Editor's note: This article was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Supervising and managing a group of employees who all have different personalities, skill sets and who may or may not interact well with each other is no easy task. New supervisors are no longer solely responsible for their own results and performance. Instead, they must now facilitate results and success through their employees. One of a supervisor’s main roles is to establish goals and lead a team of people to achieve them.
Success as a supervisor will be determined by a different skillset, including the ability to manage work, communicate and provide feedback, improve employee performance, build and develop a team, resolve conflict, and solve problems.
1. Understanding the role of a supervisor
As a supervisor, the qualities and knowledge that enabled success in a previous job may be very different than the skills that will make an effective supervisor today. A lot of the time, when someone is hired as a supervisor, they have just been promoted from within the company. Therefore, a lot of supervisors find it challenging to go from “bud to boss.”
Supervisors are responsible for whatever happens within their team; they are the voice of the company to the staff. If supervisors involve their direct reports in decisions and help them feel like part of the team, it will help everyone be successful. People come to work wanting to make a contribution and do a good job, but if they don’t know what is expected from them, they can’t hit the target.
2. Communicating effectively
A supervisor’s success depends a great deal on how well they communicate with their employees. Since it’s estimated that people spend 70-80 percent of their workday communicating, it’s important to also understand that successful communication is a two-way street.
Both supervisors and employees need to listen to one another, share viewpoints constructively, and ensure each other’s messages are being properly received. Supervisors also have to communicate clear expectations because no one comes to work trying to mess things up. By having both parties develop open, positive and supportive communication styles, it’s ensuring that both parties will build a positive working relationship.
3. Preventing and resolving conflict
Supervisors spend a considerable amount of time handling conflicts; an estimated 20 percent of their time. Supervisors also spend quite a bit of time trying to prevent conflict.
However, if conflict does arise, here are some things that may be asked:
- Investigate and document the conflict
- If appropriate, use positive discipline
- Identify when outside assistance is needed; refer difficult conflicts to human resource specialists, hired counselors, or use other intervention
- Minimize conflict in employee workgroups by encouraging positive coworker relations and open communication
4. Managing employee’s performance goals
The biggest misconception about documenting an employee’s performance is the time and attention given to it. It’s not a once per year activity. Documenting an employee’s performance is an ongoing process that begins as soon as a supervisor has started working with the employee to establish goals.
In addition, performance management requires a system that will allow a supervisor to fully and accurately document successes, challenges, progress, and/or completion of goals. This system includes setting clear goals, determining key job responsibilities, identifying and using skills, coaching and giving continuous feedback, and providing an objective appraisal of performance.
5. Understanding employment law
Supervisors and managers have a shared responsibility with HR in making sure that their interactions and relations with employees are compliant with federal and state employment laws. Since most people are unaware of everything they need to do to stay in compliance, it's critically important to receive ongoing training on employment law, as well as receive continual coaching and development.
Some of the major employment law issues supervisors should be aware of include the:
- Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA)
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
- Equal Pay Act (EPA)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
6. Problem solving and making decisions confidently
At its essence, problem solving is about identifying the problem, analyzing data to determine the root cause, identifying and implementing a solution and then monitoring the process to ensure the solution remains implemented and that it does not cause more problems.
A problem is the difference between the current situation and the standard or goal. Without the identification of this “desired state,” there really is no way to identify if a problem exists.
Be able to solve problems, a person needs:
- Creative thinking skills and attitudes to generate new ideas to adapt to a changing environment.
- Critical thinking (analytics) skills and attitudes to ascertain whether his/her or others’ ideas are good ones.
- Practical thinking (innovation) skills and attitudes to implement the ideas and persuade others of their values.
7. Leading and working with teams
Teams are comprised of several individuals with different social styles, personalities, reward and recognition preferences, work prioritization styles, coaching style preferences, and preferences for receiving feedback. Supervisors have the responsibility of juggling all of these differences while also forming a cohesive, cooperative team.
When people of differing work styles work together, issues can and will arise. If supervisors are not prepared, those issues will be seen as obstacles instead of opportunities.
Without a strong supervisory presence and without a central figure who can help navigate these differences, relationships can break down, team “spirit” can erode, and the culture of high performance becomes one of low morale and mistrust.
While the task can be challenging, one of the most rewarding things a supervisor can do is bring a group of individuals together, fostering a team culture and personality, and in the process, creating a high performance, focused and driven team.
8. Leading and managing change
Change is inevitable. It’s how change is lead and managed that makes the difference. Companies that accept and embrace change are typically healthier, more dynamic, and faster growing than those companies that fear change.
When faced with change, people typically put a negative spin on it, often without knowing all of the facts. A person’s natural tendency is to see change as a threat. That’s how our brains are hardwired- to be risk averse, rather than seeing the positives. There are three simple commands that we teach supervisors to consciously think about when dealing with a perceived negative like change.
- Stop: When change first occurs, it’s important to not automatically turn to a negative response. Instead, as a supervisor, stop and refrain from acting and deciding anything. It is also important to mentally disconnect and try to observe the change that is happening.
- Challenge: Once a moment was taken to process what had happened instead of reacting to it, the next step as a supervisor is to take on the challenge of finding the positives in a situation.
- Choose: Once the silver lining has been identified within the challenge, the next step as a supervisor is to come up with an ideal response. Once the ideal response has been uncovered, it’s imperative to use it.
9. Planning and managing the work
In today’s modern world, gone are the days of minimal interruptions while at work. So how is anyone, let alone a supervisor, supposed to make the best use of their time? First, prioritize. Second, understand that as a supervisor, it’s tough to do the job alone. Third, if some solid behaviors, habits, and processes are put in place, a supervisor’s management of time will be more efficient and successful. As a result, supervisors won’t receive more time, but can make better use of the time they have.
As a supervisor, it’s no longer about managing personal time. Within a supervisory role, it’s important to help employees manage their time, priorities, and projects. A common pitfall supervisors face is not asking for help and continuing to manage everything themselves, instead of relying on their time.
To be a successful supervisor, it’s vital to help employees get the job done, delegate tasks in order to help the employees grow and develop, and help employees succeed overall.
10. Understanding and respecting generational differences
With Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials all coexisting in the same office, there is bound to be generational differences. These differences are now forcing companies to put practices into place to help manage the generational issues and conflicts.
Traditionalists tend to be driven by formal, public recognition, leadership roles, and responsibility. This group tends to stay at an organization for a long time, and perhaps are approaching retirement. However, this group also tends to have a ‘No one cares what we think and what we know; no one asks us for feedback anymore,’ attitude.
Baby Boomers are motivated by recognition, taking charge, making a difference, teaming, personal growth, health and wellness, autonomy and creativity, competition and success. This group is ideal for being formal leaders within an organization, as well as informal leadership roles. Baby Boomers also want to work on projects that matter to them, such as wellness and community outreach.
Next is the strong-willed, independent Generation X. What engages and drives this group in general is challenging work, training, recognition and reward, a good relationship with their boss, coworker cohesion, and development and growth opportunities. In short, this group wants to feel as though they’ve ‘made it.’
Then there are the Millennials. This generation identifies with a person, specifically a leader and thrives on having their own workplace and career tour guide. They look for someone to connect with and learn from and someone who can champion them and their career.