Why the Failure of Supervision

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Why The Failure of Supervision
Having addressed the failure of supervision in an earlier blog, I thought it would be beneficial to examine the root causes of this failure. Understanding the root causes and addressing them is the pathway to improving people management performance, e.g., reducing unwanted turnover, increasing employee engagement, and improving organizational culture.

Here is my take on the root causes:

  1. The misguided notion that the recipe for success is selecting the best technical performer to develop and manage other technical performers. The reality is that being a good people manager involves embracing a different set of values, satisfiers, and skills.  It is a challenging transition.  It consists in moving from valuing good technical outcomes to valuing seeing others flourish. You can’t simply be an example of good technical work and expect those under you to become proficient.
  2. why-supervision-fails-300x200.jpgRelated to cause #1 above is when selection criteria for promoting supervisors is based on technical performance the result is supervisors who start with a deficit of the skills needed to manage people.
  3. Generally, the deliverables from a supervisor/people manager are not defined. Thus, supervisors are unclear about expectations and don’t know if they are doing the job well or not.
  4. Organizations rarely invest in supervisory training (this stems from #1 above as well). Experience inside hundreds of organizations has shown that first-line supervision is where communication and performance break down and unwanted turnover is highest.  Organizations often don’t see this problem and don’t address it.  Only 39% of managers receive management training in their first three years, and 87% of mid-managers “wished they had received more training.”
  5. Supervisors must meet high demands for technical work (defined as results produced for external or internal customers). Therefore, they can’t find (and don’t value) time for management work (defined as the work done to produce organizational results through others. In other words, developing others.).
  6. The work of developing others is not measured or rewarded. In essence, there is no defined accountability for the results of supervision.  Thus, managers continue to give priority to their technical work, which is valued.
  7. Organizations are increasingly concerned with low “engagement” scores, but they don’t fix accountability for raising engagement on managers. Instead they look to HR departments to somehow fix this through “programs.” The road to higher engagement scores begins with improved relationships based on a genuine interest in employees’ welfare, development, and ideas. You can’t get there unless solid relationships exist between manager and employee.  Most managers build such relationships only with those they like, not seeing the building of open, honest relationships as their responsibility.  Staying at arm’s length is “safer” but deadly for engagement.

In summary, attention to front-line supervision is lacking.  Ill-defined and under-supported, these positions are not delivering needed results.  Increasingly, workers are seeking environments that are committed to their professional growth.  Unless and until organizations recognize these root causes for unwanted turnover, they will continue to underperform.