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hiring or promoting supervisors

Reading my articles requires personal protection equipment (PPE).  My goal is to step on toes deliberately, so dust off those safety-toed shoes.  I strive to challenge readers by encouraging action or making you think differently.  With that out of the way, the standard practice for promoting individual contributors into supervisor roles is flawed.  Since industrialization over a century ago, companies have repeated the same failed technique over and over. One might think that by the year 2020, most companies would realize this critical error.  Yet, over and over, I see the same patterns repeated by organizations.  We keep banging our head on the wall and wondering why we continue to suffer from headaches. 

First, let’s do some pre-work.  People do not deserve a promotion to supervisor.  Deserving a promotion is entitlement.  Mary has been here the longest, so she deserves the promotion to supervisor.  Hogwash!  Front-line supervisors are THE MOST IMPORTANT ROLE in a business.  They are the face of management to employees.  Their interpretation of policies and values are what employees see and hear every day.  Seventy-five percent of people quit a job because of their relationship with a direct supervisor.  No team position is more critical for success, including the CEO in the big corner office.  Never give the job to someone simply because of tenure!

Secondly, just because someone is capable (skills and knowledge) of performing a job, it DOES NOT mean they are capable of being a successful supervisor.  It is an entirely different skill set.  To illustrate, how many professional athletes make a successful transition to coaching?  Very few are successful.  Tom is our best machine operator – let’s promote him to the supervisor.  This tendency is familiar, yet it’s usually a big mistake.  Think of this reality from your employee’s perspective.  No matter what the visionary CEO says or does, people live with that supervisor (and her beliefs) every day.  It is what the supervisor says that matters most to employees.  The CEO might be good at vision and strategy; however, execution and buy-in reflect direct supervision.  Think of the front-line supervisor as the quarterback for the team.  The CEO is the coach on the sidelines.

This decentralized leadership reality is routine in successful organizations like the Navy SEALs.  Senior leadership must trust subordinate leaders to execute the mission based on the current leader’s plans and objectives.  Small teams are led toward successful outcomes through autonomy and trust by senior leaders.  In other words, you cannot micromanage smaller unit teams to maximize success.

Years of research and analysis have revealed three characteristics for selecting front-line supervisors, and it is likely NOT what you think.  However, once shared, I am optimistic you will agree.  Experience on the job did not make the top three.  Are you surprised?

The first characteristic of successful front-line supervision is consistency.  Employees desire a consistent boss.  Being consistent at work (mood, style, and expectations) prevents surprises that disrupt organizational harmony.  Supervisors can even be challenging and demanding.  As long as they are consistent, employees will adjust to higher expectations or choose to leave.  Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality is undesirable and leads to low morale and high turnover.  Also, a boss who switches back and forth between being involved (or not) creates confusion.  

 Consistency is also required to handle stress.  Everyone’s personality changes under pressure; however, too much of the wrong type of stress is problematic.  I use the personalysis profile to help leaders assess the ability to handle stress.  This tool provides a powerful visual to indicate consistency (or not) under pressure.

Chasing too many shiny objects (as a supervisor) without commitment and sustainability is less desirable for your employees.  Change is accepted more readily by subordinates as long as justification and frequency are appropriate.  They will endure change if explained, and they also see the value.  It helps if you stick with things long enough for employees to see the fruits of the change. Otherwise, the pain (endured to change) is greater than the results, and you lose support for the next transition.

Resourcefulness is the next characteristic to look for in supervisors.  Employees desire a boss that gets things done.  If you can solve problems quickly (for them), you are an effective boss in the eyes of your employees.  Getting stalled by bureaucracy, red tape, or indecisiveness is a problem.

To be considered as resourceful, high-stakes decisions are not always required.  Making many small decisions is adequate to be labeled as resourceful.  In other words, you do not need to solve all problems at one time.  You can make small decisions that demonstrate you are working toward a solution for their situation.  For example, if a machine is malfunctioning, getting a technician visit scheduled immediately for the employee makes you decisive to employees.  Even better, if you can provide an alternative solution (in the meantime), employees will consider you resourceful.

The final characteristic is...

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