direction, such as stating exactly when a project is due, sets a clear expectation.
- Be direct. Get to the point or purpose of the conversation from the very start.
- Keep it simple. In most situations, your message will be communicated more clearly if you stick with simple, everyday language and provide employees with only the information they need from you. Supervisors must avoid trying to impress employees with their command of language or overloading them with details they do not need or want.
- Avoid conflicting messages. Make sure employees get a consistent message from you in all situations. For example, if a deadline is essential, do not weaken the message by delivering it in a casual, off-handed manner. If you want to express your appreciation for good work and encourage an employee to continue the behavior, save any corrective actions for a different time.
Expect the Best:
Employees often live up to your expectations of them, whether they are high or low, so it makes sense to keep expectations high but realistic. If, as a supervisor, you expect them to be sloppy or uncooperative—and have communicated that expectation to them-you will usually get what you expect. However, if you have high but realistic expectations for your employees, they often work hard to meet those requirements. In expecting your employees to perform well:
- Recognize each employee’s value. To gain the respect and cooperation of your employees, make them feel valued. Avoid using general put-downs in conversations. These remarks can destroy employee confidence and convince them you will remain unsatisfied.
- Convey high expectations. In talking with employees about work, speak and act as though you confidently expect cooperation and good results from them. If you need to discuss possible problems, talk about how to prevent or solve them, but never about the consequences for failure.
- Emphasize future needs, not past problems. There are situations in which there is a reason to expect the issues and, as a supervisor, you must prepare for them.
Stick to the objective:
It is always tempting to try to accomplish several tasks at once:
- Stick to one topic at a time. Avoid dealing with other issues until you have dealt satisfactorily with the first one. If that is not possible and you need to discuss another issue beforehand, make definite plans to return to the original topic.
- Encourage activities that are directed toward work goals. Avoid giving attention to, or rewarding, behavior that is not related to work, such as long discussions of personal subjects.
- Limit interruptions. Communication that is continually interrupted is seldom productive. Try holding discussions when and where interruptions are unlikely. When this is not possible, keep disruptions to a minimum. If someone interrupts a conversation, arrange to get back with them later. Do not drop the conversation you are having, even for a short, unrelated discussion.
A primary objective of supervision is to make sure employees are committed to plans and agreements. Agreement and dedication can be encouraged when you:
- Summarize and rephrase what has been said
- Ask for the employee’s participation
- Ask for the employee’s understanding
- Directly ask for the employee’s agreement or commitment
- Follow-up to see how projects are progressing
Even if your conversation with an employee is a simple announcement, make sure they understand. Do not assume the employee is “with” you. These assumptions risk unpleasant surprises in the future, often when it is too late to change.
Positive expectations for new supervisors increase when dedicated training becomes a necessity. Finally, it is essential to establish a protocol allowing for communicating challenges and successes with a manager.