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BEC: Managing the middle

Siobhan Robinson-Morris

BEC: Managing the middle

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Contrary to popular belief, the supervisory tier of any organisation is critical to its success or failure. So why then do senior managers often undermine and ignore this level within the organisation? Many times, persons perhaps do not realise the value of this level of the organisational chart or fully comprehend the impact these persons have on staff members.

Training and professional development initiatives tend to treat them as an afterthought and they are usually the last group to be formally informed of changes within the organisation, even if they will directly impact them. Supervisors/line managers are the first link between your organisation and the employees, they have the unique position of being both the mouthpiece of the executive and the employees. This group has the ability to make or break new company initiatives based on their buy in and the means used by them to communicate these initiatives with their teams.

There is a marked difference between “the new company policy is as follows” versus “the manager says we now have to complete these forms, so just do it!” Further, persons will not enforce policies that they do not believe in, or that seek to undermine their authority.

Supervisors are actively involved in ensuring targets are met, health and safety standards are upheld and that employees are actively engaged in performing the core functions which they were hired to do. This is why it is so essential that you hire the right supervisory team and ensure that training initiatives are catered towards the right areas to facilitate high levels of productivity, clear communication and proactive problem solving.

Poor supervisor/employee relations can have adverse effects on the productivity and morale in a department, and can put added strain on the next tier of management, as they will constantly need to intervene in matters that are difficult to resolve. Succession planning also becomes critical at this level, most of us know the employee who did a good job and was promoted, but was any real thought placed on the person’s ability to supervise and step into this role? Every good employee is not meant to be authority, and while some persons are poised to be great leaders, deliberately planning their growth is essential.

Therefore, we are faced with a situation where supervisors lack basic skills in reporting, communication, and basic supervisory requirements, because they were thrust into the roles without adequate preparation. How then do we as senior managers ensure that we are providing adequate tools and resources for our supervisory teams, and encouraging them to manage for success? We need to follow the basic rules of effective management as noted below:

Hire right/objective succession planning – as noted before, every good employee does not make a good supervisor/manager. Look at the needs of your team, and look at the members of the team. Who has the capabilities to lead that team, and what is the development trajectory needed for them? Begin to build your supervisor; coach and mentor prior to promotion.

Training – we love to say that we cannot afford to lose our team members for training or we do not specifically target our training to suit the needs of the individual. The first step is to complete a training needs analysis, and scan the departmental environment.

Training should be focussed and customised, a one size fits all attitude should not be taken to training your supervisory team. Are you unionsed? Then look for programmes geared towards the Employment Rights Act, supervising in a unionised environment and so on.

Clear, honest communication – be open and honest with supervisors, including them as early as possible in the decision making and communication process, they can show you the pros and cons of a desired policy. They can also provide a clear line of communication to other employees. Further, they will feel more comfortable reporting information into senior management, which can aid the department in being more proactive and avoid conflict.

Empowering the supervisory team – often times supervisors are caught out on a limb, promoting company policies and initiatives which may be unpopular. Feeling as though you have the support and backing of the management team, and that support efforts to enforce policies and will not undermine supervisory authority should a matter be escalated, goes a long way in ensuring that supervisors perform at high standards within the organisation.

Following these simple rules of thumb can ensure that you have a dynamic, effective and productive supervisory tier in your organisation. This tier is the backbone and lifeblood of the company and can make the difference between a successful organisation and one that merely survives.

Siobhan Robinson-Morris is human resources manager at the Barbados Employers’ Confederation.