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Smart supervisory ideas learned while managing

As you read this month’s column I am in Switzerland teaching and working with business groups. The topic: improving management across cultures.

To prepare for the five-week assignment I needed to have current views on U.S. management to share. Luckily, a business client of mine wanted personality assessments discussed with each manager who had responded to an online questionnaire.

A medium-size research and consulting firm had developed a customized performance appraisal system for this large retail client. It also provided a commercially available personality assessment tool. The unique situation centered on the targets of the assessment: pharmacists, or rather pharmacy managers who had to be registered pharmacists.

After a few feedback sessions within the pool of more than 100 managers, it became obvious that none had sought to be a manager. Because of the market conditions of the past two decades these pharmacists had become managers via circuitous routes.

Some had taken their first pharmacy job as a manager; others had seen their managers depart (for varied reasons) and were given an opportunity to assume the added role.

Still others had transferred from being a staff pharmacist to a store where only the manager position was open.

Note that in this large organization (of whom these 100 people were one small cohort) the pharmacy manager is expected to handle a normal pharmacist workload — 13-hour days — plus the managerial responsibilities, but with some added compensation. Only a few had been exposed to any management/leadership training on the job. However, most had picked up “little gems” of wisdom along the way.

I jotted down all of these “gems” and I believe any manager can benefit from the ones I’ve selected. Here are some “Management Gems from Untrained Managers.” See whether you agree with them and can use them.

• Focus on the strengths of others. While working with staff members, identify instances when you see someone exercising skills that show strength. Become known as the person who is always building people up. Help them develop another strength.

• Always find the time to talk to an employee. If you work near your employees, you can tell when they want to talk or need help. Take the initiative to start a conversation with a comment such as “What new is happening in your world?”

• Silence in conversation is OK. Do not push a colleague/employee into talking; allow time for it to be free-flowing. Moments of silence are OK (it’s a Western civilization problem).

• Concentrate on “growing your people.” Find many ways to “grow” the people you are responsible for. Provide magazine articles to share; suggest training workshops to build on existing strengths. It is also helpful to seek their ideas about what they see as ways to build strengths.

• Represent your people. If a wage disparity exists anywhere, it’s in the pharmacy field. The technicians or aides who support the professional pharmacist are usually paid just above the minimum wage; the professional’s salary is more market-driven and well into six figures. It’s vital for the manager to see that everyone in the lower-paid group is cared for properly and gets the educational support they desire from the company resource pool.

• You may like the iPhone, but stay away from the “I” word. Anytime you use the word “I” you sound grandiose, and to most people you must be getting a “big head.” We, the company, the department could be used in lieu of the “I” word. Or maybe you could let someone else get the credit and use their name.

• Look around you more. What do you see happening? Who are the people who work hard? Who are the people filling up space? Is anyone showing that they can find work to be done? Is it always the same people in the same categories? What does this tell you? Is a real counseling job needed? Get on it.

• If you have an IT guru, consider sharing the IT expertise with others. An IT specialist often does not understand the day-to-day operations of a business in a way that ensures it provides the best system to meet the needs of people ranging from the data entry/cashier to those who use it for data analysis and control. And besides, IT people need to get out and see the real world.

• Celebrate the small wins; ask your team how. When even small goals have been achieved or when a customer service event has occurred or one employee makes an assist for another, it is time to celebrate. Ask the affected employees how they would like to do that. Perhaps give them choices. Younger people will have preferences that differ from those of more mature workers. They can better decide and be pleased. You can always offer guidelines.

• We all need a social media account. Your younger employees can be organized into a social media team and encouraged to develop a professional presence on appropriate sites to appeal to younger generations of water lovers. This will be a motivator for team members and offer them peer recognition. This is a prime way to advertise your company to a new generation, and you probably have an unappreciated and unidentified expertise within your work force.

• Customer service should be shared by all staff members. Take time each month to have each staff member identify a special act of customer service — something extraordinary that they saw another staff member do. Add this action to your wall of exemplary employee performance (you do have one, right?).

• Why is your job important here? Would you be afraid to know how a fellow employee might answer that question? Is it not important that each person clearly identifies with what your department and company are about and how they fit in? Many employees will surprise you and tell you they do not know, and that represents a great opportunity to pull them aboard the success train.

• What would you like to see me do differently (or not at all or maybe do something new) as your manager? Each manager does the same thing differently. We’re all weird in some ways. If you knew what each employee did not like about you as a manager, you could modify your behavior with that person to make work less uncomfortable for the employee and maybe even improve the group’s productivity and customer satisfaction score.

• Where do you see yourself in five years? What would you like to be doing? Ideally, few would say they’ll be doing the same thing. Just knowing the aspiration level of those you manage can give you a tremendous opportunity to help those people grow and yes, even leave your company and move up elsewhere. All research shows that when you help a fellow worker with career growth and become a mentor, you become valuable to the worker and will be a motivator for improved work quantity and quality.

• What do you like best about your job (or about working for XYZ Co.)? This is a great conversation starter, even with a group. Stress the positive. When all of the positives are set forth, accept ideas for improving in other areas.

In the January column I’ll let you know how the Europeans reacted. I know they will question why there are no strategy issues, but this group is more in the leading category than the planning ranks. Try a few of the ideas and see how they fit. By Thanksgiving you should have found at least one winner, but only if you start the effort today or tomorrow.

Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail:

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue.



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