Some of the most important work in your company is the work that happens on the front line – when your team members interact with customers. That work drives lifetime customer value – the total revenue available from a customer over the course of their relationship with your company – plus the referrals they provide. Many times, you entrust that work to the lowest-paid person in your company. Someone with the least amount of experience, the least amount of training, and sometimes, the least amount of problem-solving skills.
That’s what makes your front-line supervisors so important. They schedule, train, and manage these key players in creating value for your customers. Many times, these are folks who have been promoted to supervise their former front-line coworkers. They’ve distinguished themselves by selling more, building greater rapport with customers, and/or solving problem better than their peers.
This week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge is devoted to crafting a framework that will maximize their effectiveness in their first supervisory role. If your company is committed to promoting from within, this is the feeder system for your future leadership team.
I want you to craft a plan that equips your newly minted supervisor for success. It needs to strike the right balance between developing supervisory skills and mastering new operational details required for their increased responsibilities.
For this week’s exercise, I’d grab the people to whom your front-line supervisors report. Depending on the size of your organization those could be your executive team or they could be lower-level managers. Spend the thirty-minute exercise focusing on three essential skills for new supervisors – personal growth, position mastery, and employee development.
Personal Growth – It might seem a bit daunting after being promoted to their first supervisory role, but lead the new supervisor to, as Stephen Covey reminded us, “begin with the end in mind”. Here are some questions to answer (in no particular order).
- What will the exit from this supervisory role look like? What is the typical career path next step for someone in this supervisory position?
- What skills will the new supervisor need to access those future opportunities?
- How will their supervisor help them transition into this new position, hone the skills needed for the position, and build skills for future positions?
- How will their performance be measured in this position?
- How will the new supervisor identify and develop candidates that will ultimately become their replacement?
- What existing skills can they leverage and grow?
- What existing weaknesses can they shore up?
- How can they get sufficient knowledge in areas in which they are deficient – maybe not resulting in mastery, but at least in becoming “BS-proof”?
- If your organization has an employee development program (which I believe every organization should), much of this should be included there. Use the link above to see the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge devoted to employee development programs. However, the development of new supervisors deserves special attention in the organization.
Position Mastery – If there’s one activity that consumes a front-line supervisor, it’s problem solving. So equipping them to become better problem solvers automatically makes them better at their job and move valuable to the organization. Effective problem solving involves empathy, knowledge, creativity, and authority.
- Give your new supervisors policies that empower them. Front line employees without the authority to solve problems frustrate customers. Supervisors without the authority to solve problems frustrate them even more. If you don’t give your employees and supervisors the ability to solve problems, the problems are going to land on your desk. If that’s happening, what exactly are you paying those employees for? Good policies are like guardrails on a highway. Your employees are on safe ground using their creativity to solve problems as long as the solution is anywhere between the guardrails.
- Give your new supervisor principles that keep them focused on the outcomes you want. What does the ideal customer experience look like? How can they engineer a resolution that delivers that outcome? What communication would be consistent with the company’s brand promise? How can the resolution of a problem help execute the company’s mission? How can the resolution of problem help the organization reach their vision?
- Help your new supervisor gain a bigger perspective. Front-line employees almost exclusively work “in the business”. An employee’s first supervisory role might represent their first opportunity to work “on the business” albeit in a very limited way. Help them tie their new supervisory responsibilities to bigger ideas like lifetime customer value, employee development, teamwork, organizational health, and value creation. Some employees will “get it” immediately. For others you might have to connect the dots. For example, explaining how taking an extra 5 minutes to email a customer a summary of the steps you took to replace their faulty, but technically out of warranty, widget will result in boosting their lifetime customer value because they’ll be more likely to purchase from you in the future – and encouraging them to do similar things with their new direct reports.
Employee Development – For some of your new supervisors, they’ll be “boss” to the people with whom they used to work shoulder-to-shoulder. Some of those people might have been up for the same position and were passed over. And those passed over might still be convinced they were the most deserving candidate. It’s a transition that a lot of new supervisors struggle with. There’s not a magic bullet that causes the disappoints to subside and harmony to magically return. Some sage advice from Zig Ziglar applies here, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Instead of turning his/her attention to “bossing”, I’d suggest the new supervisor turn their attention to employee development. Early and often, they should demonstrate their commitment to growing that staff and you should help them do it.
- If your company has a formal employee development plan, get the new supervisor up to speed on how to utilize it as a supervisor (they should already understand how it works as a subordinate). Have them review the already-in-place plans for the staff they are now supervising. If your company does not have an employee development plan, work with the new supervisor to create a framework the supervisor can use to document the goals of their subordinates, the milestones to reach those goals (with timeframes), and the steps to reach those milestones.
- By your example and by specific instruction, show the new supervisor how to explain the “why” behind company policies. Employees who understand the “why” make better decisions and talk more intelligently with customers than those who repeat policies by rote with no understanding of the underlying reasoning. Let the supervisor know it takes longer but returns outsized rewards.
- Help the new supervisor build a unified team with a solid operational framework. Tools like 4DX, OKRs, EOS or my Business Framework, get teams aligned, pulling together, and tied to overarching company initiatives.
Of all the things that go on inside an organization, very few, if any, are more important that employee development and very few employees have a more pivotal role in value creation than front-line supervisors.
As you work through this week’s exercise, identify the activities that are most applicable in your organization. You might end up with a couple of variations based on the departments or divisions where the new supervisors are working. Then work to flesh out the framework with tools, checklists, and activities.