Tag Archives: supervisor

Learning From Mistakes

A good bit of the morning had passed when I met Kim in the coffee room.

“Okay, I came up with a list,” she said. “It’s not a long list, but I was able to think about some specific things that were helpful to me when I was a supervisor. It’s funny. At the time, I didn’t realize how helpful it was, but now, I can see it clearly.”

“So, what’s the biggest thing on the list?”

“We were under some pressure to get a big order pulled for shipping. I was supervising the crew. Things were hectic. I commandeered a forklift that had been pulled out of service. One of the buckles on its safety harness was being repaired. I was thinking, how stupid, not to use a forklift for a few minutes just because it didn’t have a safety harness.

“Big mistake. I told one of my crew to use it anyway, just to move some product about ten feet over in the staging area. That part was okay, but when I wasn’t looking, the crew member took the forklift over and started moving other stuff. He figured it was okay to use the machine, since I said so. He was turning a corner and ran over something, his load shifted and he came right out of the machine.

“I was lucky. No one was hurt, nothing got damaged. In fact, everyone that was there, thought it was funny. Well, except for my manager. I thought I was going to get fired. It was a stupid thing I did.”

“So, what did your manager do?”

“He never yelled at me. I remember, he just came into my office that afternoon. He said one word, ‘Lucky!’ Then, he put some safety books on my desk, said he would be very interested to attend my safety meetings for the next three months.”

“So, tell me, how did that bring value to your thinking and your work?”

Just Promoted, No Respect

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was just promoted to the supervisory position on a crew I worked with for the past 2 years. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time gaining the trust and respect of my co-workers as well as other supervisors and managers. It seems to be difficult for some to grasp the fact that I have been entrusted with the responsibility for this team. It might be the fact that I have not had a great deal of time in the position, as of yet, so hopefully it may get better with time and my ability to be patient. But if there is any bit of advice and/or support that you may be able to provide, I am all ears.

Response:
It is always tough to become a new supervisor, to an existing peer group or a new group. A new supervisor always means change. And most people don’t like change, at least they don’t like the unknown parts of change.

Respect comes, not from the authority of the position, or the experience of the supervisor. Respect comes from bringing value to the work and thinking of the individuals on the team.

Team members always seek out the person in the company that brings value to their decision making and problem solving. If it happens to be their supervisor, that’s great. All too often, it’s not.

Think about it. We all work for two bosses. We work for the boss who is assigned to us, and we work for the boss we seek out. The boss we seek out is the one who brings value to our work, our thinking and our lives.

So, if you are the new supervisor, that’s the boss you need to be.

Who Will Happen?

“Who will our company leaders be in twenty years?” I asked. “Who will our company leaders be in five years?”

There were puzzled faces around the room. “Well, it’s going to be whoever steps up,” said a voice from the back of the room.

“What if that person is not currently employed here, and you have to promote someone without the capability to be effective in those roles?”

“I guess we will have to go to the outside and recruit,” came another voice.

“And, when will you know you need to do that?” I pressed.

“Maybe, we should get a committee together in a couple of years to look into our succession planning,” said someone from the front.

“Not good enough,” I nodded. “I want to see a personnel plan from every manager, every year. A rolling plan one year out, three years out and five years out. Do we need new roles on the team, do we need to take some roles away? Which personnel are operating effectively, who needs a new challenge, who needs to be liberated to industry? What roles will be replaced by technology? What growth or contraction do we expect?

“You see, succession happens all over the organization. It’s not just top leadership. Your technicians become team leaders, your team leaders become supervisors, your supervisors become managers, your managers become executive managers. Succession happens at each level of work over time.

“Planning for what will happen is not nearly as important as planning for who will happen.”

Who Appointed You to Make That Decision?

From Outbound Air

“It’s not their role to make a decision like that?” Javier replied.

“Says who?” Catherine baited.

An awkward twenty seconds ticked by on the clock. “Says me,” Javier finally relented. “That is not a decision that my shift supervisors are capable of making.”

“And, who appointed you to make that decision?” Catherine continued to press.

“You did,” Javier replied without hesitation. “My shift supervisors are perfectly capable of handling the day to day uncertainty of running an airline, but the problem of an unprofitable route likely has nothing to do with operations. It could be a marketing problem, a pricing problem. It could be a new competitor. It could be a spike in fuel costs. It could be the discovery of a new oil field in North Dakota, or government throttling of fracking activity. All of those issues could impact passenger load factors and are beyond the level of work of my shift supervisors.”

It’s a Manager’s Judgment

“How do you measure the size of the job?” Eduardo whispered, talking to himself, but making sure I knew he was thinking.

“We have to make a judgment call here,” I said. “We have to decide if Ron is big enough for the job. But to do that, we have to decide how big the job is.”

Eduardo had never thought about work this way. Measuring the size of a job was a little off-the-wall for him, but I could see in his face that it made sense.

“I am thinking, and your question seems logical, but I don’t have a clue how to really measure something like the size of a job.” Eduardo was still with me, but he was out of ideas.

“Think about when Ron was successful, when he was supervising the work to be done. What was the longest task that he had to accomplish, in terms of time?”

Eduardo was thinking. “Do you mean, that he had to hit his daily production targets?”

“In a sense, but I am guessing, if he was supervising, he was working toward a goal with a longer Time Span than daily production.”

“Well, yeah, I mean Ron was in charge of daily production, but some days were up and some days were off and some days, we shut down production for preventive maintenance. We looked at production on a monthly basis.”

“So every month, he had to hit the same number?”

“Well, no. Some months were up and some months were down. Ron had to work to the sales forecast. There was some seasonality to it, and some of the production orders took more than a month to cycle through. We really looked at things on a quarterly basis.”

“So, the Time Span for Ron’s role as a Supervisor was around three months?”

A light bulb went off in Eduardo’s head. “Time Span? Is Time Span the measure of how big the job is?”

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Outbound Air

How Big is Job? How Big is the Person?

“I don’t know,” replied Eduardo. “I just hope he snaps out of it. Ron was our poster boy. For the past couple of weeks, he has seemed distant, removed from his crew, removed from the work.”

“You ruled out alcohol or drugs. Is it a matter of skill, something he can learn, or is it a matter of capability?” I repeated. “You can hope this will fix itself. How much patience do you have?”

“What do you mean?” Eduardo had a new sense of curiosity. “Ron has to snap out of it fast.”

“Tell me again, what has changed with Ron’s role?”

“Well, a year ago, he was supervising a couple of people, making sure the work got done. Now, he has to manage other people who are supervising that work.”

“Is the job bigger, now?” I asked.

Eduardo looked at me, puzzled. “Well, yeah. He has more people, I guess it is more complicated.”

“So the job is bigger now. How do you measure, how much bigger the job is?”

“Measure?” Eduardo had never been asked to measure the size of a job before. “I don’t know,” he continued. “It’s just more complicated, I guess.”

“So, how do you measure the complexity of Ron’s new job?”

Outbound Air – Levels of Work in Organizational Structure now available on Amazon.

Outbound Air

Onward Thru the Fog

Eduardo was hanging up the phone when I arrived. I could tell he was puzzled.

“It’s funny,” he said. “This is the third time I have explained things to my Ron, but it just doesn’t sink in. For two years, he was doing great, but now, he seems to be in a fog.”

“You are Ron’s manager?” I asked. Eduardo shook his head.

“Yes, in fact, he was a good hire. We started him in a little office with only two people. He grew it to six, now he is at twelve. Somewhere along the line, he lost it.”

“Alcohol, or drugs?”

“No, I don’t think so. He is too conscientious for that,” Eduardo observed.

“But he seems to be in a fog? Tell me what has changed in the past year, going from six people to twelve people.”

Eduardo looked to the far corner of the room, picturing the changes before he described them. “It’s like Ron was supervising the work pretty well, but now he is one step removed. He is now managing a couple of supervisors. Maybe that’s the problem. He is too far away from the what he knows how to do?”

“Is it a matter of skill, something he can learn, or is it a matter of capability?”

Outbound Air, Levels of Work in Organizational Structure, by Tom Foster, is now available for Kindle, soon to be released in softcover.

Outbound Air

Defining Levels of Work in a Bank

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You spoke to the Vistage group I attend. I recently transitioned to a new role as the CEO of a lending institution. We are, in essence, structured as a traditional savings and loan, but we only serve a specific target market.

I do not see a model in your book that directly breaks down the strata levels for “banking” organizations. I’m in the midst of a major re-structure, and your info has always been very helpful to me in these situations.

Response:
I am not an expert on banking, so if anyone has specific insights, pile on. The methodology below works for any industry.

  1. Set your strategy. Review your current strategy documents, including Vision, Mission and Business Model. Those are likely already defined for your organization.
  2. Define the functions necessary for your organization to operate. Your core function (that which drives revenue) will be surrounded by necessary support functions. My assumption is that your core function is closing loans to specific institutions in the target market you serve. Your ability to book performing loans drives your revenue.
    • Book performing loans in target market (core function)
    • Marketing, traditional and digital media marketing, including social media (support function)
    • Sales, in the guise of customer service at your branch locations (support function).
    • Operations, including all physical transaction activity like deposits, checking, loan payments (support function)
    • Back office operations, including electronic transaction activity, online banking, debit cards, credit cards (support function)
    • Facility operations, including building, building maintenance, leases and real estate (support function)
    • Security, including physical security, electronic security, and custodial oversight of cash and bank instruments (support function)
    • Regulatory (support function)
    • Legal (support function)
  3. Define the level of work in each function, which is likely the basis for your question. Looking at your core function, booking performing loans in your target market.
    • Loans will likely require leads from the marketing department, driven to a branch location or to a telephone loan department.
    • The lead probably lands on a desk at S-II level of work, someone to do the initial diagnostic workup and complete the necessary paperwork. Much of this work is systematized and gathered on template forms.
    • The loan package is then likely reviewed by a role at S-III level of work to make an initial determination and recommendation to a loan committee. If the loan is missing fundamental elements of collateral or “ability to pay,” this role will likely investigate to determine what is necessary to make the loan conform.
    • The loan will then move to a loan committee, comprised of S-III and S-IV roles. There will likely be specialists at S-III to vet the required elements of the loan. The S-IV roles will look at criteria to determine if the loan integrates into the bank’s portfolio. There may also be an S-IV role to ensure the loan will meet regulatory audit.
    • The institution will also likely field an S-V role, a business unit president, to make sure the enterprise is supported by all the functions necessary to drive the core function.

    Let’s look quickly at one of the supporting functions, physical operations.

    • Teller functions and customer service functions are now automated to the point where this role is mid S-I.
    • Each teller or customer service person has a supervisor or manager who ensures that services are delivered accurately and that cash and instruments foot (and cross-foot) at the end of each shift. The supervisor schedules the number of tellers and customer service personnel on shift depending on historical and forecast activity.
    • Each branch likely has a branch manager at low S-III to manage the overall physical operation. In a small branch, this role might by high S-II, and in a very large branch, this role might be high S-III or S-IV.

    Define the level of work for all the other support functions.

  4. Define the specific roles required in each level of work. The definition of level of work in the previous step goes hand in hand with this step.
  5. Establish the necessary managerial relationships in each function
  6. Establish the necessary cross-functional relationships between each function
  7. Assign and evaluate personnel filling each role.

These are the big steps. If you have questions, please let me know.

The Problem Isn’t Your Boss

“You seem a bit frustrated,” I said.

“I am, I am,” Drew replied. “I think I do a pretty good job in my role as a supervisor. We have a complicated process with long lead items and seasonal demand. During season, we build to order. Off season, we build to stock. We have certain constraints in our process that slow us down and sometimes things stack up when we overproduce some of our sub-assemblies. All in all, I keep things together pretty well.”

“Then, why the frustration?”

“If I could spend the time analyzing the way the work flows through, look at some things that could be done at the same time, understand where the bottlenecks are, I think we could get more through the system.”

“So, why don’t you do that?”

Drew thought for a minute. “Every time I start flow-charting things out, I have to stop and take care of something gone wrong, something we are out of, a team member who didn’t show up for work. It’s always something.”

“What happens when something goes wrong?”

“I get yelled at. My boss tells me to stop thinking so hard and get back to work. The time I spend working on the system just increases my workload beyond what I can get done in a day,” Drew complained. “I am constantly reminded that my primary function is to make sure that orders ship. I just can’t convince my boss that if the company is to move forward, we need to spend time looking at the sequence of steps to make things run smoother.”

“If you keep getting dragged back into day to day problem solving, fighting the fires of the moment, what is the solution? Who else on your team could buffer some of those problems?”

“Nobody. I am the go-to guy. There isn’t anyone else, and there is only one of me.”

“So, the problem isn’t your boss, it’s you,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“You will never be able to work on larger problems until your team becomes competent at the smaller problems. You can never be promoted to a higher level role until you find someone to take responsibilities in your current role.”

What About in Individual Technical Contributor?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In the levels of work definition, from Elliott Jaques, you have highlighted that

  • Strata III – creates the system for production (typically a managerial role).
  • Strata II – makes sure production gets done (typically a supervisor role).
  • Strata I – production (typically a technician role).

Assuming one is working in a highly technical field, one might have a Systems Architect role at Stratum III, with no reports. Does this then mean that they fulfill ‘
“production” and that a Strata IV role would be the supervisor and a Strata V role creates the system? Or, would you say that the Systems Architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Response:
Thanks for the question. You have tipped off a number issues. The example I use most often in my Time Span workshop is a manufacturing or direct service model. These models are easy to understand, both in level of work and managerial relationships.

But there are hundreds (thousands) of business models that are not so straightforward in level of work. The calibration to determine level of work hinges on the length of the longest time span task in the role. As you suggest, in a technical industry, you may have “production” work at S-III, meaning the longest time span task would take longer than 12 months and shorter than 24 months to accomplish. This is quite typical in professional service firms (accounting, legal, financial advisory, engineering, architecture).

Your illustration also reveals the role of an individual technical contributor. An individual technical contributor is not necessarily a managerial role, but likely requires level of work at S-II, S-III or S-IV. Again, this is typical in technical business models.

If you have interest, I describe more details related to level of work, in the book Hiring Talent, for the following business models.

  • Managerial roles
  • Accounting roles
  • Engineering roles
  • Computer programming roles
  • Sales roles
  • Restaurant roles
  • Fleet service roles
  • Creative agency roles
  • Financial planning roles
  • Insurance agency roles
  • Construction trades roles
  • Legal firm roles
  • Public accounting roles
  • Medical roles
  • Educational institution roles (K-12)

Your question also asks about the nature of the managerial relationship for an individual technical contributor where the level of work is S-II, S-III or S-IV. I will save that for tomorrow.