Training Supervisors to Work Effectively with a Changing Workforce

By Smith, Elizabeth A. | Industrial Management, July/August 1992 | Go to article overview

Training Supervisors to Work Effectively with a Changing Workforce


Smith, Elizabeth A., Industrial Management


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, 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. (Figures 1 and 2 omitted) 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 may be 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. …

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Training Supervisors to Work Effectively with a Changing Workforce
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