From the archive: The importance of having the right supervisor

by Michael Haberman on August 22, 2017 · 0 comments


Supervisors are often the prime reason employees quit.

Supervisors are often the prime reason employees quit.

I have been receiving emails from workers who have read my blogs asking me what they can do about a horrible supervisor. That prompted this repeat of a post from 2016/

As a long time HR practitioner I have learned that most companies get in trouble not for what HR does or for what employees do, they get in trouble because of things their supervisors do. It turns out that the first-line supervisor can make or break a company.

Reason to quit

Not only is the first-line supervisor critical to labor relations they are important to employee relations. Unions understand the importance of the first-line supervisor, which is why they are attempting to get them redefined as bargaining unit employees instead of management employees.

In most polls of why people leave companies the relationship with their boss if frequently mentioned as a top reason, if not THE top reason, employees leave their companies.

First rate supervisors

Tom Peters in his book The Little BIG Things lists #94 as Development: Are you finding and cultivating First-Rate (“Godlike’) First-Line Supervisors? Peters says that multiple research studies show that the number one determinant of worker satisfaction is “whether or not the employee gets along with his or her first-line supervisor.” (his emphasis)

Peters asks the following questions of the “big boss”, i.e., CEO:

  1. Are you a student of frontline supervisor behavioral excellence?
  2. Do you spend gobs, and gobs, and then more gobs and gobs of time selecting the first-line supervisor?
  3. Do you have the best training programs in the industry for first-line supervisors?
  4. Do you formally and rigorously mentor first-line supervisors?
  5. Do you willingly and painfully leave a supervisor job open until you can fill the job with someone spectacular?

Peters says that the promotion decision for a first-line supervisor is more important that the promotion decision for a V.P.

My experience in my 35 years of HR is that most companies, especially small companies would answer “No” to most of these questions. Supervisory training in the US is one of the major overlooked aspects of American business.

I agree with Peters when he says it is critical that all companies, especially small companies, have matchless supervisory excellence. They are you first-line of defense and potentially your first-line of problems. Why not make them your first-line of excellence?


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