What makes the biggest contribution to making sure that management policies translate into action on the ground? It’s not policy documents and directives or even the internal communication system – it’s the ability of first-level supervisors to foster accountability in their teams.
According to ACAS, these people have the greatest influence on staff performance, motivation and engagement with the organisation. After all, those day-to-day relationships are what really create the working environment for most staff – not top management objectives and initiatives.
Very often, people get promoted to a supervisory role because of their understanding of the task the team is doing, rather than because of their people skills. Two comments I heard on my last Communications Skills for Supervisors course sum up the problem for many team leaders, who feel they are always trying to get the balance right somewhere on a see-saw between being “too nice” and “too nasty”:
⦁ “I don’t think I always make myself clear – I hate upsetting people”
⦁ “I’ve been accused of picking on people”.
At one extreme, supervisors who don’t want to create a bad atmosphere avoid holding people accountable for their performance, and may even avoid setting clear targets and goals. At the other, team leaders can come across as too confrontational and, at worst, open themselves up to accusations of bullying.
There may be an underlying assumption that we have to “get tough” on people to solve performance problems – and that this will damage working relationships. In fact, the opposite is true. The most effective supervisors are those who are able to hold people accountable for their performance in ways that actually improve relationships and build team harmony and effectiveness.
Is there someone in your organisation who would like to brush up on their communication skills? I’ll be teaching Communications Skills for Supervisors again at Bath College in May. Here’s the link.