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Opinion: As a new boss, prepare for long game

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Editor’s note: This column is the second in a two-part series on challenges facing new supervisors.

Last month, I discussed three of six potential challenges new supervisors can face as they balance the needs of the organization, their boss and their employees: addressing attendance problems; managing your new boss; and supervising former colleagues. The other three here are more complex, time-intensive and mission-critical. They will require some study, a focus on both short-term tasks and longer-term goals, and a willingness to pay attention to what makes a successful work culture.

Staying compliant in policies and legal
Keeping current on ever-changing personnel and related legal issues can no longer be seen as the job of just your human resources colleagues. The courthouses are filled with civil employment claims, ranging from harassment, disparate treatment and Americans with Disabilities Act violations to employee safety hazards, retaliation for whistleblowing and employee leave/benefit issues related to the Family Medical Leave Act. If you add in recent COVID-19 related employment legislation about mandatory vaccines, religious accommodation exemption requests and remote working/work-from-home disputes, it’s a lot to know.

Have the courage and good sense to know what you don’t know about labor law policies and personnel issues. Introduce yourself to your HR department representatives. Develop an information-gathering and problem-solving relationship with one of your HR specialists, who can keep you apprised of emerging trends, new case laws and supervisory best practices. Sign up for HR-related websites, like the Society for Human Resource Management, the largest HR association in the world. Set up Google notices in your email to get stories and examples of new HR case law, especially involving your type of company and employees, i.e., union or nonunion, blue collar or white collar. If you are in a union shop, you must read and at least be familiar with all employee association and union memos of understanding. Your HR department will know how and when to get legal advice, but you must have the courage to bring potential employee problems to their attention early rather than late. Two of the most common legal questions related to employer liability are these: “When did you become aware of this issue? What was your response?” Employee legal problems rarely solve themselves or go away without senior management intervention. Use your HR team as an educational component and as leverage to stay effective and legal.  

Managing projects for quality and timeliness
Realize how critically important it is to manage people, projects and outcomes, in the proper priority that matches the need premise and the situation. Install and use a physical, centrally located big project board. Your employees should know what is ongoing, pending, due and overdue – and what they can do to help others. Don’t hesitate to assign people by name to specific tasks; visibility helps with accountability. Be ready to coach your employees in private for issues related to missing deadlines, poor quality work and not keeping work output promises made to you and the team. Post the long-term project list and a short-term project list on the big board. There should be no moments where your employees wander around with a cup of coffee, not sure as to what they need to do next. Reward their successes, but don’t allow critical work not to get done.

Supporting a positive work culture
Employees stay in jobs where they feel supported, valued, heard and praised. In these current times of unfilled jobs, labor shortages and underemployment, how we treat people matters. Your supervisory style plays a big part in the health of your organization’s work culture, which can be perceived by employees as either toxic or nourishing, both overall and in their department. Seek to understand by listening more and talking less. Your staff already knows you are in charge. You don’t have to lecture them or demonstrate the micromanaging “knowledge curse” of telling them how to do things, in detail, that they already know how to do. Test employee complaints for truth: Observe, verify and ask. Don’t be afraid to fix what’s always been broken by eliminating processes or revamping inefficient policies that are not value-added and waste your employees’ time and efforts. Make small, useful changes fast; make big sweeping changes over time. Use more praise.

Steve Albrecht is a Springfield-based human resources trainer, security consultant and employee coach. He can be reached at drsteve@drstevealbrecht.com.

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