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NEW SUPERVISOR AND MANAGER: Supervisory Roundtables: An Inside Look

Ten years ago we began to hear a common theme among our clients when talking with them about supervisory training.  It sounded something like this:  while our supervisors need to be trained, we find it difficult to find the time for them to be off the floor receiving the training.  I’d like to suggest that whether you are a manager trying to figure out how to carve out time for training or a trainer, consider using roundtables as a training option for your organization.  Roundtables are quick, immediate bursts of training with a small group of people that maximize both their time and their learning comprehension.

Full disclosure: we offer roundtables as a service and this post will discuss some of the concepts and themes we currently have running throughout our eight session programs. However, we thought it would be good to talk to our readers about the true benefit and immediate effect roundtables have, whether you use us or you find another provider.

Roundtables are a series of two hour sessions with a small group of 6-8 individuals. The number of sessions is based on the content for the training with content customized to meet the needs of the particular client.

The two-hour format allows participants to learn a few key concepts each week and then put those new skills to practice between sessions.  In “check-in” time at the start of each session, they share what has worked or not from the previous session.  Often, some are encouraged by the successes of others and prompted to get started. When participants run into trouble, we talk about what went wrong and what could have been done differently.  I’m always impressed with how often members of the group offer great ideas, even providing tools and techniques they have used with success.

The roundtable setting encourages an informal, open discussion that helps those who might be less inclined to speak up in a large group environment.  Usually it starts with the introduction of the concepts by the trainer and includes exercises/activities.  For participants who want more individualized attention or extra help with a particular skill set, a one-hour mid-week session has proven very effective.

The smaller group size provides an environment to surface and discuss real employee issues.  When a company offers the roundtable, strong bonds are formed between individuals at the same level in the organization. In this case, participants in the roundtable can use each other as a support group, sounding board or in the best scenario, meet regularly as a group after the roundtable has ended. However, in order for participants to feel safe sharing their supervisory challenges and their areas of improvement, we ask participants to abide by the confidentiality ground rule made early in the first session. The rule is: you can talk in generalities about what is being taught in the roundtable sessions but no details of what anyone said.

I laugh when I think back to an early onsite supervisory roundtable; we actually bought a “round table” for our conference room. That first group was small, only four participants from different organizations and yet, when I run into them today, years later, they’ll ask, “Have you seen so-and-so? What about so-and-so? How are they doing?” The intimacy of the learning environment promotes a safe environment to learn new skills and build close relationships among participants.

That’s an overview of the format and content. Here are few key tips from the first four supervisory sessions that participants have found particularly useful over the years:

Session One:  Your Role and Expectations as a Supervisor – I just recently scripted a supervisory module for an organization and when presenting the module to the training group, I was surprised at the number of individuals that were promoted to supervisor but never given a clear definition of what it means to supervise.  In the roundtable, not only do we discuss what the key functions of a supervisor are, we also calendar in activities that fall within those primary areas in the supervisor’s week. Those primary functions include: Planning, Communicating, Engaging Staff, Making Decisions, Organizing Work and Monitoring Performance. We ask questions such as, “How are you bringing the organizational goals to the departmental level? Are you creating work breakdown plans and involving staff in the attainment of these goals? What are you doing to promote efficiency and continuous improvement in your work area? Are you holding regular staff meetings? Do you communicate frequently about new policies, strategic direction or initiatives, or is the rumor mill a better communicator?” (Discover more on “new supervisor” tips, tactics & potholes)

Session Two:  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – This roundtable session focuses on understanding and putting to practice Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This session talks about how you have to stop and connect to understand what is really going on with an employee. Don’t jump to conclusions or add your meaning to what you are seeing. Stay neutral, listen and ask good questions to improve understanding. Once you think you know what the person needs, introduce ideas or provide opportunities that will help him or her get his/her own needs met and move up the Need Scale.  For example, if you are getting the impression that the person needs to feel like he or she belongs and is an important part of the company or work area, ask for his or her opinion on a particular project and include him or her in discussions and decisions. Suggest that he or she work with someone else or join a team. Talk about how much that person has in common with other individuals and encourage friendships. Give feedback as to the importance of the job that person is performing to the overall success of the work area or department. Participants are often surprised to learn that if those needs for a sense of belonging and attachment to the organization don’t get met, new employees often leave.

Session Three:  Situational Leadership and the ABCs of Performance Management - This session talks about the Ken Blanchard model of Situational Leadership. I was just recently talking with a friend about one of her staff members and how frustrated she was getting with him. I suggested, “He’s a classic D2.” She commented, “A D- what?” I went on to explain the model and she began to immediately de-personalize his behavior and set up the corrective action discussion that needed to happen to bring him back on track. In one supervisory roundtable, a participant recognized that some of her problems stemmed from her immediate tendency to jump in with solutions and answers. This happened so frequently that her direct reports were conditioned to simply stay quiet and say nothing. She began to see where this pattern had set her up for continuous interruptions, fire fighting and a lack of employee accountability (Discover more about Situational Leadership).

Session Four: Coaching for High Performance and Accountability - This session focuses on Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation.  One of the surprising facts in this session revolves around money as a motivator. The common cry from staff is “show me the money!” When we discuss money as a motivator, two things emerge. First, if you get a raise and you think you should have been making that salary all along, your raise will simply stop de-motivating you, but not motivate you. Second, if you do get an increase in your salary, it will only be about two pay periods before you have increased your spending to accommodate your new salary. It may motivate you in the short term, but not the long term. In fact, in order to keep being motivated, you’d need to be receiving an endless flow of money.  Not likely, in today’s workplace.

Herzberg concludes that the way to build motivation includes:  being recognized and adding new skills, getting regular performance feedback, celebrating successes and reaching goals, being involved in improving your work, having the freedom and choice to do work as you desire and having a meaningful position.

Finally, the other area that hits home with supervisors in the roundtable is the importance of pairing consequences with behavior. As organizations, we put a lot of effort into job descriptions, policies and procedures, orientation etc., and yet all those things only “set the stage” for behavior to occur once. It is feedback from a supervisor or manager that actually affects positive behavior to occur again or immediately stops negative behaviors when they emerge. Dedicating time to give feedback jumps to a higher position on the supervisors’ priority list when they begin to see the impact on productivity and employee performance (Discover more about the 4 key ways to motivate your staff).

Some years ago, I actually had someone go through the supervisory roundtable and decide that they didn’t want to take the promotion to be a supervisor. Honestly, I was mortified. I thought to myself, “What have I done?” I went to see the client and apologized. He looked at me squarely in the eyes and said, “Don’t apologize. I am so grateful that she made this decision now. God forbid she did take on the job and then quit.  I would have been so upset to lose this great employee.  She now knows what it means to be good supervisor and the skills needed to be successful. She’s just not ready for that challenge.”

The next time you’re worried about finding the time to send your current or future supervisors to training, consider using the roundtable format as a very viable and successful alternative.


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