Welcome everyone to 2016! We are going to kick things off by completing the Continuous Improvement 101 segments that were started in December. I hope that everyone had a good rest and a great holiday and that you are ready to jump into the new year with a new lease on life and a renewed vigor toward continuous improvement.
I want to start things off with a discussion around the idea of active supervision. This should not be confused with "management by walking around." And active supervision should not be confused with the "other" type of management supervision - passive supervision - or what we have come to know as "fire fighting." In fact as you develop the skill of active supervision you will find yourself doing very little fire fighting.
Firefighting in management is dealing with issues "after" they have become issues. It is not proactive but reactive and strangely enough it is the kind of activity that gets rewarded by those further up the line and it carries a heavy dose of immediate positive feedback for the manager doing the fire fighting as well. Why is this?
For the person doing the fire fighting there is that rush of positive feedback in that you have dealt with a problem and solved it; saving the day. You feel useful, engaged and it is one of those times when as a manager you feel as if you actually got something accomplished. Your superiors too will give you kudos and a pat on the back. We all know of that person on the leadership team who is rising up the corporate ladder because they have become excellent fire fighters. It feels good to be that "go to" person.
Admittedly part of your role as a leader is to remove obstacles for your team so that they can succeed but that is not the same as fire fighting. When you evolve into being a fire fighter you continually dance on the fine edge of failure and eventually fatigue and burn out - pardon the pun. You will discover quickly that you will not be able to be there to catch all of the issues or problems and you will begin to notice that fewer people on your team take on responsibility for addressing challenges and more and more of those issues get handed off to you. Sound familiar?
So what is the difference between passive supervision and active supervision? Active supervision involves the communication of expectations and goals to your team. (Do you know what those are?) Following up on results and resolving issues with employees and process. In some respect it is akin to the difference between a leading indicator vs a lagging indicator. Fire fighting is a lagging indicator and you are dealing with something after it has happened. Active supervision requires a greater level of presence in some respect but only as means for you to ensure you are out in front of issues "before" they become issues.
By far the biggest part of this is communication. You need to know what you want from each member of your team, communicate that to them and you need to follow up to ensure you are getting the results from each of them that you require. As a good friend of mine once said you need to "inspect the expect." I share the following statistic with leaders and it resonates with all of them. You will will spend 90% of your time dealing with 10% of your team who are the problems (we sometimes call this micromanaging). Active supervision equips you to devote more of your time with the other 90% of your team who are doing their job and who will do a better job because you are now spending time with them.
To be fair there will always be a need for some fire fighting as problems may arise from time to time. The question is this; as a leader how much of your time should be spent fire fighting vs active supervision? Which leader is doing their job well; the one constantly putting out fires or the one who has their team working well and smoothly? That's what active supervision can do for you.