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Training supervisors to work effectively with a changing workforce.

Good supervisors develop realistic strategies to cope effectively with challenges within and outside their organizations. They acknowledge that people, the major determiners of revenue and profitability, are their most valuable asset. They believe quality begins and ends with people. Good supervisors provide clear direction and give accurate rate, timely feedback to elicit peak performance from their subordinates. They take responsibility for actions and outcomes, and plan for the future.

Would most supervisors be re-elected if their subordinates voted on them each year? Possibly not. Many supervisors realize they serve as role models, but few understand how and why their behavior affects the performance of others.

How individuals and groups achieve organizational goals and whether or not they are productive is greatly affected by the effectiveness, skills and knowledge of their supervisors. If supervisors are to be productive, they must work effectively with an increasingly diverse, demanding and empowered workforce.

Figures 1 and 2 are examples of ways to view and critically examine the diverse nature of supervisors' roles, and document what is done in ways that lead to measurement. Measurement is one of the first steps toward improvement.

Systems approach to supervision

A basic systems representation of supervisors' qualities and activities (input), typical throughput or process variables, output, time, feedback cycles and environment is shown in Figure 2.

Basic systems contain:

* Central objectives and measures of performance or standards, which influence how systems are organized and managed;

* Human and material resources;

* Internal organizational environment and external environment, which ranges from placid to turbulent; and

* Feedback mechanisms for adjustment and correction.

Common input variables are supervisors' qualities and activities. However, supervisors often respond to the needs of internal and external suppliers, and to the environment.

Most worker efforts are process, as when inputs received from internal "suppliers" are transformed into processes. In his article on white-collar productivity, Keki Bhote proposes that process users add value to the input and convert it into output for internal and external customers. Throughput or value-adding process variables like reasoning and innovation, are hard to document and difficult to measure, so we often infer their presence from output. We take throughput variables like loyalty and trust for granted, just as we take an automobile's throughput for granted. When we drive, we can't see the power of the motor and the way the transmission, brakes and steering mechanisms work, yet they respond when needed.

Output is often regarded as the ultimate productivity indicator because it is easier to observe and measure than input or throughput. Much of productivity measurement and improvement focuses on output. Information from equally valuable or even more important input and throughput maybe discounted, or even excluded.

Feedback mechanisms should be timely and accurate and focus on aspects that can and should change. The whole system changes when separate parts change and adapt to their respective environments. Organizations strive to achieve and maintain equilibrium.

An environmental scan can determine the major forces inside and outside the organization. Common major forces within the organization are monetary and management control and organizational culture; forces outside the organization range from placid (stable economy) to turbulent (intense international competition).

Time plays a vital role. The length of time between manager's behavior (input), resulting processes (throughput) and the end result (output) is extremely important. For instance, incorrect numeric input data (Day 1) can cause a faulty design (Day 2 to Year 3), and could result in defective output for months before detected.

Some form of standard, benchmark or inelastic yardstick must not only exist, but be used consistently to assess or measure supervisory behavior at the input, throughput and output levels. Nearly everyone has one set of standards for themselves and a different set for others. We seldom see ourselves as others see us. Standards are extremely important, but changing them, extending them or tightening them causes major impact. Any change in standards should be carefully monitored and recorded.

* Improving the experience level of supervisors (input) and keeping communication levels open (throughput) should improve the quality of supervision and increase employee satisfaction (output).

* "Reverse scenario building" uses principles similar to reverse engineering. During the 1970s, Royal Dutch/Shell developed scenarios pricing oil at $15 a barrel. When oil price dropped to $10/barrel in April 1986, Shell selected and implemented the best existing scenario or contingency plan to ease the pain of lowered oil prices. Being proactive paid off.

Developing scenarios for a given problem, such as increasing positive supervisory input on group problem solving is proactive. Input-throughput-output scenarios can be run backwards and forwards as Shell employees did until an appropriate series of actions are determined. Trial-and-error problem-solving activities (throughput) associated with scenario building are invaluable learning experiences.

Subordinate-Manager activities survey

A survey, Figure 2, provides an opportunity to summarize and rank supervisors' major activities as viewed by their subordinates, peers and supervisor(s). Basically, feedback from this survey provides timely, information on supervisor's performance that will help broaden and improve skills.

The survey enables users to:

* Determine the major activities supervisors perform;

* Assess the effect of managers' input, throughput, and output activities on individual and group accomplishment;

* Develop reliable, valid standards for quality, or use existing quality standards to assess supervisory activities;

* Determine how well standards are met;

* Document results in ways that are understood so comparisons can be made at a later date; and

* Focus on high priority areas.

No two supervisors are alike. Supervisory skills and style differ widely. Although supervisors' roles are gradually changing to include empowered and participative employees, there is a common core of supervisory activities that have a positive effect on employees. Typical core attributes include competence, good communication skills and perception.


Jack supervisors five first-line supervisors. Henry supervises Jack. Each first-line supervisor who evaluates Jack lists what they believe to be Jack's major management activities. They examine specific output, throughput, and input, and indicate whether Jack's managerial behavior has a positive or negative affect on their performance. For each major supervisory activity, they either develop new performance standards or use existing ones to determine the quality of Jack's performance. Jack evaluates each of his subordinates. Jack and Henry evaluate each other. All three levels meet and discuss results. This three-level "linking pin" approach can include those who work together at the same location, or include cross-functional teams and geographically separated work groups from a particular division, district, or office level.


Peer group or autonomous group members complete the survey separately, summarize and discuss results. Results may/ may not be shared with their coordinator (supervisor) or presented to appropriate level(s) of management. Much is learned from peers. Fooling peers is difficult.

Stops to complete the survey

Specific directions for completing the survey follow. Each step corresponds with the column number in Figure 2.

1. List major managerial activities.

2. Rank managerial activities in order of importance.

3. Under "Output," indicate which specific managerial activities listed in Column 1 affect quality of group output. In the space to the right of Columns 3, indicate whether managerial activities have a positive (+) or negative (-) effect on overall productivity or achievement of groups.

4. Indicate managerial activities affecting quality of individual output, and whether they have a positive or negative effect on overall productivity of individuals.

5-6. Use the same procedure as in #3 and #4 to indicate which managerial activities affect quality of group and individual "Throughput." Complete the +/- columns.

7-8. Use the same procedure as in #3 and #4 to indicate which managerial activities affect quality of group and individual "Input." Complete the +/- columns.

9. Write out the overall standard used to judge manager's influence on improving quality of group and individual output, throughput and input. Each standard should be reliable and valid. It may necessary to develop an operational definition of quality, i.e., define a term according to how it is used. All who use the term must understand how quality is defined in terms of the job.

10. Compare the overall quality standard(s) of Column 9 with managerial activities listed in Column 1, and evaluated in Columns 3 - 8. In Column 10, rank (1 is low, 7 is high) how well managers' activities in general meet the standard of quality, thus increasing the quality of group and individual performance. This could involve "benchmarking," or developing a reference from which measurement of quality or value can be made.

The survey can be adapted to meet specific needs of users in various work environments. Ideally; those being surveyed should participate in the adaptation process, since they know their jobs the best.

Proper interpretation and use of surveys is critical to the success of any attempt to document behavior. Surveys have little value until results are shared with those who can understand and apply the information.

Practical uses

* Work toward "benchmarking," or establishing specific points of reference or "excellence" from which measurements and comparisons are made. Comparisons can range from intra-department to inter-organization. For instance, standards could be developed for quality, efficiency, effectiveness, etc., for ongoing performance evaluation, or at performance appraisal time to see how people "measure up" and what changes and improvements need to be made. Supervisors, peers and subordinates should agree on the nature and importance of benchmarked managerial activities. Without agreement, priorities, standards and expectations may need to be redefined in operational terms, or reevaluated. When persons to be "benchmarked" are deeply involved in all benchmarking activities, their sense of ownership in the effort enables them to support what they helped create. The American Productivity and Quality Center in Houston has just begun a nation-wide benchmarking process for "best results and practices." They will serve as a clearinghouse.

* Differentiate the consequences of poor and superior performance. Some supervisors ignore good and poor performance, yet reward poor performance. Others unknowingly punish good performance.

* When surveys are used on a continuous, predictable basis, results obtained throughout the year can be compared. When managerial activities are assessed three or four times a year, for instance, and results examined, patterns and unique occurrences can be detected. When these major activities are ranked in order of importance, it is possible to gradually build an inventory of positive, reliable and valid managerial behaviors having high potential for improving productivity. Increased managerial productivity should improve productivity throughout the organization.

* A major focus in die service industry is on process, or throughput, and on closer contact with customers. The service sector, which already represents 68 percent of gross national product and 71 percent of employment, is growing. Organizations are beginning to realize their main objectives are not necessarily profit, but customer satisfaction and customer enthusiasm. Some companies have turned the organization chart upside down and put customers on top. If they regard the external customer as a king, could the internal customer be a prince? When the needs and input of internal and external customers are put first, the way work is perceived, scheduled and accomplished is changed.

* Empowered employees will be a catalyst for change. They will play active roles in information dissemination, decision making, planning, evaluating and motivating. When this happens, empowerment has more significance. Bhote suggests management changed from isolation to mingling with people, from talking to listening, from muzzling to cheerleading, from controlling to helping, from bossing to coaching.

In summary, when supervisors reflect on their own performance and on how they affect others, they improve insights into their own behavior. This should prevent them from falling into the trap of reacting defensively when challenged with negative feedback or when problems arise. Supervisors need a common language and open communication channels to discuss problems whenever and wherever they occur - from the shop floor to the CEO's office. Feedback on supervisory performance helps determine problem areas and focuses on areas where improvement is needed. Ideally, supervisors will develop and apply proactive or preventive management practices based on principles similar to those used in health and wellness promotion. An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure.

Elizabeth A. Smith, Ph.D., is vice president of Summit Resources Inc. Her areas of concentration include productivity measurement, productivity improvement and management and organizational development.

For further reading

Argyris, Rensis, "Teaching smart people how to learn," Harvard Business Review, May/June 1991. Arnett, E. C., "Futurists Gaze into Business's Crystal Ball," Washington Post, July 20, 1990. Bhote, Keki Next Operation as Customer, New York: American Management Association, 1991. Bolte, Keith A., "Intel's War for White-Collar Productivity," National Productivity Review, Winter 1983/ 1984. de Geus, Arie P., "Planning as Learning," Harvard Business Review, March/April 1988. Galagan, P., "Work Teams that Work," Training and Development Journal, November 1986. Hammond, Joshua, "An International Look at Quality Practices," Management Review, May 1991. Likert, Rensis, The Human Organization, New York: McGraw-Hill 1967. Likert R., New Patterns of Management, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961. Murrell, Kenneth L. and Judith F. Vogt, "The Managers as leader in an Empowering Organization: Opportunities and Challenges," The 1991 Annual: Developing Human Resources. J. William Pfieffer(Ed.), San Diego, California: University Associates, Inc., 1991. Quinn, James Brian and Christopher E. Gagnon. "Will Services Follow Manufacturing into Decline?" Harvard Business Review, November/December 1986. Schermerhorn, John R., Jr., "Team Development for High Performance Management," Training and Development Journal, November 1986. Smith, Elizabeth A., The Productivity Manual, Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing, 1990. Smith, Elizabeth A., "Finding Personal Productivity Information," Industrial Management, November/ December 1990. Smith, Elizabeth A., "The Role of Qualitative Information in Productivity Measurement," Industrial Management, March/April, 1991. Sundstrom, Eric, Kenneth P. De Meuse and David Futrell, "Work Teams," American Psychologist, February 1990. Whitmire, Marshall and Philip R. Nienstedt, "Lead Leaders into |90s, "Personnel Journal, May 1991.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
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Title Annotation:Training
Author:Smith, Elizabeth A.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Managing collaborative organizations in the 90s.
Next Article:Manufacturing discipline: improving productivity with low capital investment.

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