The Supervisor's Toolbox: Resources to Help Managers Manage


The Supervisor's Toolbox: Resources to Help Managers Manage

By Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson is the Associate Vice Chancellor, Organizational Effectiveness & Development at University of Washington Tacoma. Prior to his current role, Richard was a long-time Humentum member, working at both PATH and I-TECH. He continues his generosity to the community by sharing his revised: Supervisor's Toolbox – a resource to support managers and supervisors drawn from his many years of experience in human resources and organizational development. This interview with Wilkinson is an excerpt from CUPA-HR's The Higher Education Workplace magazine (Fall 2016 issue) and is reprinted here with permission.

It's been said that "people join organizations, but leave bosses." No matter how great an organization is or how much an employee loves his or her job, having a bad boss often trumps everything that's good about a job. Scores of studies have found bad bosses are bad for morale, have a negative effect on productivity, can negatively impact their employees' health and wellbeing, and can cost an organization hundreds of thousands of dollars in turnover. Simply put, bad bosses are bad for business.

And while it's certainly true that some individuals just aren't cut out for management, many "bad" bosses aren't fundamentally incompetent or inept—they're simply uninformed. All too often, individuals are hired or promoted into a supervisory role without having received any kind of manager training. Many aren't given the kind of support they need to learn, grow and flourish in a management role.

But one HR professional set out to change that on his campus. For the past 15 years, Richard Wilkinson has championed better management practices, both in higher education and in his previous work in global health. He is a firm believer in the tenet that the quality of management and supervision is central to the success of an organization and the quality of an individual's work experience. He's seen firsthand that how employees experience their bosses directly affects their level of engagement and whether they choose to stay with an organization or leave.

He's also been frustrated with the lack of resources available for supervisors to help them navigate their management responsibilities. So, where he saw a need, he crafted a solution—in the form of the Supervisor's Toolbox publication that is currently in use at University of Washington Tacoma. We asked Wilkinson, who serves as associate vice chancellor for organizational effectiveness and development at UW Tacoma, to tell us a little about the toolbox and share some of the resources it contains.

Q: What exactly is the Supervisor's Toolbox?

A: The Toolbox is a readily accessible source of help for the everyday challenges managers and supervisors face in supporting the success of their employees and teams. The publication includes 65 single-page worksheets, checklists, charts and models addressing such basic responsibilities as delegating, dealing with performance problems, fostering accountability, helping staff grow, hiring and managing change.

Q: Where did the idea come from?

A: Over the years I became increasingly frustrated with the apparent absence of a handy reference that put practical tools within easy reach of supervisors. Good ideas were scattered in many different places, often found in workshops. But these good ideas weren't accessible to supervisors when they needed them.

Five years ago I was prodded to create the Toolbox when wrapping up a distance learning workshop with colleagues in Africa. At the end, I asked what might help keep this content alive for them in the future. One of the participants made the suggestion that I put the tools I was sharing in a "toolbox" they could reference later. Now, five editions on, I'm still fine tuning and improving it.

Q: Can you give us an example of a tool included in the Supervisor's Toolbox?

A: One of my favorites, and in my mind the most important, is the Heart of Supervision chart. This chart lists a number of effective behaviors that bring to life the three core responsibilities of supervision in ways that are motivating to knowledge workers. The three core responsibilities are my own distillation of what, at its essence, supervisors must do on behalf of their employees and their campuses—cultivate accountability, set goals and listen. The three factors known to motivate knowledge workers comes from Daniel Pink's book Drive.

In my mind, supervisors and managers must listen to learn, set goals to be clear about the work that needs to get done and cultivate accountability to achieve results. Pink describes the three motivational drivers as follows:

  1. Autonomy—the desire to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery—the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose—the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

The Heart of Supervision chart (found on page 17 of the Toolbox, and recreated below) is a how-to showing supervisors the ways they can put these notions into practice.

  Autonomy Mastery Purpose
  1. Know your employees
  2. Pay positive attention
  3. Put yourself in their shoes
  4. Ask for feedback
  1. Encourage career aspirations
  2. Identify relevant learning opportunities
  1. Keep current
  2. Scan the horizon
  3. Serve as a sounding board when difficult situations arise
Set Goals
  1. Delegate intentionally
  2. Build trust—listen, inform, follow-through, advocate when appropriate
  3. Help prioritize
  4. Foster teamwork
  1. Give challenging assignments and the chance to learn something new
  2. Support learning
  3. Provide technical support, guidance, and feedback
  1. Connect the work to the mission
  2. Walk the talk
  3. Cultivate self-awareness
  4. Clarify your values and seek to understand the values of your staff
  5. Admit your mistakes
Cultivate Accountability
  1. Clarify responsibilities, authority, expectations
  2. Encourage problem-solving. Ask: "What would you do?"
  3. Paint a picture of success
  4. Establish regular communication routines
  5. Reward good work
  6. Be candid about work that is sub-par
  1. Be alert to coachable moments
  2. Encourage learning from the work
  3. Give timely, specific feedback
  4. Connect to mentors
  1. Ask: What best serves the organization's mission, vision, and values?
  2. Identify and discuss the ethical dimensions of our work

Q: What about resources for helping staff grow?

A: Helping staff grow is a critically important part of a manager's job, so the Toolbox contains several resources on this. For example, the Menu of Professional Development Options was designed to help people think beyond workshops and conferences when considering ways to deepen and broaden their skills.

Q: So the Toolbox is available for anyone to access?

A: It sure is! I strongly believe in the "it takes a village" mentality. If the Toolbox can help keep other institutions from having to reinvent the wheel, I'm more than happy to share it.

Download the Supervisor’s Toolbox here (PDF).

Read the complete interview with Richard Wilkinson here (PDF).

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