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How to Be a Supervisor Everyone Wants to Work For

Graphic Showing on How to be a SupervisorSame company. Same role. Same job expectations. Two teams but all things equal ... except for the members of the teams and their managers. Why, then, does one team outperform the other? Why does everyone want to work for one supervisor but not the other?    

Inside organizations, the initial blame lands on the team members who are on the lower-performing team. Often, they’re newer (because the stronger team retains employees longer). Usually, they’re less engaged and not as happy as the folks on the stronger team. Sometimes, there are skills gaps (due to newness or lack of training and coaching).

Over time, thanks to exit interviews and complaints made to HR or senior management, it comes to light that the real difference is in the managers’ behaviors. One manager outperforms the other because people respond positively and feel they’re getting what they need from their manager. So the answer to how be a supervisor is this -- by putting people first and by meeting the needs of teammates so they can meet the needs of the organization.

How to Be a Supervisor: Putting People First

Here are the early indicators that a supervisor is not putting people first:

  • Relies on procedures and policies without considering unique situations or effect on people.

  • Focuses on doing things right vs. doing the right thing.

  • Works hard to complete reports and related tasks; seldom has time for people.

  • Manages up, allocating time to tasks and meetings that will impress senior management.

  • Views people as problems rather than working to help people with problems.

  • Doesn’t exhibit genuine interest in each individual and what they’re experiencing.

  • Gets things done by exercising authority rather than enlisting others through influence.

  • Seldom engages in “small talk” and seems a bit unapproachable

  • Responds to distractions like email and phone when meeting with people.

  • Doesn’t seek diverse points of view; doesn’t listen to hear all voices and understand fully.

Management Isn’t a Popularity Contest. What’s the Point of Putting People First?

The commitment an employee makes to their work and organization is influenced heavily by their emotional connection to their manager. As shown in the illustration, a manager’s activities and attributes that can significantly increase employee commitment. The Corporate Leadership Council concluded that “The manager has tremendous impact on employees’ levels of commitment to the team, organization and job.”

Ample research and data show the links between this emotional commitment and business results. Employees who are emotionally committed stay in jobs longer, produce at higher rates with higher quality, satisfy customers, and deliver both increases in top line revenue and improvements in profit margins.

The point of putting people first is that it’s the only way to get and sustain everything else you want in business. People deliver profits. People make processes work. People create products. People who are emotionally committed outperform the ones who aren’t.

That’s why every manager should focus on putting people first.

Impact of Organizational Culture on a Supervisor’s Behaviors

Do managers and people influence the culture? Or does the culture influence the manager and others? That’s largely the choice of the manager.

Organizational culture (the way we do things around here) can be a strong influence on a new supervisor. What’s being modeled is what’s being implicitly taught. A supervisor who is new to an organization is likely, at first, to demonstrate the prevailing behaviors from the previous place he or she worked. But organizational culture isn’t the deciding factor for all managers. Two managers in the same organization can exhibit very different behaviors and make different kinds of choices.

What’s your organization’s culture and how are you influenced by it? Is it a culture that puts people first? Or is it focused more on profits? Or processes and policies? Use this table to assess the company and yourself. How do managers usually respond to situations like these?


Indicators that employees are not engaged Ask for additional info, listen and seek to understand, respond to improve level of employee engagement Identify area(s) with lowest levels of engagement; put manager(s) on plan for immediate improvement Administer survey, analyze results, identify programs to address issues, monitor metrics, repeat survey
New product, service, or feature is being launched Vision and rationale clearly communicated
to all. People
understand what’s expected and what changes to expect
Quotas set for sales and production. Sellers get special incentives. Marketing focuses on
New processes and metrics are introduced. Training is mandatory. Meetings are
booked to monitor progress
Shareholders wanting to see higher margins Leadership development and executive coaching focus on increasing employee engagement Expense cuts are made, likely including a reduction in force. Sales initiatives focus on short-term revenue Expense audits conducted to ensure compliance with discretionary budget practices and policies
retirement of execs in 3-5 years
High potential managers/ directors
get cross-functional exposure and
mentoring/ coaching in “soft” skills
No investment in internal development. Will likely use an executive search firm to find external candidates HR alone does the work of succession management, recording who is HiPo/HiPer and monitoring reviews
Frontline contributor
is not meeting job expectations
Managers check for clarity and understanding;
provides coaching to identify and support
work on challenges
Managers do not have time for coaching and
are focused on results only. No raises for underperformers
System of putting individual on performance plan and monitoring for progress or eventual exit from company
Frontline contributor
is promoted to supervisor
Training for new supervisors includes
how to interact in delegating, coaching, giving feedback,
conflict, etc.
New supervisors are expected to do work
that is the same as in
the previous role as a “Working Manager”
HR provides training on policies, compliance issues,
harassment, and forms supervisors complete.
Positions are open
and need to be filled
Competencies are identified. Behavioral interviewing used to
find strongest
candidate. Comprehensive onboarding
Experience, as shown on resume, is top consideration. Aim is to
fill open jobs as quickly
as possible.
HR-led selection process with
an interview committee and recruiters that make or
influence who is chosen


What Steps Can a Supervisor Take to Start Putting People First?

It really is an individual choice. It’s up to you, regardless of organizational culture, examples you’ve seen, or habits you’ve formed. You decide what your priorities will be.

If you decide to put people first, you can start with these five steps:

  1. Take baby steps to improve the levels of employee engagement for your team. You can do little things every day that will make a difference. This checklist is free, a gift to you from People First Productivity Solutions.

    1. Learn the essential skills of people-first management. This popular course is equal parts supervisory skills and leadership development. It’s designed to boost employee engagement. It’s available for a group of managers via webinar or on-site instructor. It’s also available as an eLearning course to individuals who want to invest in themselves.

  2. Make more time for people on your team. Meet 1-to-1 more often to provide feedback and coaching. Give them your full attention when you do! Have casual conversations more often, including some that aren’t strictly business. Remember that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

  3. Discover the intrinsic motivators for each member of your team. What’s their “why” for coming to work and doing their job? What are their internal drivers and what do they care about? You may be surprised to find that every individual is uniquely motivated.

  4. Make decisions and set priorities with this in mind: Nothing is more important than the people on your team. Treat them accordingly. Make time with this in mind (other things can wait!). Consider the impact of what you say and do – will it be emotionally connecting or dividing?

Don’t Just Manage -- Lead!

There will be more work to do, but these basics will give you a strong foundation. Your job is to manage work and lead people. Be sure that you’re not focusing all your efforts on managing the work to the detriment of leading people. That’s a surefire way to fail in management.

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