Supervisors: Know what your employees do

by Shaun Kieran

As a supervisor, you should know what everyone who reports to you does…obviously. Sure, the organizational chart is worth a look – after all, somebody took the trouble to make it – but it’s crucial to understand what the people who report to you are doing every day to contribute to the work product for which you are being held accountable.

Most of the time that’s obvious, but sometimes it’s not – especially if you come from outside, rather than from within, the department you’re now managing. 

There’s that early “honeymoon” phase when any supervisor gets a bit of a break while he or she gets oriented and settled into the job.  It’s the perfect opportunity to walk around and get acquainted with the employees and their roles within the organization.  In fact, it would be foolish to waste this opportunity – especially if you’re not a “natural” at human relations.

It’s win-win. Ask what people do. Listen. Ask more appreciative questions based on what you’re hearing. Ask what’s hard. Ask about where things tend to go wrong. Ask what they think might make things more efficient. Ask for their wish list. Invite criticism. Get them to brag on themselves a little. The way to go is, ask, don’t tell.

That lays the groundwork for subsequent conversations that begin to reflect more of your supervisory perspective on where the organization is going and the part you see the individual employee playing.  You’re evolving the collaboration.  You’re not doing it just to be gentle and nice.  Relaxed, respectful two-way communication is, by far, the most effective way to minimize misunderstanding and be productive right away.

Human beings are intensely emotional – even the ones that seem fairly low-key from the outside – and hardly anything can make a group of people agitated more quickly than a new boss who shoots from the hip.

Yes, sometimes you as a new supervisor are coming in specifically to make changes; that’s why you’ve been hired. But even under extreme deadline pressure, you’ll help yourself tremendously if you’re sincerely in “learning mode” when you hit the ground running.

Any new boss is being sized up from day one. Employees are gauging who you are and imagining what it’s going to be like working for you. Confidence is good.  It’s reassuring.  If you project confidence and niceness, that’s almost perfect.  If you’re confident but edgy, imperious, or act like you know it all (even if you mostly do), you’ll hit some serious resistance. 

On the other hand, if you’re new but modest, even if you’re taking on something a bit over your head, you can’t go wrong.  Be humble, be a learner, be slow to need total control. That’s actually a form of confidence. Your strengths will reveal themselves over time.  Employees sense that, support it, and settle into doing the work with you.

There are enough challenges and pressure under the best of circumstances. Don’t make things worse for yourself. It may not always seem like it, but your employees want you to succeed – it’s in their interest. So relax. Listen. Learn. Help.

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