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Surviving the Switch from Supervised to Supervisor

(October 2005) posted on Wed Nov 09, 2005

Learn how to handle the new responsibilities and challenges that come with a promotion.


By Gordon Roberts

One of the great things about our industry is that we, almost by necessity, have to promote supervisors from within our own pool of qualified workers. The very nature of the work we do makes it very hard for someone to walk into a position of responsibility without first paying his or her dues on the shop floor.

The most effective managers in the screen-printing field today often started out at the bottom and worked their way up the management ladder one rung at a time, honing their craft, making and learning from inevitable mistakes, and maturing into the well-rounded professionals upon whom we rely to keep our businesses running profitably. Ask any of these managers what the most difficult part of this journey was, and they will probably tell you that the greatest test was that initial move from the position of trusted worker to the position of supervisor.

Top-level managers can likely recall promoting some of their best workers, only to see them flounder and fail in their newly acquired positions. This month, we will discuss some common sense approaches that the new supervisor can adopt to make this transition easier and ensure that the outcome will be a successful one—not just for that person, but also for the company's bottom line. Let's get started by laying out some simple rules for the new supervisor to live by.

Practice humility

Don't get too full of yourself! Being promoted is a big deal, and taking on more responsibility is the next logical move in your career development. But don't take a promotion as a signal that you should start to think of yourself as the greatest thing since sliced bread. You got to this position through hard work and a willingness to learn, and these are exactly the traits that are going to bring you success in your new job.

Patting yourself on the back and adopting an air of superiority will have you crashing and burning in no time all. It'll be hard enough for your coworkers to adjust to having you in charge without having to adjust to your newly inflated ego, too. You will be much more successful in the long run if you bring your team along with you on this new journey. Admit to yourself and them that you are a novice at this management thing and, in many cases, are learning as you go. Don't be afraid to recognize your mistakes; try to only make them once, and always treat them as an opportunity to learn something new.

Think

Spend some time thinking about what your new position is and what it is that your superiors are expecting of you. Don't get trapped in the minutiae of your new job. Look at it from the viewpoint of management, and give yourself a truthful assessment of what is actually expected of you.

I'll make it easy for you here. Management isn't really interested in the methods that you employ or the level of discipline that you bring to bear on your team, although these might seem quite important to you in the beginning. What management is really interested in is whether or not your department produces in a timely, accurate, and economical manner. How you do it is mostly irrelevant to them. Results are what counts. Upper management will be the most happy when they can rely on you to take care of business and allow them to concentrate on taking care of all the other problems. The less they have to think about your department, the more highly they will think of you.

Communicate

Chances are there is at least one person in your team who doesn't think you should have been the one who was promoted. In the old days, management credo said that you will never be respected as a supervisor until you fire someone. The person most often fired was the one who resented your promotion the most. This is a terrible waste, because that worker might well have as much ability as you and could probably do the job just as well.

Remember your commitment to humility, and make sure you communicate that you understand feelings have been hurt. Perhaps it's happened to you in the past. If so, use that knowledge to your advantage. Ask for the help of coworkers. Take them out after work for a drink perhaps, and talk about the way they feel. You don't have to agree, but an honest conversation about the new reality in the workplace will go a long way towards diffusing the situation.

This is not the time for you to lose your best workers. Make sure you discuss your goals with all your employees. Make sure you get their input on any changes that you decide to implement. If they are a part of this decision-making process, then they are far more likely to find ways to make it work. If they are not involved, it's very easy for them to simply blame the new supervisor when things look like they might be going wrong.

The more you communicate, the more communication you will receive in return. Your decisions will be the better for it. Most importantly, don't forget to communicate what you are doing to your boss, and remember to stress the positive way that your changes are going to affect the company's bottom line.

Educate yourself

I can't stress this enough. Promotion to supervisor should be a wake-up call that tells you just how little you actually know. Don't worry, nobody expects you to learn everything overnight. But it should be obvious to you by now that you need to start learning all you can about the processes that you are overseeing. Join industry trade groups and use all the learning tools that they have available. Get signed up on industry bulletin boards, pose questions, and learn from the experiences other share. Persuade your bosses to send you to industry events. Use your equipment and product suppliers to keep you updated on the latest technological advances. Become an enthusiastic student of what you do.

You also need to become a student of those professional social skills that are oh so difficult to master. Read some books on the best way to motivate your people, then try implementing a few of these techniques. Never forget that the people you can learn the most from are the people doing the job. Listening to your employees is often one of your best opportunities for education.

Keep a cool head

Be a calm force in the middle of the chaos that is the usual production day. When tempers begin to flare, resist the temptation to throw your weight around and argue back. Remember that more often than not, the process is to blame—not the employee. Anger is a symptom of the frustration that your coworkers are experiencing. Eradicate the source of the frustration and tempers will soon calm.

It's your job now to ensure that the workflow runs through your department as smoothly as is humanly possible. At the end of each day take some time to reflect on what went right and remember it, reflect on what went wrong and think about how to change it, and come up with something innovative and consider how you might try implementing it.

How you'll manage

Humility, communication, education, and a lot of thought will stand you in good stead in your new position as supervisor. But it's only a start. You will soon realize that as a supervisor you will often be judged not on your overall achievement, but on what happened the day before. When things go wrong, stay calm and utilize what you have learned here. Make sure you communicate honestly with your boss about what happened, what you learned from it, and how you think the problem can be avoided in the future. Remind him or her of the progress you have already made and the efficiencies you have implemented, and show how your supervision has boosted the company's bottom line. Always try to turn a negative discussion into a positive one. If you are doing all the things that we have discussed here, you will find that your transition to supervisor will be good for you, good for your fellow workers, and good for the people that sign your checks.


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