As with many cycles in business and life, our country has reached a point in time when generations are moving into different stages of their lives, giving rise to new opportunities for less experienced individuals. The shift brings about a mixed bag of challenges and benefits. There is likely sadness and some grieving as experienced, tenured leaders phase into retirement and turn the reins over to the next generation. Similarly, there could be enthusiasm and excitement for the changing in tides resulting in new energy and ideas.
In addition to the emotional roller coaster are the challenges companies face when they find themselves in a position where a larger percentage of their newly promoted supervisors are green and require development to reach the same level of experience as those leaving the organization. Companies that recognize the shift and proactively invest in building leadership throughout their organizations now will reap the rewards of those efforts for years to come. Most importantly, an organization that chooses to invest in its leaders shows that they care about their development, which results in leaders who are motivated, confident, and loyal.
Many individuals are promoted to supervisory positions because they became technical experts in their previous jobs. Transitioning from individual contributor to having one’s job success depend upon the efforts of others is challenging, especially when they were once your peers. New supervisors must understand that their new role is to achieve results through directing, motivating, and managing the work of others, and that can be a very difficult reality to come to without proper knowledge and tools. It requires mastering a new set of skills. Leaving a new supervisor to figure it out for themselves is a recipe for frustration and higher turnover at best and failure for the individual if not organization as a whole at worst.
An individual is promoted to supervisor, leading a small team. The new supervisor had mastered the skills required to do the job and seemed eager to take on their new role, feeling motivated to work even harder than ever before. Recognizing all the normal challenges they have heard from peers who were also recently promoted, they decided to take their commitment to the company, and their new position, to a different level. As new projects came in, the supervisor took them on instead of delegating. Soon after assuming the role, the supervisor was so busy they didn’t have time for their direct reports, and they became a bottleneck in the system. Other employees were less effective and frustrated. The supervisor felt overworked and angry that they were doing all the work. As a result, turnover increased.
In a lot of cases, new supervisors love the work they do and letting go is difficult. Often supervisors stay in the weeds for a few reasons including a fear of failure, a desire to impress their bosses, and ensuring the job is done “correctly.” The supervisor in this example was a skilled worker, but they didn’t know how to manage. Effective supervisory training would give this supervisor the tools they need to direct, motivate, and achieve results through the efforts of others.
This supervisor, a long-time vineyard worker, was promoted to Crew Lead in recognition of their hard work and dependability. Everybody liked the recently promoted supervisor, their competence, and their work ethic. The supervisor was a good friend to all. In this new role, they were expected to communicate company objectives to the crew, give performance feedback, and manage conflict as well as train and support the members of the work crew. When a problem arose between two team members, the employer asked the supervisor to take corrective action. The supervisor responded by taking sides, which caused other employees to take sides and the conflict deepened.
In an ever-changing work environment where communication practices become increasingly difficult,
supervisors must learn how to resolve conflict and uphold standards set by the company without being influenced by historical work relationships. Employers sometimes overlook the reality that the knowledge and interpersonal skills required to do technical work well are often very different from the people skills required to succeed and thrive in a job supervising the work of others. By learning a few different approaches to communication, this supervisor could have handled the situation more effectively and earned respect from old peers in their new role.
In this third and final example, the newly promoted supervisor had the communication skills and ability to effectively lead their team, but they lacked the training to recognize potential employment risks. As a result, when one of their direct reports began to have attendance issues, the supervisor was quick to want to terminate the employee. In a feedback discussion, the employee divulged that they have a medical condition they are struggling with and that has been the cause of the attendance issues. The supervisor told the employee that they are sorry they have medical issues, but they cannot continue to tolerate the absences and tardiness because it is causing an increase in everyone else’s workload. The employee quit on the spot and filed a claim against the employer stating they were coerced to quit and it was retaliatory on the basis of their medical condition.
Unfortunately, in this scenario, the supervisor was only thinking about operational needs and the challenges that absenteeism was posing on the team and their productivity. Since the supervisor had never encountered a need for leave or accommodations themselves, they did not recognize that this situation warranted a different approach. Supervisors are agents of the business for which they work and represent. As such, they are required to recognize when an employee may require a leave of absence, intermittent leave, or disability related accommodations, among other issues that warrant a visit with human resources. They may not recognize when an employee’s performance or attendance struggles are related to a protected right that should be appropriately addressed. The lack of knowledge in recognizing these types of issues can create significant liability for the employer, and potentially the individual supervisor as well. Foundational compliance training would have saved this supervisor and the company from having to face a legal claim.
Investing in the professional development of supervisors and managers strengthens your entire organization by institutionalizing the knowledge and technical skills needed to be effective, and helps create a clear culture that backs the organization’s mission, values and objectives. More importantly, investing in your internal talent pool will create a more successful succession plan and will prepare you for the next generational transition. While there may be some resistance to making the investment because of the current trend in resignation, the training paradox, supported by decades of data, tells us that the more a company invests in their employee’s development the less likely they are to leave overall. Furthermore, those same leaders will in turn also invest in the development of their direct reports, upskilling the entire workforce over time. Supervisory training is one part of a multi-faceted workplace culture, performance, and retention plan. Over time, supervisory training can contribute to more efficient operations, higher productivity, fewer mistakes, greater job satisfaction, higher retention, and better morale. It takes a commitment, time and money, but the end results are well worth it.
Gabriel Cox is a Senior Trainer and Coach and golbou ghassemieh is the Operations Manager & Senior Consultant with The Personnel Perspective, an HR consulting, leadership training, and recruiting firm with senior level human resources professionals serving the North Bay since 1987. Contact The Personnel Perspective at (707) 576-7653.
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