Management Articles


How Executives Can Influence Supervisors

By: Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC

President of The Mansis Development Corporation, Dr. Kent is a specialist in the structure and management of small and medium-sized organizations, and frequently serves as a personal coach and management consultant to executives for solving their management and employee performance problems. Before founding his consulting company, Bob held senior management and executive positions in federal and provincial government and private corporations. He has been a director of several health care and service organizations and a consulting member of private and government task forces in the areas of government finance, organization structure, personnel management and executive development. Since 1972 he has lectured in management at several Canadian and American universities in the faculties of Management, Administrative Studies, Medicine and Continuing Education where he has been an award winner for excellence in teaching and professional expertise; and he has published over 125 books and articles on management.

Poor supervision by your front line supervisors may be related more to the performance of the organization's executives than to the skills of the supervisors. When this is so, all the supervisory training in the world won't improve supervisors. As executives we often forget that our behavior is frequently perceived by our employees to be a consequence of their behavior. For example, what we do, our actions and how we respond to the activities of our lower level managers and supervisors, will encourage or discourage their future actions and give strong messages on how to behave.

Recently, a police force conducted a survey of non-performing police officers -- patrolmen who wouldn't do their jobs, and who resisted all attempts to raise their performance to an acceptable level. Senior police executives considered that the problem was caused by weak corporals and sergeants who didn't care! According to the police executive, the solution was to increase supervisory training for these front line officers.

But the facts were quite different. Historically, and consistently, senior officers rarely supported the attempts of corporals and sergeants to exert discipline or enforce standards.

Lower level supervisors were given no authority to enforce performance and senior management avoided making enforcement decisions. As a consequence, non-performing, and at times potentially dangerous members of the police force were shuffled around, appeased, and their refusal to do the job was condoned. Bureaucratic red tape, indecision and political expediency stonewalled attempts to keep members of the force in line. This indecision and refusal to act by the executive taught the corporals and sergeants that they must live with non-performance and that they shouldn't make waves.

Because the senior officers refused to manage, the lower level officers worked under great personal stress, torn between an intense loyalty to an organization they loved and the realization that they were powerless to preserve the organization's reputation of excellence. Their senior officers taught them to be helpless.

As an executive, whenever you see poor performing managers in your organization, stop and consider whether these employees are the problem, or whether they are symptoms of the problem. Why does your organization let this non-performance exist? You might or might not be the cause of the problem, but most definitely you are a major part of the solution.

© Copyright 2001 The Mansis Development Corporation

Other Articles by Robert H. Kent, Ph.D., CMC

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