Monday, November 05, 2001

The Success Coach

Focus, communication are keys to supervising

By Michael Crom
Gannett News Service

        Question: Three years ago my mother and I started a catering business out of my garage. Now we have our own office space and several employees. We've divided the duties so Mom takes care of the sales and I supervise the employees. The problem is that I hate being a supervisor. I never realized the difficulty in getting people to do what I ask. I dread going in every day because I know I'll be spending most of the day on unimportant little things like listening to excuses for not completing assigned tasks. Eventually I'll be able to hire a supervisor but for the next few months, at least, I have to handle this part of the job. What do I do?

        Answer: You've just discovered a universal truth. Managing people is, by far, the toughest job out there because it varies by the second. There is very little reward and the goals are constantly changing. Of course, the fact that you're not alone in your realization doesn't help you out. It does let you know that you're not necessarily a bad manager. In fact, you might grow into the position and find that you truly like it some day.

        Until then, keep these tips in mind:

        • If your employees are telling you something, it's important. There are no unimportant issues when it comes to dealing with people. If they're constantly complaining, it might be a sign that they feel they're not being listened to. If they have excuses for not getting work done, it's possible there are real reasons hidden behind those excuses.

        Consequently, my first recommendation is to sit down and write a vision of how you'd like to manage these people. Do you want to be controlling, asking them to do their physical tasks and nothing else? Do you want to work as a team, where you seek their input on all decisions with the work processes? Or do you want a hybrid structure, where you solicit some ideas when you think it's necessary but really just want them to show up and cook as they're told?

        Keep in mind that the less you seek their input, the less motivated they will be to succeed when you need them. If you view them as cogs, that's how they will view the job — as something they can replace as soon as something better comes along.

        • Communicate. However you decide to manage, it's important to communicate with your employees. At least, let them know why something has to be completed in a certain way. Don't just give a direct order and walk away. Entertain serious requests for change and — even in a more hierarchical structure — ask the experts (the people doing the job) how to improve things.

        Another important aspect of communication is praise. People like feeling important and appreciated, that they're doing a good job and that they matter to the workplace. There's no harm in telling them — constantly and sincerely — that they did well to meet a deadline and that the appetizers taste great. You'll find that they like coming to work!

        At the same time, you must communicate exactly what you expect from these workers. There is no room for vague language here. Delineate exactly what will be done and what you expect the outcome to be. Because these are new positions, I'd seek the input of the workers after a few weeks. It's not uncommon that a job looks good on paper but isn't practical in the real world.

        In summary, know what you want then communicate it. That will guide you toward successfully managing people.

        Michael Crom is executive vice president, Dale Carnegie Training. For advice on work issues, visit or e-mail


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