Good management principles can help turn around bad situations. Teaching someone how to become a good manager if they wish to learn can be a rewarding experience. Trying to teach someone those same concepts when they don’t want to learn them can be frustrating and hard to overcome; most likely, you’re wasting your time. However, even in that situation, you can still show how those principles, when put into place, can help turn a department around.

I was requested to do a short term consulting assignment, and one of the things I was asked to do was work with two supervisors who weren’t performing up to standard, or so I had been told. Because I knew something about the industry, it was pretty easy for me to ascertain just what each supervisor’s duties were.

The first thing I did was learn that there was no job description for either supervisor position. I took the time to write one for each of them, because I believe that if a person doesn’t know what’s expected of them, they don’t know what they’re supposed to be performing up to. I also decided that I didn’t want to immediately start working with both supervisors at the same time, because one area was more crucial, at least in the eyes of administration, than the other area.

I had the first supervisor come to see me. I asked her if she knew that management had certain expectations of her; she said yes. I asked her if she knew what those expectations were; she said no. She told me she’d been told she was responsible for one particular process, but then wasn’t instructed on what she needed to do to work with others in getting that process working. I asked her if she’d ever been given a job description; she said no, the answer I knew she’d give. I then pulled out the job description I wrote and gave it to her, and asked her to read it. After about five minutes, she looked up and said “whew”. I asked what she thought and she said that was a lot, but that she thought she could do it.

We then worked on a strategic plan based on the job description. The process she was responsible for was time critical, so we worked on that premise. What was going to be involved was her walking around to visit each employee at specific times during the day and monitoring their overall progress towards completing their tasks. By doing this, she would know well in advance who was falling behind and why, and if the reasons were legitimate she could shift some of the work onto another person. She would also know what might be missing and could address those issues much sooner.

Then we talked about the position and job duties of a supervisor. She had been promoted to the position after working alongside many of the people who now reported to her for many years. She was a good worker, but as a supervisor, she thought that meant she was supposed to produce more work than anyone else. Instead, we worked on the reality that, though she might still have to do the same work from time to time, her responsibilities were more along the lines of review, monitor and report rather than work. She was being judged on the output of many, not what she herself was doing on a daily basis.

The next day, we started the new process. I walked around with her that first day, giving her support as well as helping her to explain to everyone what she was going to be doing on a daily basis from that point on.

There were four messages that needed to get across to each employee. One, there was an expectation that this particular work would be done within a specific time frame daily.

Two, someone was going to be checking on them multiple times during the day; they weren’t going to be invisible employees anymore.

Three, she was going to be there to help them as they learned the time transition, but this wasn’t a short term thing; she was going to be doing this from now on.

And four, she was going to show them she cared about them, and what they were going through, and was going to try to do whatever she could to give them support.

That first day, the new process took a long time to get through; the second day, which I also walked around with her on, the process was much shorter. By the third day, I only walked around with her the first and last time, and the new process was working perfectly. The employees knew when she would be there, they knew what they had to have for her, and because she knew what each employee had and where they were with their assignments, she knew how to fill out the reports and send the information to management, which they were happy to finally be receiving.

During that third day, I decided it was time to meet with the other supervisor. The process she was responsible for wasn’t as time critical, but overall was more important than what the other supervisor was over. She was also another long time employee who had been promoted to the position with no advanced warning, nor assistance, in how to do the job now required.

I asked her to come to the office I was using for a meeting. I began by asking her the same questions I’d asked the other supervisor, and received the same answers as before. I gave her a copy of the job description for review, and she took about five minutes to do it. When she was finished I asked her what she thought, and she said she thought it was unrealistic for anyone to assume one person could do everything that was listed. I asked her why and her response was “How do they expect anyone to get any work done if we have to do all of that?”

The job description was very close to the one for the other supervisor, with only two changes that pertained directly to the process she was over; the reaction didn’t wash. We talked about it for a short while, and though she agreed that management was judging her on all that was listed on the job description, she felt it was their issue, and that their expectations were just too high.

I showed her a procedure I’d written for the employees she was responsible for to learn. She thought it was good, but said she didn’t believe any of the employees would ever learn it. We talked about ways for her to monitor those employees, and she said she didn’t have time to check on people during the day because she was too busy, that people needed to be responsible for themselves. While I agree with that statement in principle, I also believe management needs to foster that attitude from the beginning, and sometimes one has to take a step back in order to move forward later on. I told her that, and she said it wouldn’t work; she was giving up before we ever got it off the ground.

Still, the next day we started out trying the process I felt would work, and she grudgingly went along with it in the morning. But by the afternoon, she had decided she wasn’t going to do the rest of it. I wasn’t in a position to make her do anything, but I knew the process would work, so I decided to assume that part of her responsibilities for a week, just to see what would happen.

By the end of the second week, remarkable changes had started occurring. For the first supervisor, the numbers she was reporting were remarkable. Things were flowing smoothly, she’d only had one minor bump in the road that I was able to help her through, and she wasn’t feeling any stress because she had direction and a full process to follow through on. It had made her work easier to do, and management was happy with the reports she was sending them.

For the second supervisor, I was doing the daily follow up with employees, and their numbers jumped also. However, management was receiving the reports from me; I figured that since I was the one doing the process, I was going to report the numbers. The other supervisor had never done reports anyway, so she was oblivious to their being completed.

Unfortunately, for her, because I was there in a consulting role, I had to report that she was uncooperative on following the process and that they would have to make a decision on whether she was going to be a long term project for them or whether they were going to have to go in a different direction. I had shown them that the process would work, with the right person in the position.

The only limitations to whether a bad situation can become a good one are the limitations of the mind. Negative thinking makes everything fail; positive thinking makes everything possible. What mindset will you adopt, as a manager, and what results will you hope to attain?

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