First line supervision – the key holders

In Productivity culture, UK productivity, Uncategorized on May 20, 2010 by Tim Aikens

During my career I have worked on a number of engagements designed to make a dramatic improvement in performance. Without exception, they have always had input from first line supervisors and this input has been pivotal to the success of the engagement.  Like NCOs in the army, they are the bedrock on which corporate performance is founded.  They take the instructions handed down and guide their execution, often using their extensive experience to adjust and refine so that the result is good.

However, the environment they find themselves in in the corporate world is often not conducive to innovation, experiment and change.  The rules, requirements and other strictures of the organisation contrive to constrain them to doing things the ‘company way’.  It is only when someone in management realises that they ‘have to change’ and that they need the supervisors’ help that they get their opportunity.  And this is usually where I have entered the story as the consultant engaged to help.

After some training and sometimes quite a lot of resistance the supervisors are let loose with a degree of freedom they have rarely had.  What happens?  All sorts of things emerge. Good ideas for doing things differently; explanations of why the old ways never worked; changes that would bring big reward with little or no investment; and for some, the realisation that survival means reducing the staffing numbers and that this is therefore a good thing to do.

What is the trigger? What has been done to energize this group of people to make dramatic and beneficial changes? I think there are three main reasons:

  • Removing the shackles, by allowing challenge and free thinking without the possible side effects of censorship or sanction. Many managers are surprised by the actual or implicit restrictions imposed on first line supervisors that deny them from making the most of their talents.
  • Recognising the talent that front line supervisors have.  They are often restricted in what they can do and their managers can sometimes interpret that as a limitation of their talent.  This is rarely the case. On many engagements I have worked on, one of the best moments has been getting the supervisors to present the key results and watch the look of amazement on senior managements’ faces!
  • Provide the framework within which the front line supervisors can demonstrate their worth.  At the supervisory  level most businesses are set up to deliver the status quo not to deliver dramatic change.  This is where a consultant can introduce an approach that allows creativity and change to happen!

Next time your organisation wants to make some dramatic changes, make sure you engage the first line supervisors!


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