This guide to successful supervision will kick-start your journey to becoming a great supervisor. Supervision is often a messy business that requires practical problem-solving skills.
We cannot always predict how people will respond to us, but there are proven ways to educate, encourage, influence, and inspire them.
If you want to find practical advice on how to become a great supervisor, this article can help you get started. And if you are looking ways to improve your supervisory skills, I recommend you look into these courses for supervisors.
What is supervision?
Let us begin with a definition of supervision.
To watch from above is the direct translation of the Latin origin of supervision. The word paints a picture of you, the supervisor, watching from above to ensure that lazy slaves or slow workers continue working, so the promised jobs get delivered on time. Even today, some supervisors think that their main job is to watch those who are doing wrong or doing nothing.
When I was in elementary grades, our teachers assigned someone to list down the names of “noisy” students and those who stood up when they were not around.
Those were the days when authorities started training us to become supervisors of the old kind.
Maybe this is why in some organizations, supervisors are feared and often not trusted. Many of us have not outgrown our early education.
Of course, today, supervision means a lot more. Organizations give the title supervisors to people whose functions and competencies differ from each other.
When describing a supervisor’s job, some words come to mind. Words like oversight, management, oversee, administration, direction, monitoring, inspection, auditing, guidance, policing, observer, guide, watcher, regulator, department heads, boss are words we often associate with supervision.
I have no intention to tell you the theories behind motivation, history, or how it evolved. You may find some Wikipedia entries on these things already.
This guide is for everyone entrusted to lead people to get jobs done. A manager is a supervisor to his direct reports. I can say the same for the CEO. I will no longer pay attention to supervisors whose job is catching people doing wrong. Instead, I will pay more attention to how supervisors can inspire, enable, and empower people.
1. Know what supervision is.
In a typical Filipino workplace, supervision is the primary job of a supervisor. The supervisors oversee the productivity, performance, progress, and potentials of employees who report to them.
There are many kinds of supervisors. The first-level supervisors oversee the entry-level employees. The middle-managers supervise first-level supervisors. C-level executives supervise middle managers.
Today, supervisors are people tasked to oversee the day-to-day performance of employees. They don’t just watch and report what people are doing. A good supervisor plays the roles of a team leader, trainer, facilitator, coach, mentor, confidante, decision-maker, innovator, and salesperson to ensure goals are achieved. They drive organizational growth.
That’s a mouthful, but that’s what supervision is.
2. Understand the Purpose of Supervision
In the olden days, the purpose of supervision is to watch above everyone. They catch employees who were doing something wrong – or doing nothing.
Today, supervisors exercise leadership and watch people doing things right. Supervisors are everyday leaders who ensure the success of organizations.
This change in purpose requires that a supervisor thinks like a business owner, a counselor, a coach, a mentor, a customer champion, and an employee.
Supervisors no longer work like lieutenants who have to wait for orders from their superiors. They are executives who must set their own goals that support the mission and make things happen.
Competencies evolved. You go beyond the POLC: planning, organizing, leading and controlling model of supervision. That’s because it is not just a job; supervision is now both a responsibility and an opportunity to transform people.
Promotion to the role is quicker, a lot quicker. You do not have to wait many years to get appointed to the post. Fresh graduates can become supervisors as long as they have the competencies and maturity to handle the job.
Seniority does not always equate to maturity.
3. Embrace the Core Responsibility of Supervisors
Supervisors have one primary responsibility: make customers happy. To do that, supervisors must ensure the timely delivery of products and services, keep employees engaged and motivated, reduce waste, and increase profitability.
Sure, supervisors do a thousand things. But doing this one thing will make it clear why you have to do or not do a thousand things.
4. Aim to be a Better Supervisor
My objective for writing this guide is to help you do great works. Go beyond being a good supervisor.
But let’s answer this very common question, anyway.
To be a good supervisor, identify customers’ success metrics. Then, work on each success measure beyond the expectations of the customers.
Practice happiness plus one.
Supervisors have two kinds of customers: internal and external. Inside the organization, supervisors must meet their key performance indicators and earn the respect of their bosses, peers, and direct reports.
These are the steps on how to be a good supervisor.
5. Evaluate your success (or failure).
To evaluate is to ascertain value. The most prominent measures of a supervisor’s success are the key performance indicators.
High-performing supervisors make an organization survive. You also evaluate the supervisors’ potential or the supervisor’s willingness to learn new skills and accept responsibilities.
Supervisors who are quick-learners are assets of the organization. Finally, consider the willingness of the supervisor to assume greater responsibilities by considering maturity and skills.
6. Build Crucial Competencies During Crisis
The three most critical supervisory skills during the pandemic are communication, creativity, and leadership.
Supervisors need to communicate clearly and with compassion.
Employees are anxious and confused. Supervisors need to be creative in finding solutions as the organization faces extraordinary challenges.
And supervisors must show leadership, so people will know that the situation is under control and we can all manage to bounce forward.
Be a competent Supervisor
Organizations define the jobs of supervisors differently. Of course, we don’t expect middle managers to have the exact job expectations as first-level supervisors. But there are common competencies.
7. Practice Management Skills
Supervisions practice basic management skills like decision making, problem-solving, planning, delegation, and meeting management.
In supervisory training, one typical module is leadership versus management. And mostly, it is as if a leader is better than a manager.
Supervisors both need to build leadership and management skills. When supervisors make decisions, solve problems, delegate work, and conduct effective meetings, they exercise leadership skills.
It should be leadership and management, not versus as the two almost always come together.
You are exercising management skills when you ensure you make the process work to get tasks done. You are exercising leadership when you are inspiring and enabling people to get the jobs done. Supervisors often exercise management and leadership skills at the same time.
Often, it is the management skills where most supervisors falter. And when supervisors fail in managing the process, their leadership suffers.
8. Build and lead teams.
Supervisors are team leaders. They must ensure that their direct reports work as one unit and value the team’s goals more than their personal goals.
Building and leading a team is a process. It is a big responsibility that requires both commitment and competence.
When building a team, you must clarify goals, identify roles, establish open and honest communication, and define how decisions will be made.
To lead a team, you need to respect diverse beliefs and ambitions. It would be best if you gave direct reports opportunities to solve problems together. And you want them to participate in leadership that they’ll be able to work even without your supervision.
Did you get that last line?
Your ultimate aim is to enable them to work even without your supervision.
9. Identify job roles for current and future requirements.
Identifying job roles is a supervisor role in good times. This role is even more necessary in challenging times.
Our Covid-19 situation requires that supervisors re-define the roles of employees. There are changes in how people work and where they work. It would be best if supervisors would recommend the crucial roles needed to succeed in a crisis.
One day, the Covid-19 crisis will be over. We will work in the new normal. But we do not know what the new normal requires. Supervisors must consider the roles of direct reports in the new normal, for that will surely come.
What are the requirements to ensure that everyone is safe? How can everyone work more effectively in the new environment? What are the competencies needed to become successful? You will ask many challenging questions — and you must find answers to them to prepare your people.
10. Hire good employees.
Not all supervisors are involved in hiring employees. I prefer that they are active in the hiring process.
In hiring employees, know the current and future requirements of your organization. Figure out how your company’s strategic directions will influence the kind of people you want for the job. You will consider skills, attitudes, and previous experiences.
Though I do not believe that previous experiences are not predictors of future performance, you can get good information valuable to making excellent decisions.
11. Enable employees.
Supervisors are often required to train employees. Unfortunately, many supervisors do not know how to teach — and training does not always work.
Your job is not to train employees.
Your job is to help employees learn faster and better. You will enable them to become successful. So, it does not mean that you need to bring them to a classroom.
No. Your job is to create an environment that will help employees acquire critical skills, practice vital behaviors, and choose a growth mindset.
Think like a business owner. To make your business grow, you grow people. You make them learn, practice what they learned, and get them to teach others.
12. Manage employee performance.
The successes of your direct reports determine your success as supervisors. You pay attention to their performance, potentials, and readiness.
You set goals. Define the contribution you need from each. Show to get things done. Then measure performance.
To manage performance, supervisors need to ensure that what they do daily will bring results. Give constant feedback. You praise and correct. You instruct and suggest. You make everyone focus on work and how they do work.
To check problems in attitude, you counsel them.
To improve skills, you coach them.
To grab new opportunities, you mentor them.
To save them from hell, you pray for them.
You do all of these because your failure to manage performance will surely make the organization fail.
13. Comply with personnel policies and internal regulations.
Supervisors are employees too. That’s obvious, but a reminder is not bad. You must comply with personnel policies and follow internal regulations.
You comply for your protection.
You comply to set yourself as an example to others.
You comply because doing so is good for your organization. You want to help others who monitor you get their jobs done too.
And most importantly, you comply because you don’t want to get fired.
14. Fire employees when necessary.
Not all supervisors can fire employees like Donald Trump. But this is an important job.
An executive who has been handling thousands of employees worldwide told me that his secret is “to hire slow and fire quick”. I am not really sold to this concept. I think it has something to do with my being a teacher: I give people many chances to redeem themselves.
He said that you don’t hire an employee because you need a person to do the job. You hire someone who can do a great job. He said that when you hire a mediocre candidate, the deprive yourself of the opportunity to welcome the great ones when they come. Why? Because the seat is filled.
But hiring is not an exact science.
Sometimes, you get to hire someone excellent during interviews but don’t get the job done. The person is not fit for the job. You hate working with him or her. He said that you fire that employee as quickly as possible.
But you do not have that power. And I am not sure if that is even legal. But what he said about firing people who are not fit for the job makes good sense to me.
You won’t accomplish your tasks and achieve your goals if you don’t have the right person for the job. As a teacher, I will say that you give the person the support you believe is necessary. Do everything in your power to help the person, but not to the detriment of your organization.
Even before you hire someone, know full well how you can legally fire him.
15. Get good training.
To become a better supervisor, you need to develop skills that you never had before.
First, you are going to lead people. Good leaders use their personal power to influence others to do what’s good for them.
Second, there is no one way of leading others. As much as experience can teach you how to supervise others, training can accelerate your progress and help you avoid common mistakes.
Join seminars. Read books. You don’t have to buy expensive books. Download ebooks online. And it is perfectly legal. Experts found ways to share what they know in the modern world without asking you to rob a bank. Or you can watch Youtube videos or join courses on Coursera. Another alternative is Linkedin Learning.
You can also bring my online courses for supervisors. Go to Supervisory Training.
Bonus: Get A Supervisor Job Even Without Experience
Almost every supervisor gets the job without prior experience. They learn on the job.
To get hired, one must demonstrate skills crucial to driving results, skills like setting goals, organizing tasks, keeping people motivated, managing performance, and others.
One can learn all these skills in organizations outside of the workplace. Fresh graduates, for example, may show experiences in student clubs or volunteer organizations.
In this case, the organization will consider your potentials. And if they have the means to support you, they’ll get you and train you, so you become ready.
Now, if you are already working, the best way to supervise people is to volunteer to lead projects. Tell your supervisor of your intention to learn.
If you do not get supervisory experience internally, find some volunteer organizations to supervise people.
- 1000x Mindset
- 17 Principles for Leadership Success
- Good Leaders are Good Followers
- Practice Calendar Integrity
- Positional and Personal Power
- 7 Steps to Become an Effective Leader