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Be A Successful Supervisor

Your most important responsibility as a supervisor is to bring out a quality performance from your staff. To bring out the best in others, you need to have the respect of those who you supervise. Think for a moment, about a former supervisor whom you considered especially effective. That individual probably stands out in your mind because he or she was likable and approachable.

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Although supervising isn't a popularity contest and the skills and traits that make an individual “likable” and “approachable” are not always included in traditional supervisory development programs, by boosting them you can increase your own effectiveness. Here are guidelines to help you achieve success as a supervisor:

1. Develop a sense of identity. Knowing who you are and what you want to do is invaluable in pursuing a satisfying career and living a good life.

2. Acquire cross-cultural sensitivity. The United States remains a melting pot of cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity. These multiple origins have impacted attitudes, motivations, and dreams. Learn to celebrate the differences in your employees as a wealth of opportunity and recognize how those differences can contribute to the workplace.

3. Develop cultural and moral humility. Personally effective individuals accept that not everyone shares the same point of view. And they accept these differences of opinion, even if they do not agree with them.

4. Don't “finger-point” when problems occur. Instead of spending time trying to assign blame for a problem, work to resolve problems at their core.

5. Become flexible. Quality improvement in the workplace requires flexibility. The best supervisors and managers are those who understand their organization's quality goals and processes and translate them into action steps for their employees. Good bosses accept failure and reward people for trying.

6. Learn how to negotiate. Negotiation skills include being able to read body language, listen actively, test assumptions, and organize thoughts. These skills are applicable to all phases of work and your personal life.

7. Develop diplomacy. Tact requires focusing on making others comfortable and taking care not to embarrass a person in front of someone else. Few people reach leadership positions without refining their diplomatic skills.

8. Develop repair strategies and skills. If you make a mistake in a relationship, have a plan for restoring the relationship to its original level. For example, statements such as “I did not intend to make you look foolish,” or “I am responsible for the mistake, not you, and I am sorry you were blamed” go a long way toward restoring trust. Long-term relationships require trust, and trust requires effort, time, honesty, and continuous dialogue. The ability to fix a relationship reaps lifelong rewards.

9. Practice patience. Rushing is a great enemy in today's business world. If you hurry to finish a task, you often miss important details that will make a critical difference. The best (and perhaps only) way to develop patience is to practice it: Put yourself in difficult and trying circumstances such as driving in rush hour traffic, waiting in a bank line, and carefully listening to a disgruntled employee and accurately feeding back what you are hearing.

Developing these skills will make you far more personally effective. Each requires real commitment to change and a recognition that you will ultimately be a resource for your people.

How else can you bring out a quality performance from your team? Read on!

Focus On Results, Not Reasons

Your department's productivity slipped sharply last month. The problems were only temporary, but your boss wants a detailed list of reasons for the decline. How do you handle the situation and keep your employees in a good light?

Furnish your boss with a written memo citing the exact causes of the work slippage, along with plans for improvements. Avoid placing blame, especially within your work group.

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A focus on reasons puts employees on the defensive stress. Avoid asking your employees:

  • Why are you behind schedule?
  • Who isn't keeping up?
  • Don't you know better than that?
  • Who made that decision?

Instead, ask “results” questions:

  • What have we accomplished so far that you're most pleased with?
  • How do you want our next project to turn out?
  • What key things must happen if we're going to reach our objectives?

What Is A Quality Leader?

What characteristics do quality leaders have?

1. They know their own strengths and weaknesses.

2. They make the path smooth so employees can get their jobs done.

3. They are honest and trustworthy and expect the same qualities from their employees.

4. They spend less time on day-to-day activities and more time on communicating.

5. They recognize the value of employees' contributions and let employees known when they've done a good job.

6. They serve as models of good leadership that employees can look up to and respect, and they, in turn, respect their employees.

Call Her Major Supervisor

Many of the principles of workplace leadership are based on military guidelines. Here are some leadership pointers:

1. Take responsibility. Be accountable for your own actions and those of your coworkers. Judgment and tact are vital.

2. Know yourself. Evaluate yourself honestly, and strive to become the best person in your organization.

3. Set an example. Standards of correct behavior are far more influential than disciplinary measures.

4. Have confidence in others. Tell people what to do - but not how to do it.

5. Be available. Let others do their own work, but offer guidance when it's needed.

6. Be a provider. Make certain your coworkers get essential help and supplies.

7. Keep everyone informed. Squelch unfounded rumors, and be sure everyone receives the correct information.

8. Set attainable goals. Unrealistic goals create frustration and damage morale. Go after challenging, but reachable, objectives.

9. Make sound and timely decisions. If you've made a bad decision, change it now.

10. Know your job. Keep up with current trends and changes in your line of work.

11. Build teamwork. Train everyone to carry their share of the load, and teach them to understand the value of their contributions.

Don't Keep Your Distance, Coach!

Conventional advice to new supervisors is, “Keep your distance from your subordinates.” But that advice may be creating a barrier to effective supervision.

Coaches are more likely to provide effective developmental coaching to people with whom they have formed strong relationships. The most important factor that creates effective coaching is honest, straightforward communication. And, when coaching fails, it is most often because coaches have not taken the time to establish a supportive and trusting relationship with those they coach.

What are some coaching “turn-offs” that you may want to avoid? Here are some suggestions:

  • non-caring relationship
  • lack of specific feedback
  • vague philosophical advice
  • irrelevant, unneeded advice
  • impersonal, one-way relationship
  • negative, critical, or abusive feedback.

Four Ways To Kick-Start Creativity

An ability to “think out of the box” - to find new solutions to old problems - is a powerful personal quality skill to develop. But it’s not always easy to “click into” a creative viewpoint. Here are some ways to stimulate creativity within your work group:

  • Encourage creative people to take risks by rewarding efforts and processes, not only results.
  • Allow mistakes.
  • Support persistence. Not all innovations come from flashes of imagination.
  • Maintain a relaxing atmosphere.

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Creative Employees Require Special Handling

Creativity is the lifeblood of quality improvement. But managing creative employees is sometimes counterintuitive. It goes against business principles because of the nature of the work and the workers themselves.

Creative work - developing a new product from scratch - attracts people who are most often perfectionists, may not use good interpersonal psychology, and may be unaware of their effect on others. And, creatives often don't fit into tradition. They are intense and focused on work all of the time. They like to solve puzzles and usually work for the fun of creation, admiration from their peers, and the excitement of creating success. They are not generally interested in corporate politics. These individuals may not fit into corporate culture, but they are necessary for the corporate destiny.

If you are charged with leading a creative team of engineers, artists, writers, designers, scientists, or others who develop products from the ground up, what tactics work best to supervise them? Here are some approaches:

1. Select rules carefully. Creatives often fight rules. Arbitrary rules constrain creativity in these innovative individuals.

2. Articulate the vision. Be clear about what you want. Tell the team, and then trust the creative process to make the vision become reality.

3. Plan with the “slow is fast” method. Take time to plan carefully up front, always focusing on the vision and goals of the project. And anticipate and remove any and all barriers to the creative process.

4. Avoid focusing on back-up plans. Instead of making contingency plans (“what to do, if…”), prepare and develop methods of resolving problems. Problems are exceptions, not part of the plan.

5. Involve the team; listen. There is no vice president of ideas. Respect what you hear.

6. Manage group dynamics. Since creative people tend to be unaware of their impact on others, group meetings can become chaotic. If possible, keep the teams small. And let team members help select new members. It's good if everyone likes each other.

Even when team members like working together; meetings can get wild, with everyone talking at once. Or they can get off focus because of the threads of ideas that are tossed out. Teams can use several group-dynamics tricks to bring them back on target. For example: Pass around a “talking stick.” The person who holds the stick gets to talk uninterrupted. Or they shout “Rat hole!” when the group gets mired in secondary ideas away from the main focus of their project. And sometimes, to save words, they just give a “thumbs-up” to signal a job well done, instead of piling on praise.

The primary role of a supervisor of creative people? Become a “beekeeper.” Create a beehive in which people and ideas swarm around.

I Wish I'd Said That!

Are you sometimes at a loss for words when you need to give an employee feedback? Here are two examples of feedback - one poor and one good:

Poor: “Joe, you aren't welding that seam right. Fix it.”

Good: “Joe, let me show you where you didn't meet the specifications on this seam weld. And then we'll talk about how you can practice to meet the specifications.”

The second example is good because the employee hears the negative feedback as a way to improve performance.

Key point: Good feedback helps employees believe in their ability to do the work.

'No Fault' Firing Can Ease Termination Jitters

Regardless of how much “seasoning” a supervisor has acquired, terminating an employee - even when firing is justified because of nonperformance - is an unnerving experience. And the task doesn't get easier when the only reason for the termination is downsizing or “rightsizing.”

In many cases, those about to be eliminated are good employees who may have survived previous cutbacks and even taken on extra work without a raise or promotion. Telling this individual that he or she is being eliminated must be done in a systematic, but compassionate, manner.

A process called “no-fault termination,” a firing method that keeps communication clear; buffers the worker from unnecessary emotional stress, helps reduce anger; and protects the company from potential legal problems.

The termination is not the fault of the individual employee, nor the person doing the terminating, nor the company. This is the professional way in today's economic climate to fire workers who have performed well. The employees' efforts then can be focused on looking ahead to finding a new position. But, if you insult a person and don't allow his or her dignity to remain intact… the natural reaction is to hurt back. Most people don't turn the other cheek.

Supervisors sometimes fall into termination traps: They give performance appraisals, rehash past grievances, and sometimes side with the fired employee by suggesting that the company is at fault.

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But when they use no-fault termination methods, they deliver the news compassionately. Here are the suggested steps of this type of termination procedure:

1. Get to the bad news fast. Exchange pleasantries, but avoid nervous chatter - delaying only makes matters worse.

2. Focus on the task. Talking about the “good old days” may ease your conscience, but it's counterproductive for the person who needs to look ahead.

3. Don't be a “hit-and-run” terminator. After delivering the news, personally escort the worker to the next step - usually the human resources department for details on a termination package. Treat the employee with dignity throughout this process.

4. Avoid airing your own frustrations about the firing. And don't say, “I know how you feel.” You can't – know you still have a job.

5. Make the termination a clean break. Don't suggest alternatives, like transfers and demotions, if they are out of the question.

6. Remain calm. Keep your cool, even if the employee blows up.

7. Involve security. If the employee appears to be a danger to himself or herself or to coworkers, call for security or arrange for a referral to your company's employee-assistance program (EAP). Inform your human resources staff and other pertinent workers of your concerns.

8. Remember that you're not the bad guy. Like hiring, firing is an unavoidable part of your job. Firing people is a delicate skill that few supervisors ever formally learn.

With the increased incidence of violence in the workplace, companies are trying different strategies to provide education for supervisors on the do's and don'ts of letting good people go. No-fault termination training should be provided right before a staff reduction is announced.

A company shows its true colors when it hires, fires, and relocates [employees]. That's why it is important to practice the 'right way' to do things.

Spruce Up Your Appraisals

Traditional performance-appraisal processes fall short of improving performance. The reason: They “attach grades,” promote one-way discussions, and put a judge's robes on supervisors. And these things get in the way of actually overcoming barriers to improving work.

Despite the shortcomings of performance appraisals, however; employees are hungry for helpful feedback. Most discussions about performance are sugar-coated or watered down. Not only do supervisors tend not to criticize - for fear of saying the wrong thing and making matters worse - they do not praise their people. So, bad performers aren't aware of what they are doing wrong, and good performers don't know they are achieving.

Replace it with an annual planning session that promotes a two-way discussion between supervisors and workers and establishes an ongoing dialogue of job feedback. Most supervisors have the skills to conduct effective performance appraisals, but they need to trust themselves more and apply those skills. Here are six tips to help supervisors in a formal feedback process:

1. Prepare. Do your homework in advance of any discussion and provide examples of what your workers are doing well and what they need to improve on. You also need to support yourself by reviewing notes prior to a meeting, rehearsing if you believe it will be a particularly tough session, and allowing yourself a few minutes prior to the meeting to clear your mind and focus on the session.

2. Present. Focus on a few key points during the feedback session. Keep it simple, make your point, give an example or two, and move on to the next point. But don't give tons of examples. People can get overwhelmed and overloaded and don't hear you anymore. And if you focus your remarks on what customers say and desire, you'll find that your employees can “take” stronger feedback.

3. Listen. Once you have made your points, stop talking and make sure your employees understand what you have said. You might ask them to paraphrase your comments. Ask if they have any questions. People can only take in so much, so pace yourself between presenting information and listening to responses.

4. Encourage dialogue. Ask your employees about their long-range goals, and volunteer how you can help in their career development.

5. Develop an action plan. Performance improvement is a joint venture between the supervisor and the employee. The supervisor's role is to provide the right environment and tools for the job to be successfully accomplished.

6. Acknowledge the employee. Thank your employees for participating in the discussion, providing input, and making a commitment to improve their work and the work of the department. Acknowledge that it was a tough meeting and that you are glad they stuck with it.

To reinforce these points and further encourage feedback, supervisors should hold project debriefing sessions with the entire work group at critical points in project work. This allows for discussion of what is working and what changes are necessary.

Supervisors should “wander around” and make themselves accessible for feedback on a day-to-day basis. You don't need to have an agenda. Just be visible and available for dialogue with your workers.

Discover How Employees Rate You

How am I doing? Your employees probably ask you this question frequently. But do you ever ask them how you are doing?

Upward appraisals are similar to attitude surveys (in each, feedback is almost always anonymous), but the two feedback instruments differ significantly. Surveys deal with broader organizational and cultural issues, and upward appraisals are designed to give specific feedback to individual supervisors about their management behaviors and styles.

Employees complete appraisals on their supervisors. Then the supervisors share the appraisal information with a facilitator (someone from human resources or an outside consultant). They review the data and identify themes - such as a tendency to become too involved in daily activities.

A team meeting between the supervisor, the employees, and the facilitator is the next step. The purpose of the team meeting is to share the survey results and to create a developmental action plan. Then the supervisor is given time and the resources (such as training) to make improvements in supervisory effectiveness. The supervisor also reviews the action plan with his or her own boss and incorporates these actions into the performance-management cycle.

What kinds of questions are included on an upward appraisal? Here are samples:

  • Does your supervisor have a clear vision of the work group's role in supporting the overall company goal?
  • Does your supervisor stay on top of emerging trends in the industry and identify areas for growth?
  • Is your supervisor creating a process for developing quality rather than checking quality after the work is completed?
  • Does your supervisor coach individuals for improved performance?
  • Does your supervisor give public credit for the employee's success, or only criticize mistakes?

If those questions were asked of you, how would your employees rate your performance?

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Tune In To Effective Training Videos

Training videos can be an effective tool in helping your team boost quality. But be careful: All training videos are not created equally. Here are some tips on selecting a training video. Choose videos that are:

1. Targeted. Before you begin evaluating videos, define the objectives of the training program. Check all videos you preview to see if they target and support these objectives.

2. Appropriate and realistic. The video should depict a work environment and situation appropriate for your employees, and the characters and issues should be realistic.

3. Informative. Any video you select should have a good balance of teaching and entertaining. Too much of either is an ineffective use of time.

4. Interesting. The movie should be interesting and well-paced, and should command attention.

5. Representative. Characters should represent a diverse and realistic workforce.

6. Logical. The content of the video should be presented logically and should be easy to follow.

7. Current. Look for outmoded language, clothing, hair styles, or office furniture. Even though these “trimmings” are irrelevant, viewers can get hung up on them and overlook the message of the movie.

In addition to these checkpoints, make sure the video is the right length for your employees - usually not more than 22 minutes. Finally, check out the leader's guide and support materials. They should reinforce the key points of the video.

Tips

1. Use silence to make a point. Saying the right thing at the right time can have a tremendous impact in a meeting with your employees. But don't forget that silence can be a powerful communicator. A well-placed pause can emphasize an important point or encourage others to contribute their ideas.

2. Give credit where credit is due. End your departmental meetings by summarizing tasks and contributions. And, whenever possible, attribute ideas to individuals, such as by saying, “As Marianne suggested, we will… ”

3. Watch your wording. Show employees that you're working together as a team. You'll find you'll get better results by saying, “Let's talk about how we can…” instead of saying, “You're going to have to… ”

4. Keep irate employees calm. If you have to deal with an irate employee, talk calmly and use the individual's name often. People are naturally comforted by the sound of their own name.

5. Avoid red ink. Leave the red pen in your desk when you review or edit reports by your employees or coworkers. Red ink evokes unsavory memories of high school English class for many people. Choose a blue or green pen to make your suggestions.

6. Gain job applicant insights. When you interview job applicants, ask: “What's the most rewarding workday you've had this year? Why?” Their answers can give you helpful insights into what really motivates prospective employees.

7. Project leadership. Act like the leader that you are, even when you are a meeting participant. Sit up straight and lean forward slightly. Use good eye contact. And if you are interrupted, quietly, but confidently, assert yourself to regain the floor.

8. Uncover cost cutters. Ask every new hire to come up with three cost-cutting ideas. New workers, especially those from other companies or industries, bring new perspectives to your organization. “Old” ideas from their former companies may be new to you.

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What You Can Do

As a supervisor you have a major responsibility for helping an organization's quality effort succeed. When a quality program is put into place, it's up to you to sell employees on its importance and to encourage a top-notch performance from them.

  • Before placing blame for a defect or error on an employee, make certain that employees have adequate equipment, materials, supplies, and instruction.
  • Be sure you know how to utilize videos and other training opportunities to make employees understand quality and their role in achieving it.
  • You need to be able to walk that fine line of being liked and respected.
  • You must understand how to conduct fair appraisals, and how to terminate an employee when it becomes necessary to do so.

A successful supervisor understands people. You must know how to encourage cooperation from difficult workers while encouraging creativity from the gifted members of the staff. The many facets of supervising strengthen a range of skills that build a sturdy foundation for a long career in leadership roles.

Society | Self-Help | Work


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