Good supervision affects organizational results and the overall work environment. A strong supervisory team that contributes to a positive work environment and enables employees to be and feel successful can provide your organization with a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talented employees. This is especially critical in a sector that faces challenges in recruiting and retaining top employees. Good supervision is based on clearly defining the role of supervisors in your organization, and ensuring supervisors have the requisite competencies to carry out their role effectively.
HR Management Standard 3.1
Managers and supervisors with the responsibility for managing the efforts of others are provided with appropriate learning opportunities to develop their supervisory skills.
Supervisors manage both processes and people.
In the majority of organizations today, supervisors typically have dual roles: that of supervisor and that of worker. This means that a percentage of a supervisor's time is spent on supervisory activities and another percentage on doing her or his own functional/technical activities.
HR Management Standard 3.4
The organization’s performance management process includes the potential for coaching employees in order to address performance issues/concerns.
HR Management Standard 4.4
The organization is committed to promoting an inclusive workplace.
The following are examples of typical supervisory functions: people management and task management. Each organization will need to define the functions that best meet the specific needs of the organization and what the proper balance is between the two functions.
As part of achieving objectives, supervisors need to ensure that their work team is comprised of individuals with the skills, knowledge, and capabilities to carry out the work. Supervisors can achieve the desired mix of skills, knowledge, and capabilities through effective staffing and/or through the development of current employees.
Supervisors should identify development needs jointly with their employees to determine appropriate development opportunities and activities. While the identification of development needs is often part of the formal performance management process, it is important to have the discussion with employees whenever assigning a new project or activity, or when the supervisor observes the employee struggling to achieve assigned objectives. Development opportunities could include things such as job shadowing, working on a particular task force or project, or a temporary job assignment. Development activities could include coaching or mentoring (often from the supervisor, but could be from another employee or manager), on-the-job training or a training course.
Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that work unit goals and objectives are achieved. Critical to fulfilling this responsibility is motivating employees to successfully accomplish assigned activities.
The combination of process and people responsibilities results in a requirement for supervisors to have a combination of process management competencies and people management competencies. Those identified below are meant to provide examples of typical competencies required of supervisors.
While most organizations require an annual performance review be done with all employees, effective people management is based on on-going feedback, coaching and support throughout the year. Supervisors are responsible for monitoring day-to-day performance and providing employees with timely and constructive feedback – both positive and negative.
Monitoring day-to-day performance does not mean watching over every aspect of how the employee carries out assigned activities and tasks. Supervisors should not micro-manage employee performance but instead should focus their attention on results achieved, as well as individual behaviours and team dynamics affecting the work environment.
In most organizations supervisors are required to conduct a formal review with all of their employees (usually annually, more often in other organizations). For more information on performance reviews, visit the sections on Performance Management.
Supervisors are required to carry out disciplinary actions with employees, when required, to ensure performance expectations are met and a positive work environment is maintained. For more information on disciplinary action, refer to the section on Discipline.
Work unit planning involves establishing goals and objectives for the work unit being supervised. Work unit planning is done at the operational level, but should be developed based on an understanding of the organization's strategy (organization mission, goals and objectives) and how the work unit contributes to the achievement of that strategy.
One of the challenges that supervisors have is establishing concrete measurable goals. As a management team, supervisors need to identify a combination of qualitative as well as quantitative measures for the organization as a whole, and individually, for their own work unit.
Qualitative goals could relate to things such as the satisfaction of employees, clients and funders, reputation in the industry, recognition in the community and service quality.
Quantitative goals could relate to things such as meeting budget targets, cost of administration versus service provision, clients served and employee turnover and retention.
Scheduling can refer to assigning staff to particular shifts or work hours in an organization where services are provided and/or organizational activities occur outside the normal business week.
Scheduling can also refer to organizing work unit tasks for the day, week, month and/or quarter in order to produce outputs or deliver services in a timely manner. This includes coordinating with the outputs or services of other work units and ensuring that organizational needs and commitments are met.
Task/work assignment involves assigning specific work tasks and responsibilities to employees in the work unit.
When assigning work to employees, the supervisor needs to consider not only what each employee is capable of doing but also what assignments will provide challenges and development opportunities to employees.
The supervisor is responsible for ensuring that activities and tasks within the work unit are implemented effectively. This requires the supervisor to oversee the implementation of activities and tasks at the individual employee level as well as managing the implementation at the work unit level.
During implementation of activities and tasks the supervisor is often required to solve problems affecting the ability of the work unit to achieve its goals and objectives. The cause of the problem can be internal to the work unit, such as a lack of skills, knowledge, resources, or time to complete tasks; or external to the work unit, such as coordination issues with other work units or external parties (e.g., funders, volunteers, clients). The supervisor needs to determine the root cause of the problem and determine an effective course of action to resolve the issue.
Monitoring work unit progress on achieving goals and objectives involves tracking progress on projects and individual employee assignments. The tracking process should reflect the work cycles within the work unit (typically monthly or quarterly, but can also be weekly in certain work environments). Supervisors should develop a method for tracking progress that provides them with enough information at the right time to identify and resolve problems but is not overly burdensome to either themselves or their employees.
Supervisors are responsible for evaluating the results achieved by the work unit and reporting those results to their manager. Evaluation of results involves not only determining if planned goals and objectives have been met, but also how effectively they were met. The supervisor is also required to explain causes and impacts of unmet goals, as well as recommend solutions for addressing any issues/risks accrued to the organization as a result of unmet goals.
The content requirements and format of reports are usually established at the senior management level to ensure consistent measurement and reporting across the organization.
Note: It is important to note that employees expect to participate in many of the process activities defined as supervisory functions and, in fact, a supervisor generally relies on the input and involvement of their employees to successfully fulfill these responsibilities. However, it is important to remember that it is the supervisor's responsibility to make the decision.
The combination of process and people responsibilities results in a requirement for supervisors to have a combination of process management competencies and people management competencies. Those identified below are meant to provide examples of typical competencies required of supervisors; it is not an exhaustive list. Each organization needs to develop a unique set of supervisory competencies that reflects the job requirements and the organizational culture.
In today's work environment, the role of a supervisor is not that of the authoritarian taskmaster. Supervisors are expected to coach their employees, not to micro-manage every aspect of how activities or tasks are accomplished. Coaching means providing direction, guidance and support as required on assigned activities and tasks. Additionally, as coaches, supervisors need to recognize strengths and weaknesses of employees and work with employees to identify opportunities and methods to maximize those strengths and improve weak areas.
Supervisors are responsible for ensuring a positive work environment and effective teamwork, which often involves managing interpersonal dynamics and conflict. Supervisors need to allow and promote healthy conflict and prevent or resolve destructive conflict. Constructive conflict focuses on ideas, methods, facts and alternative ways of looking at a particular issue or situation. Constructive conflict can result in increased creativity, innovative solutions, and better decision-making. Destructive conflict focuses on personality, communication and work style differences, as well as competition for resources, recognition or rewards. Destructive conflict can result in unmotivated employees, loss of productivity, employee turnover and, in extreme situations, legal action.
Communication is a key competency for supervisors. They are responsible for communicating information up, down and across the organization hierarchy, as well as with parties external to the organization (e.g., volunteers and clients). A strong competency in communication encompasses an ability to articulate messages clearly, to actively listen to others, and to develop appropriate responses. Depending on the specific job, there may be more or less importance placed on written versus verbal communication, but most supervisor positions require at least moderate business writing skills.
In the course of carrying out their functions, supervisors are often in the position of leading team meetings and group work. Successful group leadership results in increased productivity and employee morale.
Supervisors typically require a thorough knowledge of their function as well as the technical skills and capabilities needed to set goals and objectives, define work tasks and provide direction, guidance and coaching to employees.
Supervisors usually have higher levels of functional knowledge than supervised employees. Some senior managers may have lower functional knowledge but greater process and people management expertise.
All supervisory functions involve making decisions. Some decisions are prescribed by an organization's policies and procedures, in which case the supervisor's responsibility is to understand those policies and procedures and apply them appropriately. Many decisions are not prescribed and the supervisor needs to use her or his judgment on a course of action. While there are a number of decision-making models in business and research literature, most of the models outline the following steps:
Important: The dual role of supervisory responsibilities and functional task responsibilities, as discussed in the section, Role of a supervisor, can be overwhelming unless the supervisor develops strong competencies in both delegation and time management as discussed below.
Delegation is key to surviving the demands of the dual role of most supervisors. Effective delegation also contributes to the growth and development of employees. While supervisors cannot delegate ultimate accountability for their functions, they can delegate prime responsibility for many of the activities within their functions. (Note: in a unionized environment, a supervisor may not be permitted to download supervisory-type functions.)
For example, while the child care centre supervisor must take accountability for the centre’s budget, the supervisor can assign centre staff to conduct research and cost analysis, and make recommendations regarding purchases suitable for their program.
Time management is an important competency for most people in business; if time is not managed effectively the dual supervisory role can result in fatigue and burnout, and impact the supervisor's ability to fulfill her or his job responsibilities.
Taking on a supervisory role is an exciting and challenging opportunity. While becoming a supervisor may be a desired and positive move, the transition into the role can be stressful.
When taking on a new supervisor role, there are a number of actions that can help reduce the stress:
There is often a period of discomfort between new supervisors and their former coworkers, particularly when those coworkers must directly report to the new supervisor. Given that so much of our day is spent at work, it is inevitable that friendships develop. Those friendships can be threatened when the nature of the work relationship changes. The truth is, some friendships will withstand the change while others will revert to collegial relationships.
The challenge is to maintain positive relationships through the transition period and going forward.
Time management is a key supervisory competency and has been discussed above. Establishing a balance between the time demands of work priorities and personal priorities (work-life balance) poses additional challenges. The new supervisor needs to take time to evaluate work and life priorities and determine the time and energy that she or he is prepared to commit to both (ideally, the new supervisor should go through this process prior to taking on the supervisory role).
It is important for new supervisors to establish expectations of themselves and expectations others have regarding work and personal commitments. They should discuss their commitment to work and personal life with the individuals who will be impacted by the change in priorities, including their supervisor and family members.
Typically, individuals are promoted to positions in which their supervisor believes they are capable of performing well. There is normally an expectation that the newly promoted individual will have some of the abilities and experience required in the job and will need development in other areas of the job. A new supervisor should work with her or his supervisor to evaluate current knowledge, skills and abilities against those required in the position. She or he should then establish a development plan that includes formal and informal learning opportunities.
New supervisors can benefit greatly from a mentor or coach to act as a sounding board and support person. If your organization does not have a formal coaching/mentoring program, seek out a mentor for yourself. The Mentoring Pairs for Child Care website includes helpful resources.
Ten Mistakes Managers Make provides some useful tips for both the new and experienced leader.