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Supervisor selection: how to pick a winner.

Bill Franklin, acting laboratory director, sat Louise Black down in his office and told her: "Your supervisor will be leaving in a few weeks. You're the senior hematology technologist, and Ihd like you to take her place. With the technical skill, reliability, and loyalty you've demonstrated over the past 10 years, I know I can depend on you. Congratulations."

Louise, who had never led a group in so much as a silent prayer, stammered thanks, mumbled something about trying to do a good job, and fled to the safety of her work bench. Bill turned back to his microscope, pleased with such a simple humanistic and pragmatic solution.

This scenario, unfortunately, is probably the rule rather than the exception in most laboratories. Chances are Louise will struggle a long time in her new assignment, and she may never really be comfortable as a supervisor. It's remarkable that she and so many others who are chosen in the same way for front-line management posts meet the challenge as well as they do.

Selecting leaders on the basis of seniority is a major conributor to the Peter principle that individuals in an organization rise to the level of their incompetence. For the greater the seniority of nonsupervisors, the more likely it is that they are good followers rather than good potential leaders. And the more pride an employee takes in technical skill, the stronger his or her reluctance to give it up for supervisory responsibilities.

While we're at it, here's another principle, enunciated by an expert in corporate life: First-rate managers select first-rate supervisors; second-rate managers select third-rate supervisors. The second half of this observation holds true for promotions purely on the basis of seniority and professional competence.

Enlightened managers prepare employees for eventual promotion to supervisory positions. Typically paving the way are appointments to head committees or task forces or to serve as a coordinator of quality control, safety, scheduling, or nursing service. Employees with promise are also encouraged to take management courses that the laboratory may pay for in part. Indeed, increasing numbers of laboratory workers are studying and otherwise grooming themselves for administrative positions. Since we want to focus our psychological and financial support on the best candidates, how do we spot potential leaders on our staff?

Before tapping anyone, we must know what we are looking for. Each position has its own mix of administrative and supervisory responsibilities, and professional or technical skill requirements.

More supervisory time is demanded when the span of control is large--that is, when one has a staff of many employees--or when turnover is rapid or inexperienced workers must be used. More supervision is also needed when each staff member has a unique set of duties, when instrumentation and methodologies frequently change, or when work stations are widely dispersed, on different floors or even in different buildings. On the other hand, the supervisor's job is made easier by support systems--an outside instrument repair service, office typists, quality control and safety coordinators, and so on.

Less supervisory skill is called for when directing the activities of only one or two other persons, as in a physician's office or on a late night shift. In these cases, a leader with rolled-up sleeves, strong on technical skills, is preferred.

For othr situations, leadership ability plus cognitive and technical skills are musts. A supervisor with an M.B.A. but no laboratory background cannot be expected to train new technologists, introduce new methods, or answer employees' technical questions.

Figure 1 presents an evaluation scorecard to summarize assessments of candidates once a supervisory position opens up. As we explore the five areas it covers, note that all the qualities under discussion can be recast in the form of a checklist. Most of the information that higher management needs to complete the checklist will have to come from others, such as the supervisor who is being replaced.

* Personality and character. Good personal traits are the foundation an individual builds on in order to become a competent supervisor. To begin with, you want someone who has a fine attendance record and abides by policies and rules. As a worker, the candidate should do his or her share of work and more, demonstrate a balance between conformity and creativity, welcome changes, and react well to stress.

Leadership potential may surface even though an employee has not yet taken charge of a group activity. Here are some indicators: Does the employee speak up at meetings, make persuasive points, show a willingness to take a lonely stance, serve as a spokesperson for fellow workers, listen to others and respect their rights, keep promises, and demonstrate empathy?

* Professional skills. The review of personality and character has given us some general information. This part of the assessment considers the candidate's approach to both career and details of the job, including the interactions that are essential in a laboratory and hospital.

A promising candidate will look and talk like a professional have the respect of co-workers on the basis of professional knowledge and technical skills, continually update that knowledge, and be sought out by physicians and nurses for assistance.

Efficiency is a paramount quality for supervisors, so we are also watchful for an ability to organize work and time well.

Does the individual detect problems and offer solutions? Like to show others how to do things? Keep instruments in working order and serve as a troubleshooter? These qualities also weigh in a prospective supervisor's favor.

* Leadership experience. We will dwell at length on this category, since it deals with the business of supervising. Past experience can take in any number of positions: president of a student, social, business, or professional organization; captain of a team; committee head; coordinator; lecturer or instructor; informal leader of a work group; and substitute or assistant supervisor.

Some of these are far removed from a health care setting; others are opportunities that laboratory management may have furnished. It's good policy to develop supervisory skills in staff members by delegating appropriate tasks. That way, you won't come up empty when you ask such questions as:

Has the candidate assumed supervisory duties in a section head's absence? Did he or she seem to enjoy the additional responsibility? How effectively were the tasks carried out? Has the employee's position description expanded to encompass administrative functions in areas like quality control, safety, and indoctrination of new staff members? How effectively and with how much enthusiasm are these jobs performed?

Many laboratories use nonsupervisory personnel as coordinators. This is an excellent window on leadership potential because the assignments call for directing others by means of perlsuasion and diplomacy rather than formal authority. How a candidate presides over a meeting or even just participates in one will provide similar insights.

You may not be aware of many preemployment leadership activities, since personnel records are not likely to be that complete. Conduct a personal interview to supplement what you find in the employment application. Again, you want to know if the candidate was enthusiastic and effective, whether as scout leader or as president of the student body. A caveat: Don't give credit for service as secretary or treasurer of anything. That work usually falls to those who are to unassertive to refuse. You won't find many leaders doing it.

At the same time, ask about the employee's exposure to the administrative side of laboratory operations. You may not have the entire picture here, either. For example, the employee may serve as a senior technologiest on week-ends, an occasional assignment that hasn't been called to your attention.

This interview can also confirm the candidate's interest in joining the management team. Employees often come under pressure from colleagues and family to accept a promotion, but they may be unaware of problems that lie ahead, especially in supervising former co-workers.

Discuss these disadvantages, and reassure the employee that there's no penalty for backing out as a candidate. Besides, non-supervisory promotions are sometimes possible--for example, you may have slots for certain professionals in specialized laboratory areas or in research. We'll have more to say in the next section about a candidate's desire to step up.

In some cases, the job will be offered at the interview, and the conversation can turn to means of augmenting the employee's managerial skills. Finally, the interview affords the candidate who is not selected, or not interested, an opportunity to save face. Returning to the work group, the employee can say: "They offered me the job, but I said I didn't want it" or "I told them I wouldn't take it unless it's impossible to find anyone else."

* Interest in supervision. Does the employee voluntarily participate in in-house management programs, attend outside management seminars, study management at a university, or read books and periodicals on management topics? Has the individual accepted supervisory or administrative assignments enthusiastically and fulfilled the assignments expeditiously and effectively? Is the interest shown in supervision deeper than a wish for increased salary or prestige?

Past performance reviews should she light on motivation. The trick at these reviews is to inquire about an employee's ambitions in an undirected way. "Would you like to be a supervisor someday?" invites a pat yes because most people feel there's something wrong with saying they don't want to get ahead. Try a more disarming question: "What would you like to be doing five years from no?"

Performance reviews also serve as planning sessions to help employees reach their goals. Minor or temporary assignments may follow to further develop interests expressed at the time of the review.

* Your gut reaction. Do you feel comfortable with the employee? Can you count on his or her support? Do the two of you share similar opinions on priorities, policies, and approaches to problem solving?

In short, if you must work closely with this person, will your body chemistry hold up over the long haul? Proceed with caution when your gut reaction is negative. Don't expect the employee's personality to change suddenly and harmonize with yours in this new relationship.

After applying all these criteria to a candidate, assign ratings from 1 to 10 in each category shown on our scorecard. While the method is subjective, it will enable you to crystallize your evaluation and compare candidates.

It's unlikely that any candidate will score well in every category. If one does, you probably can stop the search right there, for the choice becomes obvious. In most situations, however, the question is whether to select one of the senior employees or seek an outside candidate.

With the protocol outlined here, it should be easier to make the final decision.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1984
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