How to adapt to the supervisor’s changing role

Adapt to suporvisor's changing roles
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Doesn’t that just figure? You spent years watching your supervisors’ behaviors, and now that you’ve finally been promoted to that job, all the rules have been changed at most successful manufacturers.

Supervisors used to tell you what to do, make all the decisions, approve all requests and expenditures, and deliver a mixture of ‘atta-boys’ and “get back to work” comments — emphasizing the latter.

But in modern manufacturing, the supervisor is expected to be a coach, not a drill instructor. Supervisors are now supposed to listen and ask questions, teaching employees by encouraging them to think as the supervisor also learns.

The good news is that supervisors no longer have to act like they have all the answers — even when we’ve all known they don’t. End the charade. In fact, learning to admit you don’t have the answers and to ask good questions that promote logical and critical thinking skills is often the most difficult part of the new role.

The bad news is that many supervisors today do not have a role model in their professional lives to emulate. This change in management styles is happening at most levels of the organization at the same time, which means your bosses may not be any more experienced with this approach than you are. Look outside the organization if necessary. Plenty of good coaches are out there.

Here are tips on how a supervisor can be successful in this new role.

1. Learn to understand the new definitions of success

  • Produce what the customer wants when the customer wants it — and no more. Forget equipment utilization, standard cost absorption, and other misguided metrics manufacturers have used for years. They lead to poor decisionmaking.
  • Develop yourself and your employees. Work together to become better every day. If your team members are no smarter, no better, and no more committed to excellence this month than they were last month, why would a customer continue to do business with you? Why would good people want to work with you?
  • Challenge the way you’ve always done things. Even if the way you do it was perfect when first developed (and it wasn’t, by the way), hopefully you’ve learned since then.

2. Failure is part of success

  • When someone makes a decision that turns out poorly, see the opportunity to learn and teach — not to reprimand.
  • Don’t hide your mistakes, and encourage others to bring their mistakes to light. Failures are an opportunity to learn. Talk about assumptions that were wrong, about inadequate implementation, or other factors you may need to consider next time.
  • As Edison (supposedly) said: “When I have eliminated the ways that won’t work, I will find the way that will work.”

3. It’s all about the questions, not the answers

  • Your way isn’t the only way. In fact, it may not even be a good way. Encourage the team to develop recommendations. Listen, ask questions, and unless you firmly believe the idea will lead to ruination, work with them to try it. We can all learn — and it may be very successful!
  • Ask, “What do you see that makes you think that?”
  • Say, “Help me understand how that would help solve the problem.”
  • Ask, “What else could we try?”
  • If management had all the answers, every company would be successful in every situation. Clearly that’s not the case. Employees know that. Management can gain trust by admitting that obvious fact.

4. Know that most employees want to earn their paycheck

  • People who make mistakes rarely do it with malicious intent. If we all admit we’re not perfect, and we respect each other, we can learn and improve together.

If your company culture still emphasizes the omniscience of management and the ignorance of workers, it’s time to start looking for better opportunities. Start by asking yourself, “Do I believe this culture will be successful in the future?”