New supervisors have a tough transition to make—but if they achieve mastery in five key areas they can be successful.

New supervisors tend to be full of energy and forward looking, but also anxious at the same time. They are eager to make a difference for your organization. At the same time, they're insecure.

They won't know how to be a supervisor until you teach them.

Five Keys to Supervisory Success

These are the five areas that the HR Consultants team finds present the most difficulty for new supervisors:

  1. Alignment
  2. Planning/problem solving
  3. Communication
  4. Motivation
  5. Compliance
  1. Alignment

There are two elements to alignment—aligning yourself to your new role and aligning your department to the organization.

A big mistake new supervisors make is to continue to perform in their old roles. They continue to do the old job and don't supervise. Or, they go the opposite way and overmanage by micromanaging. Either way, they are not getting the job done.

The key to alignment is to understand your department and your organization's goals.

Common hurdles related to alignment:

  •  Predecessor was not aligned
  •  Department not comfortable with being held accountable
  •  New supervisor does not transition from buddy to supervisor.

2. Planning/Problem Solving

It's critical that new supervisors learn to plan. You really need three plans:

  • The work—What results do you intend to achieve, and what must you do to get those results?
  • The schedule—How much time is required for each task and subtask? What needs to happen before something else can happen?
  • The resources—How many people, what materials, how much, and when? Late-arriving raw materials are often the reason behind failing to meet deadlines.

Problem-solving skills are also needed because when plans live in reality, problems arise. Here's a process:

  1. Gather information and data to help you understand the problem.
  2. Do a "fishbone" or cause-and-effect analysis. Consider people, equipment, materials, methods and procedures.
  3. Write a problem statement—what the problem is, who it affects, and what can be
  4. different if we address the problem.
  5. Brainstorm solutions. This is a great opportunity to involve employees.
  6. Select and implement the best solution.
  7. Review. Is the problem resolved? Are there consequences you didn't expect?
  8. Revise or rework as necessary.

Common hurdles with planning and problem solving:

  • Subordinates don't agree. Listen to them. You might learn something.
  • Delegated tasks are not completed. Usually, that means the task was not properly described, not enough authority was delegated, or no checkpoints were established.

3. Communication

About 80 percent of the organizations her firm works with have issues surrounding communication.

Communicating down is the most troublesome aspect. Concentrate especially on communicating the following:

  • Performance expectations
  • Performance feedback, plus and minus
  • Departmental and organizational goals and objectives
  • Change

As for communicating up, be sure to find out what type of information your bosses want, how they want it, and how often they want it.

When communicating up:

  • State objectives concisely and support them with facts.
  • Show how the proposal is in the interest of manager.
  • Ask if there are any questions.
  • Make sure they agree.

In communicating across departments, learn about them—what do they need from you and when and how do they need it? And don't be afraid to tell them what you need from them.

Common hurdles to good communication:

  • Previous low levels of trust in the department
  • Poor communication skills
  • Silos among departments.

4. Motivate

It's important to motivate yourself and to motivate others. The more positive your attitude, the more effective a supervisor you can be.

Think about what motivates you—a thank you, a please, hearing praise about a job well done? Most likely, those things will motivate your employees, too.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you walk your talk?
  • Do you treat people fairly and consistently?
  • Are you willing to do what you are asking other people to do?

To motivate, consider:

  • Getting employees more involved
  • Providing cross-training
  • Delegating responsibilities
  • Identifying opportunities for advancement
  • Showing trust in employees

Strengths that help motivation:

  • Comfort with employee involvement
  • Delegating ability

Weaknesses that will detract from motivation:

  • Micromanagement
  • Dictatorial management

Common hurdles for new supervisors:

  • Negaholics. (Ask them to share what their intentions are and their solution)
  • Previous distrust of supervisor

5. Compliance

Compliance is a very broad area and needs in-depth training. Of course, supervisors must be trained on discrimination, harassment, and compensation. Some of the particular points her firm emphasizes include:

  • New supervisors need to know that their actions and inactions contribute to the level of liability an organization faces. Their actions (or inactions) are attributable to the organization.
  • Supervisors face potential individual liability.
  • New supervisors often make big mistakes in wage and hour issues. Typical problems involve allowing or requesting work off the clock or asking employees to make up hours in a different work week.
  • The other significant failure is not documenting performance issues on an ongoing basis. When a string of performance appraisals say "meets expectations" with no comments, it's tough to prove poor performance.

How about your new supervisors? Fully trained and ready to deal with employment issues? Especially when new to the job, most supervisors don't know how to handle things like compensation and appraisals (or harassment, hiring, firing, FMLA, or accommodating a disability, for that matter).

It's not their fault—you didn't hire them for their HR knowledge—and you can't expect them to act appropriately right out of the box. But you can train them to do it!

Reprinted with permission from HR Daily Advisor. Copyright 2009 Business and Legal Reports.

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