Quality Magazine

Manufacturing Excellence: Excellence in Supervision

July 31, 2008

Most quality programs-actually management initiatives-have been credited for failures at the middle management level. Middle management is the process owner, or the first level of supervision, irrespective of its official glamorous titles in various organizations.

Synthesizing the top-down and the bottom-up information leads me to believe that it is not a layer of the management infrastructure that can be blamed for poor results; instead fuzzy expectations lead to organizational bottlenecks. Supervision transcends multiple levels of the organization’s structure, competency and compensation. Irrespective of the position, the supervisory role needs to be reviewed for responsibility, authority and performance. Excellence in supervision implies bringing out the best in one’s employees to strive for perfection in alignment with business objectives.

In order to excel in supervision, one must clearly know corporate priorities. Recognizing that our decisions must be first in favor of the business objectives-before personal priorities are considered. If any decision is made in the interest of the corporation’s customers, profitable growth or employees, supervisors can create opportunities for personal success. Many times, supervisors do not know corporate priorities, or are unaware of business performance issues. In such circumstances, most decisions will be made for personal reasons, or no decisions will be made. Making wrong decisions is not as much a problem as not making decisions at all.

The uncertainty that prevails at the so-called middle management level is caused by lack of communication from the top down including setting priorities, or lack of information from the bottom up due to ill-defined processes. The uncertainty about expectations or consequences leads to a lack of action that becomes the bottleneck, bringing progress to a grinding halt.

In order to succeed in any supervisory role, one must ask or establish clear expectations in the position of responsibility, understand processes, care for employees, inspire to achieve the desired results, gather evidence of performance, communicate gaps and celebrate successes. I believe most supervisory people are able to do all of the above, but are unable to execute corporate strategies due to lack of clear communication of opportunities for their success.

People in supervision can help by being strong and interested enough to have dialogue with executives about intent, expectation, responsiveness and benefits. If any of the aspects of executive expectations are not clear, supervisory personnel must take the ownership to ask questions in order to deliver the desired results. Then the preparation, plans, targets and contingencies can be developed and filtered down to operations level.

Supervisors need to be empowered; however, empowerment is earned, not given. Thus, we must dialogue with executives for clarifying intent, expectations, deliverables, deadlines and resources.

Supervisors, like anyone else, want to be successful. If they see sincerity, care and the opportunity to grow, they will go all out and execute the corporate strategy as intended. If they see hypocrisy in the approach, they will just wait and see. If the executive order is unreasonable or whimsical, they understand it is all for show, and they do not want to be part of it.

In order to have the middle management execute a corporate strategy, we must engage them in the planning stage, listen to their ideas and understand their constraints. They will do whatever is necessary to succeed, but it must be real.

Middle management is as committed to corporate success as anyone else. Their dilemma is that fuzzy side of the corporate strategy and the constraints of employees. They care for employees and care for the company, but they see some strategies in conflict with employee interests. In order for supervisors to excel, we must enlist their help prior to launching any initiative and give them supportive feedback routinely.

Excellence in supervision is all about executing corporate orders with excellence. Celebrating supervisory successes is a great way to inspire for more.