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Misfit supervisors: out of place, out of step.

Misfit supervisors: Out of place, out of step

In a nationwide survey of 7,000 supervisors in various fields, 20 per cent judged themselves to be misfits in their jobs. They said they would happily return to the employee ranks if they could do so without taking a pay cut or losing face.

These individuals like the money and status, but nevertheless are dissatisfied: They have problems in their relations with upper management and employees, and with work policy and procedures.

Let's examine these areas of dissatisfaction more closely, particularly as they pertain to the laboratory work environment.

*Relations with upper management. Misfit supervisors feel pressured to get a difficult job done without support or understanding from management. They feel it is a one-sided relationship. They have more work than the staff can handle, and they cannot get management to help out or even to listen. Instead, management sets unrealistic work goals and makes empty promises.

For example, when her laboratory implemented a cost-improvement program, lab manager Lillian had to cope with a job freeze and a thin staff. To keep up with the workload, she made more and more demands on employees. Because she felt they gave their full cooperation and performed outstandingly under difficult circumstances, Lillian requested merit increases for key personnel. The laboratory director paid her lip service. Her promised to see what he could do but did not follow through despite Lillian's repeated reminders.

* Relations with employees. Many supervisors in the survey, and in laboratories, feel their hands are tied in relations with employees. They can offer few incentives to motivate employees and have limited supervisory authority, particularly in administering discipline.

For example, supervisor Iris complains that the personnel department steps in whenever she tries to discipline someone. She also has little to say about staff promotions and could not dismiss an unsatisfactory employee without wading through layers of bureaucracy--and probably would not succeed even then.

* Work policy and procedures. Supervisors often feel whipsawed by opposing standards. They are told to get a heavy workload done fast and accurately but to keep costs down. They also feel that management tends to be reactive, with a panic approach to planning, which makes recurrent crises commonplace.

Supervisor Joan is harassed by continual complaints about slow processing of Stat orders. While everybody in the hospital seems to jump all over her when something goes wrong, rarely is a good word spoken about her staff's consistently high-quality work.

The negative attitudes of these supervisors affect their ability to do their job. Therefore they represent a counterproductive and irreconcible force in the management ranks. Here's what to do about misfit supervisors:

1. Strengthen lab support systems. Misfit supervisors need an interesed management that will listen to them and try to provide support--including enough people to get the job done, free-flowing communication, and clear-cut responsibilities and authority.

Mary is an effective lab manager in this regard. The supervisors reporting to her feel that she respects their needs and desires, and that she manages in a way that clearly demonstrates her confidence in them. She consults her supervisors regularly about the workload and negotiates mutually acceptable, reasonable work standards.

2. Improve supervisor selection. The selection process should emphasize ability, not seniority or friendship. It helps to use recognized criteria for selection, such as individual work characteristics (general activity level, thoroughness, adaptability); organization and planning style; leadership behavior (motivation to lead, style of leading, delegation, forcefulness); interpersonal characteristics (attitude toward peers as well as one's supervisors and employees, reaction to conflict, empotional behavior, oral and written communication).

One effective way to evaluate candidates for promotion is to organize an assessment center. This gives members of management an opportunity to interview and test the candidates by observing their behavior in a series of management simulation exercises.

3. Improve the break-in period. Most supervisors get only a handshake and a brief administrative review before being dumped into the new job. It is much better to establish ongoing supervisory training and short-duration tryout, perhaps by designating temporary substitutes or fill-ins for vacations or overtime.

4. Monitor progress closely. During the first six months on the job, the new supervisor should receive formal monthly performance appraisals and steady informal feedback. He or she should learn the answers to two questions: "How am I doing?" and "What can I do better?"

Lab manager Susan acts like a mother hen when breaking in a supervisor. She tries to have a brief, casual discussion with her new charge at least once a day, usually at the beginning or end of the shift. She also conducts a formal performance appraisal every two weeks during the first two months, then monthly for the next four months.

5. Individualize development programs. Regular performance appraisals during the break-in period will probably identify where the new supervisor would benefit from further training and development. At the outset, management naturally emphasizes the supervisor's knowledge needs: "What do I have to do, and how should I do it?" As the supervisor learns the ropes, management shifts its emphasis to skill needs: "How can I do this job better?" Once the supervisor is performing the job skillfully, management shifts to attitude needs: "Why should I give this job my best effort?" and "Whose interests are most important--mine, my staff's, or management's?"

6. Be prepared to retrain. After the first six months, management tends to forget about the need for continual training and development of supervisors. Yet even experienced managers require refresher training, which is usually difficult to provide because they must unlearn imperfect knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Take supervisor Janice, who is verp popular with her staff--too popular, in fact. She relates better to the staff than she does to management and places technologists' interests above what's best for the laboratory. Janice must unlearn a supervisory style that is often counterproductive.

Behavior modeling is an effective way to retrain experienced supervisors: Management should tell supervisors what is wanted (desired behavior); show them how it should be done; give them an opportunity to rehearse the new behavior; contract with them to try out the new behavior; and, when they do try it out, furnish ongoing feedback.

7. Be prepared to take more acute steps. If management cannot bring a misfit supervisor's performance up to par, perhaps the job can be redefined so that the supervisor only has to do the part he or she is capable of doing. Otherwise, management must consider a reassignment, possibly to a non-supervisory job, or early retirement or discharge.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to cope with supervisors who were never cut out for the job, or with those who have lost the desire to do the job. It is preferable to keep them from becoming supervisors in the first place.

As for those who have the right stuff, help them start off on the right foot as new supervisors, and pay close attention to their continual training and development as they get to be experienced supervisors.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roseman, Ed
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Feb 1, 1987
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