Why Training Is The Key To Effective Supervision

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.
Original Publication Exchange Magazine

Supervisors are some of the most important, if not the most important people in any company. They alone are the keys to getting the best from people, getting products out the door, maintaining quality control, motivating the workforce, and a host of other jobs that can make or break any firm. Why is it then that we fail to recognize the need to make these people the very best that they can be? We depend on them and expect a great deal from them, yet when it comes to training, most supervisors get little if any effective preparation for their jobs.

Typically, someone is told on Friday afternoon that he or she would be promoted to a supervisory level and that they are to start on Monday. What usually happens, is that the new supervisor decides that having taken a certain amount of abuse for years it is now his or her turn to hand it out. Then the company wonders why the new person isn’t doing the job satisfactorily

All too often the assumption seems to be that supervising is so simple and straightforward that anyone can do it simply because they have themselves been supervised. What nonsense! This is the same as saying that anyone can become an astronaut after seeing astronauts at work on television.

Supervisors must be taught how to do their jobs effectively, how to adapt to changes in the workforce, in the workplace, in new methods, materials etc. Their need for education is constant. It never ends. New supervisors certainly need training, but so do the older more experienced supervisors; they should be taught new methods, ways of handling people, changes in labour relations, law etc. Even if these supervisors have attended a training course before, they will get even more out of an advanced course that draws on their experience.

What should supervisors be able to do and what topics should be included in their training? One business school expert says that a supervisor must be able to understand people, motivate them, be an effective leader, a good planner, and allocator of work, wise, and fair in decision making, an expert in technical aspects of the job, and finally to be an effective liaison between top management and the workers. If you are thinking that this sounds like a task for superman or superwoman you are absolutely correct.

One supervisor has said, “My Company expects me to be able to satisfactorily explain policies, rules, regulations and procedures, to my workers even when they have never been explained to me. They want me to teach and train without ever losing my patience or my temper and to smile even when it kills me.”

Another supervisor put it this way, “According to both the union and the management, I’m supposed to be understanding, tolerant, sympathetic, and have second sight. They don’t want a supervisor; they want Superwoman

If we are going to help supervisors become effective, we must teach them how to carry out the major supervisory responsibilities. Each of the following is a skill that is essential for today’s supervisor. Each of them might also be the topic for a workshop or seminar: planning, controlling, monitoring and evaluating, delegating, organizing, staffing, directing, motivating, guiding and influencing, communicating, maintaining quality control, problem solving, time management, handling grievances, training others, performance appraisal, and effective leadership.

If your supervisors aren’t highly skilled in each of these areas they aren’t capable of doing their jobs. You may be carrying on without any apparent problems now, but how much better might your operation be if your supervisors knew more about motivation, or effective leadership, or quality control? How much trouble, time, and money could be saved if your supervisors were able to avoid major employee conflicts and grievances? The cost of training your supervisors is nothing compared to the cost of not training them.

How can you tell whether your supervisors are the best they can be? One simple way is to look for the following signs of poor supervision. You can recognize poor supervision when you see a supervisor who:

• Passes the blame onto others
• Is self-centered and thinks only in terms of, “What’s in it for me?”
• Asks employees to do things that he or she won’t do
• Thinks that the way to run a department is to be cool and aloof
• Uses the supervisor’s position of power to lord it over employees
• Drags his or her feet and resists doing things that need doing
• Says yes but doesn’t mean it or stick to it
• Agonizes over decisions and is reluctant to make them
• Tends to jump to conclusions and act too quickly

Supervisors are made, not born and your firm has an important responsibility to make your supervisors the very best. They need special training and that means more than simple- on- the- job experience or a watch- what- I- do approach. It means special courses offered by experts and developed for your firm. To do anything less is unfair to your supervisors, to the people that they manage, and to the welfare of your company.

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

Re-printable with permission.