May 26

Why is Your Supervisor Struggling?

Joe was ‘hot’; his most recent employee he hired didn’t report to work and he was already down two employees.  Now that this happened, his production backlog was going to be even bigger.  His employees were tired of working overtime and had been complaining about not being allowed to take off Saturdays.  They were worried that they wouldn’t have a normal weekend this summer and may not be permitted to take time off to go on vacation.

If you spend your days up in the C-Suite you probably never hear much about Joe.  You probably know about your retention issues and might even have a task force investigating the problem.  But is the problem being solved?

The annual turnover rate was 26% at Joe’s company and had been that way for years.  The feedback HR heard from employees who were leaving, was they could make more money for less stressful work somewhere else.  In some cases, they quit without having another job lined up because their work was so demanding.  Things are bad when people walk without giving an explanation or two weeks’ notice.

Joe was a good guy who tried hard to supervise his team and accomplish his department’s goals, but he couldn’t get his boss or boss’s boss to persuade the c-suite to make changes to improve the working conditions or the compensation package.  He had failed numerous times to get his boss to do anything about the problems.  Also resigned to the fact, that he would have to just put up with the problem; he had lost hope that things would get better.

I happen to know the ‘Joe’ story very well.  He was an average supervisor who wanted to do the right thing but unfortunately, Joe’s manager was a guy without any influence who worked for another great guy who didn’t have any influence.  These other leaders could not create change or get an agreement to change the organization.  To change the compensation structure and address poor work environment issues was kept at the c-level.

Joe and his managers were pawns in a power game.

They had leadership responsibility, but they didn’t have leadership authority.  C-suite executives often have blind spots and are not aware of how their poor leadership (in this case, an over-reliance on management skills) cascades down through the organization.  How effective are you at leading complex organizational change?

Joe knew he didn’t have influence but didn’t know why.  Joe wanted to make changes but had no help and was handcuffed by the leaders above him.  They all owned a piece of the problem, but the biggest owners were those above Joe who would not listen to him, look at his data and consider his recommendations or empower him to try something new.  Joe was one person on a leadership team that was ineffective at leading change.

Joe’s biggest problem was not employee turnover; turnover is a company challenge that the leadership team must lead together to solve.  Turnover has several major causes and is complex.  It can’t be delegated to HR to fix and it can’t be forced on the front-line supervisor to solve.

Maybe you think that “Joe just needs to get it together.”  But what if I told you it’s not Joe’s fault? You own the retention issue. Leading an organization at the c-suite requires being able to work throughout the organization and lead leaders to make effective changes.  If you are not developing leaders to solve complex problems, you are not leading.  Leadership is not a book, course, or podcast.

“The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization.”  Fred Fiedler & Martin Chemers

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