Strategic Supervisor Training: Communication and Engagement

Giving and receiving promotions is an interesting and sometimes complex human capital process that isn’t always given the consideration it needs. Managers often feel an employee’s track record of success in their current job will make them a sufficient leader — after all, it’s the “logical next step.” But as it turns out, there isn’t anything logical about it.

For example, hourly workers become standouts at their job and the natural career progression is typically a promotion to department supervisor. Never mind the fact they aren’t generally trained for the role, sometimes don’t have the personality traits to successfully manage others, or even have a desire for the responsibilities and accountability that come with such a leadership position.

Supervisory roles require the ability to lead and inspire — both in personnel management and operational competence. Being good at one job and proving aptitude by accomplishing a specific set of tasks well does not necessarily or automatically give someone the skill set to manage others. Putting them in this position doesn’t do them or the company any good in the long run.

The adage that “employees don’t leave their job, they leave their boss” was quantified in April by a Gallup study titled “State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders.” It showed 1 in 2 U.S. workers have at some point quit a job just to get away from a bad manager. The functions of recruiting talent and retaining workers are highly affected by statistics like this. The opportunity costs of lost time and productivity around hiring and training, the negative drain on employee morale and the loss of institutional knowledge that walks out the door with experienced employees are just a few of the many unquantifiable detriments.

Workforce turnover and the effects of turnover that does happen can be largely reduced by implementing strategies around supervisor training. The first is about effective internal communications and employee engagement from direct supervisors. Additional strategies will be covered in part two of this series.

Communication is the transfer of information, and effective communication is all about ensuring the information is relayed and received efficiently and accurately. How managers or supervisors communicate and engage with their employees is the most crucial variable determining the ultimate success of a team. For example, effective communicators will tailor their message for the target audience — individuals learn differently, and a strategic supervisor will be aware of how best to deliver information to team members to meet expected outcomes.

The level of familiarity that must be achieved to identify these different communication needs and the wherewithal to account for them does not simply materialize when one is promoted to a manager role. These are skills that need to be taught and trained, and knowledge of the practices to be implemented must be attained before one can hope to communicate effectively in a managerial setting.

Communication is also not unidirectional. An effective manager will encourage a candid and open dialogue, be receptive to constructive feedback, will promote key company values by modeling behavior, and will focus on speaking the language of truth to build trust. This plays into additional managerial tools that depend on communication for their degree of effectiveness, including the coaching and development of employees.

James Harter and Amy Adkins of Gallup authored a piece for Harvard Business Review that discussed communications strategies within the context of the study mentioned previously: “Gallup has found that consistent communication — whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically — is connected to higher engagement. … But mere transactions between managers and employees are not enough to maximize engagement. Employees value communication from their manager not just about their roles and responsibilities but also about what happens in their lives outside of work.”

In the next article, we will discuss three more strategies for strategic supervisor training, including coaching with a positive attitude; ways to encourage, develop and reinforce the behaviors and decision making that leads to success; and the high-level requirements strategic supervisors need to possess. Feel free to leave feedback or questions you may want answered in part two.