In all organizations that employee people, the performance of the supervisory function will be a key element in determining the organization’s success.
Regardless of the work being done, whether cooking or computing, baking or bending, selling or sewing, supervisors are the sergeants of industry. Supervisory work is done on the front lines of business; decisions constantly need to be made on the spot and the results have immediate impact.
We could probably put together a nearly endless list of supervisory techniques and approaches that have been used successfully in one situation or another. There are, however, certain fundamentals of good supervision that are common to all situations. Planning, assignment, check-up and evaluation are the four fundamentals essential to good supervision. These four fundamentals can be remembered with the acronym PACE. Follow them in your organization to set the right PACE.
Planning in the most basic sense simply means thinking an activity through before starting it. It sounds simple enough, but think about how many problems could be avoided if it had been done. Any activity, whether its a job or a hobby, will be done more successfully if you take the time to think it through, step by step, from beginning to end, before you start it. This even applies to those things that have have done repeatedly in the past. Did you ever hear of a football coach that didn’t prepare a game plan just because he had played the same opponent before?
At a minimum there are three questions to ask when planning. Good supervising means knowing what, how and when. There are always those that will say that some jobs just can’t be planned. Baloney, planning is not fortune telling, its thinking in a logical manner about future activity. It can and should be done to all jobs that require supervision.
The assignment of work means letting people know specifically what they are required to do, how long it should take them to do it and what standards of performance are expected from them. It is important that the employee understand the assignment. I always stress that the measure of good communication is not how it is transmitted but rather how it is received. It is not unusual for an employee to be reluctant to admit that they don’t understand how a task is supposed to be done. This is particularly true for situations the have existed for sometime– in some cases misunderstandings that have lasted years! It is the supervisors responsibility to insure that the assignments are understood before work begins.
Don’t be afraid to review work assignments with experienced employees. It can be done in a constructive manner and will at a minimum be a reinforcement and might well expose a longtime misunderstanding. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to make assignments for shorter rather than longer periods of time. Try to avoid giving multiple assignments at one time. It is the workers job to get the work done and the supervisors job to keep track of the work.
Checking-up on an assignment is necessary to see that things are proceeding according to plan. The best plans are in jeopardy without good follow-up. Checking-up is a difficult practice to establish and it is often avoided because supervisors believe that their people will view it as being spied on and resent it. As the saying goes, “it comes with the territory”.
Follow-up is an essential part of the job and it must be done. Done effectively, it will earn the respect of your employees. They will sense your seriousness of purpose and it will have a positive impact. A proper check-up is done in a constructive manner. It must be commenced early enough in the process that corrective action can be taken before it is too late. Look for positive results to reinforce. When problems are encountered, look at yourself as a source of solutions and not a critic.
Evaluation is the final step in the supervisory process. You need to evaluate performance to determine the effectiveness of the planning, assignment and check-ups that have been done. When performance is less than optimum, a good evaluation process will highlight the problem areas that will require more attention.
The results of the evaluation process should form the basis of the next planning cycle. The determination of where to expend your supervisory energies so as to get the best results is a product of not only where you want to go, but also where you have been. Direct your attention to areas that have historically proved troublesome in the past.
The fundamentals of good supervision are simple, straightforward and firmly rooted in common sense. It is a puzzlement that they are neglected so frequently. How many recent problems and misunderstandings, how much confusion and waste could have been avoided with simple adherence to these principles.
Because it’s your business, make sure that the supervisory practices in your organization are PACE setters.
Joe Driscoll is a management consultant whose column appears regularly in the Monday Herald.