How Well do You Know Your People?


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How Well do You Know Your People?

Often the difference between a successful supervisor and a mediocre one is simply the difference between their people. One group will work together, overcome obstacles and take pride in each other's abilities. Another will be fragmented with no sense of team accomplishment, no commitment to meet goals and little identification with each other.

The fault is often the supervisor's. It is the supervisor who should know enough about each of the people who report to him or her to be able to inspire, motivate and direct them in terms tailored to their individual needs, goals and ambitions.

The following quiz is no substitute for getting to know your people through talking with, listening to and observing them. But it may stimulate your thinking in those directions.

  1. Can you identify the chief non-business interests of each person who works for you?
  2. Can you identify the motivational "hot button" of each employee—that is, the single most important factor that drives him or her (praise, desire to excel, competitive spirit, etc.)?
  3. Do you take these into consideration when giving assignments, assessing performance, appraising overall effectiveness?
  4. Do you know the employment record of each of your people. That is, where they worked before and in what capacities?
  5. If so, are you taking advantage of their previous experience in the work you assign them?
  6. Is any employee getting more than his or her fair share of work?
  7. By the same token, is anyone being underemployed?
  8. What can you do—right now—to redress such imbalances?
  9. Are your people generally satisfied with the way you handle grievances?
  10. If not, what do they object to?
  11. How would you characterize your image with employees—a fair boss, arbitrary, demanding or incompetent?
  12. How do your people get along? Do they cooperate in a team spirit? Compete in a healthy way? Pitch in on projects when they are needed? Or do they go their own ways and avoid each other?
  13. Can you predict how each of your employees will react to criticism, a setback, an unfamiliar assignment or change in the environment?
  14. Who, among your people, are the challenge meeters—the ones who view tough tasks as opportunities to prove themselves and undertake those assignments with relish?
  15. Are these challenge meeters given the kind of jobs that require innovative thinking, perseverance and plain hard work?
  16. Do you think your people get a sense of contributing to the success of your department, function or organization?
  17. Can you describe the self-image of each of your employees?
  18. Do you keep this in mind when issuing instructions and assignments?
  19. Do your people consider working for you an opportunity to prove themselves and prepare for larger responsibilities?
  20. Do you take each employee's capabilities into consideration, then give assignments that challenge and "stretch" each individual?

Provide Them With Satisfaction

If employee turnover is a headache in your department, chances are that your people miss what is known as "job satisfaction." What can you do about it?

At least four things:

  1. Evaluate performance regularly. Don't do this on paper, but directly and personally. Talk to employees often and let them know where they stand, where they have shown improvement and where further work is needed.
  2. Give each worker your personal attention. Ask about their interests and aspirations. Let them know you care about them after hours as well as during work hours.
  3. Broaden their responsibilities as quickly as their performance warrants, for few things make good employees more restless than doing a job that has lost its challenge.
  4. Ask for advice. Seek and use every opportunity to make employees feel that their opinions and judgment are respected and valued. It costs nothing to let people think they are contributing to the overall effort, as well as to their own particular area of responsibility.

Got a Problem? Be Creative

In tackling a problem, the orderly assembly and testing of facts are frequently not enough. They must be juggled, toyed with, turned upside down, hitched to non-facts, even handled whimsically sometimes. The solution to problems can come from the most unlikely sources: experience, experiment, accidents, daydreams, hard work. You never can tell where or when you'll find them, but there are ways to coax them into existence.

Some approaches:

Use your imagination. Fresh ideas have two major enemies: logic and common sense. Most of the world's great inventions were fathered by people with the ability to conduct their minds on free-wheeling excursions into the nonexistent, the unconventional, the absurd. Try it yourself on a problem. How might a child approach it? Suppose money were no object? What could you do if you had all the time in the world? Can you solve this in some combination? With what? With whom? Don't be afraid of getting wrong answers. You only need one correct answer.

Get it down on paper. Your pencil can help, too. Write the problem out as simply as you can. Study it. Jot down every alternative that occurs to you. Draw pictures. Doodle. The mere act of playing with a problem sometimes yields the solution.

Brainstorm. Because ideas generate ideas, a noteworthy method of finding solutions is to talk over a problem with others: friends, colleagues, employees. Encourage other people to give free rein to their imaginations and share their insights and inspirations, no matter how outlandish they may seem.

Something A says may trigger B who in turn may trigger C and so on. Many ingenious ideas have been created through this kind of free association.