Because there is a direct correlation between your performance and that of your people, your success as a supervisor depends on your ability to bring out the best in them. You needn't threaten, shout, cajole or browbeat them to get things done. You simply have to make them want to do their best.
But how do you do that? Here are some frequently overlooked ways and means.
Be considerate. Nothing contributes more to building a strong, hardworking, loyal team than a considerate supervisor. Courtesy to subordinates is very important. Put yourself in their place before making any decisions that affect them. Realize that they have pride and self-respect and that by treating those characteristics as assets, you will get much more effective work than by trampling on them.
Give credit where it is due. Taking credit for yourself that rightfully belongs to one of your people destroys initiative and willingness to take responsibility. Giving proper recognition confers a double benefit: the employee gets credit for doing the job; you get credit for building an able team.
Set goals for them. A good supervisor gives people a sense of direction and something to strive for and achieve because a good supervisor understands that employees need to know where they're going, what they're doing, and why they're doing it so they can plan their course intelligently and work efficiently. Good employees can't get interested in working from day to day. So make the relationship between their day-to-day work and their larger goals clear. Don't, for example, stop with asking a person to study the operating costs of your department. Explain that it's part of a plan to provide leeway for salary increases. And give your people information about your department, company and industry so that they can see themselves and their work in perspective.
Anticipate the need for new assignments. Many farsighted supervisors stockpile work assignments in order to be ready for employees who complete current ones. If additional work isn't ready when employees are free to do it, something is wrong. If this keeps happening, check to see if the department is overstaffed. The situation might also result from some employees being overburdened while others do not have enough to do. This can occur because work loads fluctuate from week to week. One answer is to hire temporary or part-time people for peak load periods.
Schedule work breathers. It's a good idea to set aside time for jobs that need doing, such as clearing out files and maintaining records or reviewing procedures. Breathers should have a purpose, however, and should not stretch out or interfere with high-priority items.
Tell them what they're doing right. Most supervisors periodically sit down with their people to let them know how they are doing on their jobs. More often than not, these appraisals tend to emphasize what's wrong and where improvement is needed. But it's just as important not to overlook what they are doing right. The identification of a worker's achievements and strengths can be a most useful management tool. For one thing, it helps motivate employees. The more conscious a person is of what he has accomplished in the past, the more likely he is to attempt to accomplish in the future. By helping him identify past successes, you stimulate an employee to reach for his own top performance more of the time.
It gives him self-confidence, too. Once he is led to face the pleasant fact that he has been capable of effort and success in the past, confidence in his ability to duplicate, perhaps surpass, those past efforts will soar. He will dare more, and those who dare more, do more.
At one time or another every manager has been asked by an employee for special consideration. Sometimes exceptions to the rules have to be made as when there is a serious personal or family emergency. But occasionally the favor sought represents a breach of company standards, fairness or common sense.
When it requires that you break a rule. If the favor puts you in the awkward position of having to wink at the rule book without offering any reasonable extenuating circumstance, you are justified in turning it down. “I couldn't do that for anyone in the department” will usually suffice.
It is against the interests of the department. On short notice and during a particularly busy period, an employee asks for time off. Unless it is for a bonafide emergency, you can explain that the needs of the business come first in this case. In the future, requests for time off should be submitted well in advance so that suitable arrangements to cover the absent employee may be made.
It puts you in a position of having to do something unethical. For example, someone asks for advance information about a promotion or similar confidential material. A simple explanation of why you cannot oblige is all that is required.
It puts you on the spot in some other way. “Sorry, Harry, but if I let you park in the executive lot, I'd be letting myself in for a lot of complaints from my other people.” Few employees will insist that you make trouble for yourself to oblige them.
It goes without saying that on-the-job problems must be faced and corrected by management. But how about the touchy subject of the personal life of the employee? No supervisor should pry into the lives of subordinates, but when off-the-job problems affect on-the-job performance of employees, the boss frequently finds himself—like it or not—in the role of counselor. Those who have successfully assumed this delicate role abide by these rules:
Don't sit in judgment. You should not assume the mantle of moralist. Be understanding.
Don't ridicule. Belittling either the problem or the employee is absolutely taboo.
Don't give advice unless requested. And even then, don't try until you are in possession of all the facts.
Don't be a talker. It's the employee who has to get something off his or her chest—not you. So be a listener.
Don't be a blabbermouth. When personal problems are discussed, keep the confidence.