Productivity and performance are largely determined by supervisors

Supervisors must inspire teamwork to achieve world-class performance.

More people report to first-line supervisors than to any other management level. Supervisors represent a direct action link with the workforce. Their actions largely determine productivity and performance.

To achieve and sustain world-class performance, supervisors must inspire teamwork, get people to cooperate and work productively to attain company goals, and keep worker interest by building an environment that fosters job fulfillment. Supervisors represent the organization, and employees' feelings about the company, its management, jobs and interpersonal relations are often determined by the relationship that they have with their immediate supervisor.

Few supervisors receive the management support they need. Instead, they're often forced to function without training in a culture that isn't conducive to effective resource utilization. Yet, they are expected to achieve world-class performance from the rank and file. For example, a typical supervisor spends more time in the office generating reports and handling paperwork than directly supervising the workforce. To be effective, a supervisor must spend at least 60 percent of each shift on the floor, not in the office. It's clear that management needs to make a number of fundamental changes.

Eliminate criticism as a tool for managing line supervisors. Criticism too often reflects management's lack of understanding of the supervisory situation and its refusal to accept responsibility for helping supervisors become more effective.

Support supervisors with training in all areas and show them how to support workers and train them to find and break bottlenecks.

Support and train technicians in craft skills, and recognize their pride in these skills. Help workers become master mechanics and maximize their opportunities for self-realization.

Re-evaluate your method for selecting supervisors. Most are promoted from the hourly workforce using a process that doesn't consider the candidate's personal characteristics and the effect that "people skills" can have on plant performance. Three basic supervisory types that can evolve from this selection process are highlighted below.

Passive neutralizers

The aggressive diminisher ignores the rights of others, is domineering and insensitive, lacks self-confidence and respect, takes credit instead of giving it, and uses blame instead of accountability. Direct reports become uncooperative and produce only what is necessary to get by. The diminisher is powerless and relies upon authority and threat, rather than power and persuasion. Aggressive supervisory behavior ultimately results in "lose-lose" situations.

are able to get work done. But they deny their own rights and permit others to control them, often because of a lack of self-esteem. The passive neutralizer has the respect of some and contempt of others. Also, they usually have limited self-confidence and shine typically only in areas of a technical nature. Workers under a neutralizer typically produce at minimal or average levels.

The assertive enhancers stand up for their rights without violating the rights of others. They are self-confident, respected, responsible and accountable, possesses personal power, and can get others to work efficiently toward goals. Assertive enhancers are open, honest and upfront. They use two-way communication and encourage the respect and cooperation that improve overall work effectiveness.

Supervisory style must shift from "dictator" to "coach," and only assertive enhancers will be able to make the transition.

The workplace can no longer afford to underrate the supervisory job or its challenge. The supervisor and the team get the work done and generate profits, not planners or management.

Supervisors must accept their role in the change process. As a minimum, they must:

  • Establish an atmosphere in which they lead. Leaders can, and must, influence and control the spirit within their teams. Permissiveness is a neglect of duty.
  • Teach their reports what is expected of them to keep things moving in the right direction.
  • Inspect work frequently to ensure that accomplishments meet expectations.
  • Direct their reports to avoid aimless wandering. Idleness is the incubator of discontent.
  • Allow workers to make decisions appropriate to their level of responsibility.
Weak supervisors reserve every decision for themselves out of fear of losing control.