These are the people that are thrown into their jobs head first.
They typically know their stuff, but are lacking in certain skill sets that directly relate to their new responsibilities.
Worse, they don’t get a lot of guidance from their bosses before AND after they take that dive.
Sound familiar? This is the usual story for a first-level supervisor – the person directly overseeing the personnel who serve customers, make the widgets, or code the software.
And therein lies what I consider the (all too) often missing link in awesome team building – the proper training of these supervisors.
More specifically, the leadership training.
I’ve spent a long career seeing countless new supervisors struggling mightily with the idea of actually “managing” a staff – setting priorities, communicating the company vision, motivating, holding people accountable, and delivering the necessary coaching and corrections.
Delivering such training can be expensive, because this is typically the largest management group in most organizations. Plus, taking these critical cogs in the wheel out of circulation for even a few days can certainly be a burden on the operation.
Consequently, a lot of companies take a pass on any organized programs and let on the job training do most of the work for them. Some supervisors figure it out fast enough, and fend for themselves very well. But a lot of them do not, and that leads to lot of unnecessary upper management intervention.
Worse, it leads to turnover, which costs time, money, and critical continuity.
On the other hand there are many examples of companies who make this commitment, and prove that the investment is worth it.
One I’ve always admired is the Zingerman’s chain of delis and bakeries in Michigan, founded in 1982 and now with 700 employees and $55 Million in revenue. They take training very, very seriously, especially for their supervisors. In fact, they got so good at it that in 1994 they formed a training company called ZingTrain, and have been sharing their accumulated knowledge with other companies for nearly 25 years. (how’s that for a side benefit of finding the missing link!).
Great companies like Zingerman’s also spend a lot of time on the hiring side, making sure that applicants have the necessary personality, temperament and common sense needed to be on the front lines, typically using personality tests and other profiling to get a good “read” early in the process.
I’m also a BIG believer in those kind personality tests – my personal favorite is called the Predictive Index.
If there’s one more thing that might even be more important than the formal training and the pre-screening, it’s a frequent feedback loop between the supervisors and their bosses. It just can’t all be nuts and bolts, and numbers and metrics. They must talk about the soft stuff – how the supervisor is progressing as a leader, and determining areas of follow up and additional learning.
And not just once a year. Constantly.
And yes, this all costs money. And also yes, it takes time away from the regular course of business. But it must be done. We must devote more time to our front-line supervisors. As companies like Zingerman’s so vividly illustrate, it is indeed the missing link to awesome team building, and thus, a great company.