A great deal of what we do at AEU LEAD revolves around making connections between pain points in the industries we serve and the role, or potential role, front-line supervisors play in addressing them. Three examples of pain points common to many industries are:
- Skilled labor shortage
- Information flow / communication
- Client / customer experience
As a supervisor, you’ve likely heard these pain points discussed many times. What may be new, however, is a slightly different perspective on the topic – one that positions you at the center of discussion for what can be done about these increasingly-important challenges.
At the heart of this post is an underlying theme, framed as a question: “How can you make a difference?” When it comes to the above pain points – and so many others – the answer is quite simply, “by enabling needed changes in others.”
The Changing Role of Front-line Supervisors
The role of supervisors has changed a lot over the past few decades. Once hired to drive results, maintain status quo, and manage systems, those on the front line have needs and expectations that have changed – significantly. The focus of the job is no longer limited to systems or processes; it’s about people. More specifically, it’s about getting achieving performance goals through your collective workforce.
In practice, it’s no longer about authority. It’s about influence. As for the referenced pain points, most can be distilled to challenges involving human relations. Given your position within the organization, squarely between senior management and the workforce, you’re perfectly aligned to help address the pain points your company is experiencing.
Pain Point #1: Skilled Labor Shortages
The availability of skilled labor is a complex topic. There are many variables in play that make the issue so challenging for companies. As an example, employee engagement is a measure of how employees feel about their jobs. It’s also a strong indication of personnel turnover a company is likely to face. Within the U.S., the percentage of employees actively engaged – that is, the percentage that actually feels good about and motivated by their job – is around 33%. That means MOST employees reporting to you are either just going through the motions or are disengaged (disengaged employees don’t like their jobs and are often actively looking for the opportunity to leave).
How can you make a difference? As a supervisor, look for ways to get employees involved. Help them become part of the overall process. Seeking input on challenges you (or the company) are facing is an ideal way to demonstrate that you value and appreciate the knowledge and experience employees collectively can provide. Why is this important? About 50% of employees that leave voluntarily do so because of how they feel about their boss – not the job, not the company, but their direct supervisor. Of those who leave, about 75% do so because they don’t feel valued or appreciated. The actions and behaviors of front-line supervisors and the retention of valuable employees are directly related.
Pain Point #2: Information Flow / Communication
“Ground truth” is a term used to describe information based on direct or first-hand observation. Since it is often needed to make critical business decisions, executives or decision makers place high value on ground truth and often complain about the scarcity of it. On the other end of the spectrum, employees routinely complain about a lack of trust involving company leadership. Studies consistently show that more than 60% of employees feel their company’s management lacks credibility and integrity. The connections between miscommunications, existing pain points, and the resulting implications are monumental.
How can you make a difference? For starters, use your role and position within the organization as a source of power and leverage. You’re perfectly situated with access to senior management and to the workforce. So, no one has better access to those in the know, or those needing to know, more than you. Maintain integrity in all that you hear and share. Speak truthfully to questions asked and recognize the absolute value and importance of transparency. Actively listen to understand. Nothing says, “I care” more than focusing your attention on matters important to others. Equally as important, provide honest feedback when it’s needed. The benefit of doing so will almost always outweigh the cost of avoiding difficult but necessary conversations. Do these things consistently and you’ll gain respect, a critical and essential element needed for influence.
Pain Point #3: Client / Customer Experience
Let’s face it, companies are in business to make a profit. This is only possible through a steady stream of paying clients. Valued clients want a product or service that meets or exceeds their expectations. Consistently deliver on those commitments and you have a sustainable business model. Fail to do so and you don’t.
How can you make a difference? Create ownership in the process and instill a sense of pride in the product. The fingerprints of those who report to you are likely all over what the client ultimately receives. If the delivery fails to meet your expectations or those of your employees, chances are it won’t meet those of your paying customer. Do something about known deficiencies sooner than later and certainly before the handoff occurs. While the cost of rework, reauthorization for additional funding, or remedy may be painful, it’s nothing in comparison to the direct and indirect cost of a dissatisfied client. Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a brand or reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Making Shift Happen
Leadership on the front-line is a matter of growing importance. It begins with a choice. You most certainly can and should do everything possible to address pain points impacting your organization. Any impact you’re able to have, however, will only come as a result of deliberate and purposeful efforts. Engage, own the process, and enjoy the benefits resulting from the impact you’re able to have by enabling change in others.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.