Keeping the Right People
Good supervision affects organizational results and the overall work environment. A strong supervisory team that contributes to a positive work environment and enables employees to be and feel successful can provide your organization with a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talented employees - which is critical in a sector that faces challenges in recruiting and retaining top employees. Good supervision is based on clearly defining the role of supervisors in your organization, and ensuring supervisors have the requisite competencies to carry out their role effectively.
Role of a supervisor
Supervisors manage both processes and people.
Process responsibilities include activities such as:
- Work unit planning
- Task/work assignment
- Work implementation and problem solving
- Monitoring work unit progress
- Evaluating results
People responsibilities include activities such as:
- Developing work team and individual employee skills and capabilities
- Motivating employees
- Monitoring and providing feedback on day-to-day performance
- Conducting formal performance reviews
- Carrying out disciplinary activity
In the majority of organizations today, supervisors typically have dual roles: that of supervisor and that of worker. This means that a percentage of a supervisor's time is spent on supervisory activities and a percentage of their time is spent on doing his or her own functional/technical activities. Typically the amount of time spent on supervisor activities, versus functional/technical activities, increases with:
- The seniority (level) of the managerial job
- A greater number of employees being supervised
- Greater complexity of the goals and responsibilities within the function
- Lower expertise and knowledge of employees being supervised
- Greater risks associated with the work being completed
Functions of a supervisor
The following are examples of typical supervisory functions: people management and task management. Each organization will need to define the functions that best meet the specific needs of the organization and what the proper balance is between the two functions.
People management functions
Typical people management functions of a supervisor include:
- Developing work team and individual employee skills and capabilities
- Motivating employees
- Monitoring and providing feedback on day-to-day performance
- Formal performance review
- Disciplinary action
Developing work team and individual employee skills and capabilities
As part of achieving objectives, supervisors need to ensure that their work team is comprised of individuals with the skills, knowledge, and capabilities to carry out the work. Supervisors can achieve the desired mix of skills, knowledge, and capabilities through effective staffing and/or through the development of current employees.
Supervisors should identify development needs jointly with their employees to determine appropriate development opportunities and activities. While the identification of development needs is often part of the formal performance management process, it is important to have the discussion with employees whenever assigning a new project or activity, or when the supervisor observes the employee struggling to achieve assigned objectives. Development opportunities could include things such as job shadowing, working on a particular task force or project or a temporary job assignment. Development activities could include coaching or mentoring (often from the supervisor, but could be from another employee or manager), on the job training or a training course.
Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that work unit goals and objectives are achieved. Critical to fulfilling this responsibility is motivating employees to successfully accomplish assigned activities. Supervisors can use a number of motivation techniques, including:
- Providing positive feedback on employee achievements
- Assigning interesting and challenging work
- Providing effective guidance, support and training
- Recognizing and rewarding positive performance
- Tailoring work assignments, rewards and recognition to individual employee needs and desires
- Leading by example (nothing is more de-motivating than a supervisor who expects employees to "do what I say" not "what I do")
Successfully motivating employees requires:
- Identifying the results and behaviours expected of employees
- Discussing these expectations with employees to ensure mutual understanding and employee buy-in
- Aligning motivating techniques accordingly
- Celebrating success
The combination of process and people responsibilities results in a requirement for supervisors to have a combination of process management competencies and people management competencies. Those identified below are meant to provide examples of typical competencies required of supervisors.
Monitoring and providing feedback on day-to-day performance
While most organizations require an annual performance review be done with all employees, effective people management is based on on-going feedback, coaching and support throughout the year. Supervisors are responsible for monitoring day-to-day performance and providing employees with timely and constructive feedback - both positive and negative.
Monitoring day-to-day performance does not mean watching over every aspect of how the employee carries out assigned activities and tasks. Supervisors should not micro-manage employee performance but instead should focus their attention on results achieved, as well as individual behaviours and team dynamics affecting the work environment.
Formal performance review
In most organizations supervisors are required to conduct a formal review with all of their employees (usually annually, more often in other organizations). Refer to the Performance Management section, and the Policy Guideline for more information on this function.
Supervisors are required to carry out disciplinary actions with employees, when required, to ensure performance expectations are met and a positive work environment is maintained. Refer to the Discipline section and the HR Policy Guidelines for more information on this function.
Process management functions
Typical process management functions of a supervisor include:
- Work unit planning and budgeting
- Task/work assignment
- Implementation and problem solving
- Monitoring work unit progress
- Evaluating and reporting on results
Work unit planning and budgeting
Work unit planning involves establishing goals and objectives for the work unit being supervised. Work unit planning is done at the operational level, but should be developed based on an understanding of the organization's strategy (organization mission, goals and objectives) and how the work unit contributes to the achievement of that strategy.
One of the challenges that supervisors have in many nonprofits is establishing concrete measurable goals, particularly when the mission of the organization relates to the improvement of community, social, or individual welfare over the long term. As a management team, supervisors need to identify a combination of qualitative as well as quantitative measures for the organization as a whole, and individually, for their own work unit.
Qualitative goals could relate to things such as the satisfaction of employees, clients and funders, reputation in the industry, recognition in the community, and service quality.
Quantitative goals could relate to things such as meeting budget targets, cost of administration versus service provision, clients served and employee turnover and retention.
For each goal, whether qualitative or quantitative, supervisors should reflect on and document:
- What - the activities involved and expected outcomes related to this goal
- How -- the activities and desired behaviours required to complete the goal
- When - the timing of activities and the target date for goal achievement
Use the SMART system when developing your qualitative and quantitative goals.
Budgeting is a key element of work unit planning. Budgeting is usually an iterative process, based on:
- Assessing the previous year's estimated and actual budget
- Determining the dollars needed to carry out the work required to achieve the upcoming year's goals and objectives
- Presenting the budget request to the senior management team
- Adjusting the budget and work unit plan to match the amount allocated by the senior management team
Scheduling can refer to assigning staff to particular shifts or work hours in an organization where services are provided and/or organizational activities occur outside the normal business week.
Scheduling can also refer to organizing work unit tasks for the day, week, month and/or quarter in order to produce outputs or deliver services in a timely manner. This includes coordinating with the outputs or services of other work units and ensuring that organizational needs and commitments are met.
Task/work assignment involves assigning specific work tasks and responsibilities to employees in the work unit. The supervisor:
- Determines the skills, knowledge and capabilities required to carry out the task
- Assesses the skills, knowledge and capabilities of the individual employees
- Assigns work to the most appropriate individual
When assigning work to employees, the supervisor needs to consider not only what each employee is capable of doing but also what assignments will provide challenges and development opportunities to employees.
Implementation and problem solving
The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that activities and tasks within the work unit are implemented effectively. This requires the supervisor to oversee the implementation of activities and tasks at the individual employee level as well as managing the implementation at the work unit level.
During implementation of activities and tasks the supervisor is often required to solve problems impacting the ability of the work unit to achieve its goals and objectives. The cause of the problem can be internal to the work unit, such as a lack of skills, knowledge, resources, or time to complete tasks, or external to the work unit, such as coordination issues with other work units or external parties (i.e. funders, volunteers, clients). The supervisor needs to determine the root cause of the problem and determine an effective course of action to resolve the issue.
Monitoring work unit progress
Monitoring work unit progress on achieving goals and objectives involves tracking progress on projects and individual employee assignments. The tracking process should reflect the work cycles within the work unit (typically monthly or quarterly, but can also be weekly in certain work environments). Supervisors should develop a method for tracking progress that provides them with enough information at the right time to identify and resolve problems but is not overly burdensome to either themselves or their employees.
Evaluating and reporting on results
Supervisors are responsible for evaluating the results achieved by the work unit and reporting those results to their manager. Evaluation of results involves not only determining if planned goals and objectives have been met, but also how effectively they were met. The supervisor is also required to explain causes and impacts of unmet goals, as well as recommend solutions for addressing any issues/risks accrued to the organization as a result of unmet goals.
The content requirements and format of reports are usually established at the senior management level to ensure consistent measurement and reporting across the organization.
It is important to note that employees expect to participate in many of the process activities defined as supervisory functions and, in fact, a supervisor generally relies on the input and involvement of their employees to successfully fulfill these responsibilities. However, it is important to remember that it is the supervisor's responsibility to make the decision.
The combination of process and people responsibilities results in a requirement for supervisors to have a combination of process management competencies and people management competencies. Those identified below are meant to provide examples of typical competencies required of supervisors; it's not an exhaustive list. Each organization needs to develop a unique set of supervisory competencies that reflects the job requirements and the organizational culture.
People management competencies
Examples of people management competencies include:
- Managing conflict
- Group leadership
In today's work environment, the role of a supervisor is not that of the authoritarian taskmaster. Supervisors are expected to coach their employees, not to micro-manage every aspect of how activities or tasks are accomplished. Coaching means providing direction, guidance, and support as required on assigned activities and tasks. Additionally, as a coach, supervisors need to recognize strengths and weaknesses of employees and work with employees to identify opportunities and methods to maximize those strengths and improve weak areas.
Supervisors are responsible for ensuring a positive work environment and effective teamwork, which often involves managing interpersonal dynamics and conflict. Supervisors need to allow and promote healthy conflict and prevent or resolve destructive conflict. Constructive conflict focuses on ideas, methods, facts and alternative ways of looking at a particular issue or situation. Constructive conflict can result in increased creativity, innovative solutions, and better decision-making. Destructive conflict focuses on personality, communication and work style differences and competition for resources, recognition or rewards. Destructive conflict can result in unmotivated employees, loss of productivity, employee turnover and, in extreme situations, legal action.
Communication is a key competency for supervisors. They are responsible for communicating information up, down and across the organization hierarchy, as well as with parties external to the organization (volunteers, donors, clients, etc.). A strong competency in communication encompasses an ability to articulate messages clearly, to actively listen to others, and to develop appropriate responses. Depending on the specific job, there may be more or less importance placed on written versus verbal communication, but most supervisor positions require at least moderate business writing skills.
In the course of carrying out their functions, supervisors are often in the position of leading team meetings and group work. Successful group leadership results in increased productivity and employee morale.
Successful group leadership involves:
- Establishing goals and agendas
- Creating focus and purpose
- Minimizing distractions and interruptions
- Planning group activities
- Managing participation to ensure involvement of all team members
- Following through on action items
Technical and process management competencies
Examples of technical and process management competencies include:
- Functional knowledge
- Decision making
- Time management
Supervisors typically require a thorough knowledge of their function as well as the technical skills and capabilities needed to set goals and objectives, define work tasks and provide direction, guidance, and coaching to employees.
Supervisors usually have higher levels of functional knowledge than supervised employees. Some senior managers may have lower functional knowledge but greater process and people management expertise.
Pretty much all supervisory functions involve making decisions. Some decisions are prescribed by an organization's policies and procedures, in which case the supervisor's responsibility is to understand those policies and procedures and apply them appropriately.
Many decisions are not prescribed and the supervisor needs to use his or her judgment on a course of action. While there are a number of decision-making models in business and research literature, most of the models have the following steps:
- Identify and clarify the problem
- Obtain all information needed to understand what is causing the problem
- Identify alternative courses of action and evaluate those courses of action against desired outcomes and possible risks
- Make a timely decision - avoid the trap of paralysis by analysis. Inherent to effective decision making is the willingness to take calculated (informed) risks as it is often impossible to know all the details and all possible outcomes within a reasonable time frame
The dual role of supervisory responsibilities and functional task responsibilities, as discussed in the section "the role of the supervisor," can be overwhelming unless the supervisor develops strong competencies in both delegation and time management, discussed below.
Delegation is key to surviving the demands of the dual role of most supervisors (as discussed above in the section Role of a Supervisor. Effective delegation also contributes to the growth and development of employees. While supervisors cannot delegate ultimate accountability for their functions, they can delegate prime responsibility for many of the activities within their functions. (note that in a unionized environment, a supervisor may not be permitted to download supervisory-type functions.)
For example, while the supervisor must take accountability for the work unit budget, the supervisor can assign one or more employees to conduct research and cost analysis and make recommendations on specific budget items.
Effective delegation involves:
- Assessing the knowledge and skills required to carry out an activity, evaluating the risk associated with the activity, and then deciding if it's appropriate to delegate the activity to a supervised employee
- Delegating responsibility and authority for an activity - the supervisor must give authority to the employee to carry out the tasks required to fulfill the delegated responsibility, and communicate that delegated authority to others, as required. For example, if the employee has to collect timesheet data to complete the assigned activity, other employees should receive communication from the supervisor that the employee has been given authority to ask for the timesheets
- Delegating both desirable and undesirable activities - the reality is that not all work is either interesting or challenging. Supervisors need to balance the type of work they delegate to any one person, ensuring that all employees (including themselves) have a balance of desirable (challenging, interesting) and not as desirable (routine, uninteresting) work
- Delegating for continuous team development - supervisors should look for activities to delegate at all times, not just when their own workload is overwhelming. Delegation contributes to the growth and development of individual employees, and the team as a whole (and also frees up the supervisor's time to take on challenging assignments delegated from his or her supervisor)
- Delegating and letting go - once an activity is delegated, the supervisor needs to provide guidance and advice as required, but allow the employee to determine how to accomplish the task and solve problems as they occur. Supervisors need to resist the temptation to micro-manage, even when the assignment is particularly challenging for the employee. Micro-managing takes up almost as much time as doing the task, and takes away the learning opportunity for the employee
Time management is an important competency for most people in business; if time is not managed effectively the dual supervisory role can result in fatigue and burnout, and impact the supervisor's ability to fulfill his or her job responsibilities.
Time management involves:
- The ability to evaluate priorities and allocate work time accordingly
- Effectively delegating work activities and responsibilities
- Establishing consistent work habits that maximize time usage (i.e. a set amount of time each day spent on e-mail and voice messages)
- Scheduling meetings to leave time in the day for functional work
Transitioning into the supervisor role
Taking on a supervisory role is an exciting and challenging opportunity. While becoming a supervisor may be a desired and positive move, the transition into the role can be stressful. There are a number of factors that contribute to the stress of taking on a supervisory role:
- The change in the nature of the relationships with coworkers
- Additional time demands that can create stress during the workday may also conflict with personal demands
- Increased responsibility and decision-making
- New skills and knowledge required
When taking on a new supervisor role, there are a number of actions that can help reduce the stress:
Re-establish relationships and build new relationships
There is often a period of discomfort between new supervisors and their former coworkers, particularly when those coworkers become direct reports of the supervisor. Given that so much of our day is spent at work, it is inevitable that friendships develop and those friendships can be threatened when the nature of the work relationship changes. The truth is, some friendships will withstand the change while others will revert to collegial relationships.
The challenge is to maintain positive relationships through the transition period and going forward. To maintain positive relationships with former coworkers and friends, the new supervisor should:
- Discuss the changing nature of the relationship with coworkers and friends to establish expectations around working behaviours and relationships going forward
- Be careful to avoid favoritism (or perceived favoritism) both in seeking input and in delegating work
- Examine motivation when providing positive or negative feedback. It is important to ensure that s/he maintains objectivity in performance feedback, and doesn't avoid conflict or provide unwarranted positive feedback due to concerns over friendship
Establish work-life balance
Time management is a key supervisory competency and has been discussed above. Establishing a balance between the time demands of work priorities and personal priorities (work-life balance) poses additional challenges. The new supervisor needs to take time to evaluate work and life priorities and determine the time and energy that s/he is prepared to commit to both (ideally, the new supervisor should go through this process prior to taking on the supervisory role).
It is important for new supervisors to establish expectations of themselves and expectations others have regarding work and personal commitments. They should discuss their commitment to work and personal life with those individuals that will be impacted by the change in priorities - including their supervisor and family members.
Acquire new skills and knowledge
Typically, individuals are promoted to positions in which their supervisor believes they are capable of performing well. There is normally an expectation that the newly promoted individual will have some abilities and experience required of the job and will require development in other areas of the job. A new supervisor should work with his or her supervisor to evaluate current knowledge, skills and abilities against those required in the position. He or she should then establish a development plan that includes formal and informal learning opportunities.
Find a mentor or coach
New supervisors can benefit greatly from a mentor or coach to act as a sounding board and support person. If your organization does not have a formal coaching/mentoring program, seek out a mentor for yourself. Your mentor should be someone who:
- Has a greater level and breadth of experience than you
- Is someone you trust and respect
- Is comfortable giving honest feedback
- Is willing to spend a dedicated amount of time with you on a regular basis
Executive director's guidelines for promoting and managing supervisors
When making the decision to promote an individual into a supervisor position, Executive Directors need to:
- Clearly articulate the scope of the job, identifying both the job requirements and the percentage of time the individual is expected to spend on functional/technical activities versus supervisory activities
- Assess the individual's current capabilities against the job requirements, and evaluate their potential to develop and grow into the position
- Ensure the individual understands the challenges and demands of a supervisor role and is willing to take on the added responsibility and time commitment
Executive Directors managing supervisors need to:
- Commit a dedicated amount of their time to providing coaching and guidance to supervisory staff. They should build in additional time for this activity when managing individuals new to the supervisor role
- Provide leadership by demonstrating exemplary supervisory competencies
- Ensure organizational tools are available to support supervisors in their supervisory functions (for example, planning, monitoring and reporting processes and tools; performance management policies and tools)
Next Section: Discipline