Tag Archives: supervisor

Context of Uncertainty

“Holding the manager accountable for output still seems odd,” I said. “There are still things that can go wrong, out of the hands of the manager.”

“Yes, that would seem odd, but we have to think about context,” Pablo replied. “The context of the technician is quite short, measured in days and weeks. The context of the first line manager extends beyond and requires attention to those things uncertain, those things that can be anticipated, not in days or weeks, but weeks and months.”

“The outlook at a different level of work?” I prompted.

“Looking forward, there is always uncertainty and ambiguity. The uncertainty six months from now is within the context of the first line manager or supervisor. Their role requires they look ahead, plan for contingencies, because the future is ALWAYS unpredictable. It is the role of the first line manager to plan for backups, bench-strength in the team, tools that break, materials that arrive off schedule or out of spec. The first line manager must build in buffers to respond to variability in circumstances, because circumstances are always variable. In short, it is not within the authority of the manager to reprimand the team for a shortfall in production, but to create the circumstances in the system to respond to conditions to prevent the shortfall.

“It is precisely those conditions outside the direct control of the manager,” Pablo continued, “that the manager has to plan for in the face of an uncertain future. That’s their role. That is why the manager must be held to account for the output of the team.”

A Manager’s Focus

Nathan survived his next meeting. No one walked out. It was a productive ten minutes. Maybe his team was going to give him a chance.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Prime Directive,” I stated flatly.

“Prime Directive?”

“Bring value to the decision making and problem solving of each team member.”

Nathan’s face became a jigsaw puzzle. “What does that mean?” he asked.

“Look, Nathan, there are a number of things that are required of an effective manager. Some things you do will work against you. Some things will work for you. Remember the Prime Directive.”

I detected a glimmer of understanding in Nathan’s eyes.

“You are a new Manager. You were a successful supervisor, but your focus needs to be different, now. Over the next 24 hours, I want you to make a list of what you think your role is, related to the Prime Directive.”

System Solution

“So, the Supervisor’s solution to fuel pricing cost more money in overtime and extra travel distance to the cheapest pump?” I nodded. “What would have been a Manager’s solution? You’re a Manager, what would you have done?”

“I actually did step in. It took us three months to figure out the problem was getting worse. The solution wasn’t in finding the lowest pump price for the day. We had to look at our system and think in a longer time frame. The Time Span for this task wasn’t a day, or even a week, it was 12 months.”

“What was the long term solution?”

“I got a fuel price, not the cheapest one, but one I could lock in on a 3 month contract for a tanker to be parked in our truck yard. I got three options going forward that capped a price escalation. That sets us for the year.

“We have a night security employee in the yard who now has something to do at night. He drives the tanker around and fills the trucks with fuel. The drivers come in at their regular time and the truck is all ready to go.

“The Supervisor’s solution about find the cheapest fuel price wasn’t the answer. It was looking at our system of fueling trucks.”

But, He Was Always a Team Player

“Are you having fun with all this?” I asked, smiling behind a very serious intent.

“Hell, no,” Gerald replied. “I’m ready to just ditch the guy. But he has eight years of good performance in his file, easy enough to get along with, always shows up as a team player. I don’t know how I would document his deficiencies to fire him. I can’t even get his production reports.”

“Let’s think about the problem, again. Let’s go over the facts. You have an eight year employee, always a team player, positive attitude that you promoted to Manager.”

“Yes,” Gerald agreed.

“Before you promoted him, did he ever display behavior that demonstrated competence as a Manager?”

Gerald’s face turned puzzled. “What does that mean? He was one of our best supervisors. He could make things happen in a heart beat. My top pick if we ever got in a jam. He could handle two walkie-talkies, a cell phone and drive a fork-lift at the same time.” Gerald stopped. “Well, not that we allow people to talk on the phone and drive fork-lifts, but you know what I mean.”

“So, in a pinch, when things get hectic, he’s your guy?” I confirmed.

“What is different about being a Manager?”

Not a Matter of Skill

“I don’t understand why John doesn’t do better,” Marissa complained. “I constantly have to give him critical feedback, and I know he doesn’t like it, I can see it in his face. If he would only pay attention to the problems right in front of him, I wouldn’t have to correct him.”

“What do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“Well, he got promoted to be a supervisor because he was a great team leader, best machine operator we have. All he has to do now, is make out the work schedule for the department, order materials and supplies, schedule preventive maintenance on the machines, keep overtime in check, how hard could it be?”

“What do you think the problem is? Where does he struggle?”

“He struggles with all of it,” Marissa replied. “And his attitude is in the dumper, he mopes around all day because he thinks I yelled at him for doing such a crappy job.”

“What does he do well?”

“That’s part of the problem. We had a machine go down yesterday and he spent the entire afternoon tearing it apart and putting it back together. All the while, we don’t have next week’s schedule and we are almost out of materials. I had to put in a rush order so we can keep production online next week.”

“So, who promoted him?”

The Difference From Team Leader to Supervisor

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was just promoted from team leader to supervisor. My boss told me not to worry, things wouldn’t be that different. With all due respect, I think things will be different, I just don’t know in what way?

Response:
The biggest difference is the time span of your goals and objectives. As a supervisor, your focus will shift to the future.

As the team leader of your crew, you thought about what needed to be produced this week. As a new supervisor, you have to think about the schedule for two weeks, three weeks or more, depending on the variables in your system. It’s not just people, also, materials (with lead times), equipment, preventive maintenance, consumables, logistics, raw material specs, system constraints, first piece inspections. Your job will require more prep and staging time.

All of this requires you to think further into the future, using your own discretionary judgment to make decisions and solve problems.

She Still Left Early

“What was different from this past Saturday, than the Saturday before?” I asked.

“The Saturday before,” Karyn started, “Rachel left early in a huff. This Saturday, I talked to her early in the shift, in a calmer conversation. She still left early, but not in a huff. So, I don’t know that I made any progress. She clocked out early and left work to be done.”

“And, how did you feel about yourself, from one Saturday to the next?”

“What’s the difference in the way I felt? The outcome was the same.”

“How did you feel about yourself, from one Saturday to the next?” I repeated.

“A week ago, I was pissed. As the supervisor, I was disrespected. I lost control. I am certain my manager was disappointed with me. The weekend work was left undone and we had to double-up on Monday to catch up.”

“What was different this past Saturday?”

“I thought I headed things off by having a calm conversation. I acknowledged there may be circumstances outside of work that were having an impact inside at work.”

“You were the same two people, on the same Saturday shift, Rachel still left early. Between the two of you, who was different?”

“Well, I was much calmer,” Karyn replied.

“What changed in you?”

Critical for Growth

Nicole was still stymied over our discussion about the role of the supervisor. “But if I am not actively working on the line with everyone else, I don’t feel like I accomplished anything at the end of the day.”

“Nicole, let’s talk about the value-add of the supervisor. While your team members do the production work, your job is to make sure production gets done. The value you bring to the party, as the supervisor, is that the work is complete, at the target volume, at the defined quality standard and on time. To make that happen, your job is to schedule the appropriate materials, schedule the appropriate team members and make sure the right machines are available. Your value-add is consistency, thoroughness (no gaps) and completeness (the job gets finished).

“The Mom and Pop operation, just starting out, doesn’t have to worry about that stuff. They just have to finish today’s job for today’s customer. As organizations grow, as volume increases and there are more customers than you can count with fingers and toes, these are the issues that make or break a company. Is the right volume of product (or service) produced, of consistent quality, on time? Successful supervisors are responsible for taking the organization to that next level. It is a different sense of accomplishment, yet critical for the company to grow.”

Capability Plus Skill Set

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
How does someone make the leap from technician to manager? I see it all the time in IT work, and I think it’s why there are so many bad managers out there. Isn’t this the Peter Principle, where people are promoted to their level of incompetence?

Response:
It’s more than a leap. It is a completely different skill set. The technician is an expert in a technical skill. The technician does the production work.

One level of work above is the supervisor. The supervisor does NOT do the production work. The supervisor makes sure the production work gets done; completely, accurately, no missing segments and on time. The tools of the supervisor are checklists and schedules. This is not a subtle concept and most companies don’t get it.

The role of the supervisor is coordination. Success requires two things. First, the person has the capability to make longer timespan decisions and solve more complex problems. Second is the development of a new skill set related to schedule making, checklist making and meetings. The failure is most supervisors are promoted to a role where they are expected to use a skill set they have not developed and the company is not prepared to train.

Never Run a Press Before

Cindy’s assignment was simple. As a successful supervisor in another division, she was transferred to a line unit that was having trouble keeping up. After her first meeting, she wasn’t so sure she was up to the task.

From the back of the room, “So, tell us about your background. Have you ever run one of these presses before?”

She admitted that she had not. “So, how do you expect to be our supervisor when you don’t know the first thing about how we do the job?” She had never been challenged so directly. Worse, it was a perfectly valid question.

Now Cindy was in my office. “Here is the central issue,” I asked, “how can you bring value to their problem solving and decision making?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t know how to run the press, but does that really matter? How do you bring value to their problem solving and decision making? How do they know when they are doing a good job? How do they know when they are doing a poor job?”

“Funny, I know the ops manager was complaining that they did not meet the production quota last month. But those numbers were never broken down on a daily basis so the line never had a clue whether they were ahead or behind. The last two days of the month, somebody came out and yelled at them to pick up the pace, but it was too little, too late.”

“So, you can bring value to the work by giving the floor feedback on daily production runs, perhaps accelerating things a bit, but avoiding a hysterical crunch at the end of the month.”

One month later, Cindy’s crew was ahead by 150 units, yet had worked no overtime, even taken the press down for a half day of preventive maintenance. Every morning, Cindy had a two minute huddle meeting and posted the day’s production goal. At ten and two she posted updates with a final count at 3:30 when the line shut down. Though she had never touched the press, she was bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of her production crew. The skills to be a successful supervisor are quite different than the technical skills of the crew.