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Effective Supervising

Claudette Palmer and Jennifer Smith, Campus Activities Complex

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This talk was co-sponsored by the DSL Professional Development committee and DSLx Life Learning as part of the 2017 Bite-size Professional Development series.


[Claudette] Welcome everyone, to today’s workshop: Strategies for Supervisors. It’s being presented by myself, Claudette Palmer from Campus Activities and my colleague,  [Jennifer] Jennifer Smith.

[Claudette] So, like I said, my name’s Claudette Palmer. I’m one of the managers from Campus Activities. I’ve been there for seventeen years. I’ve had over 25 years of supervisor experience both here at the Institute and at other companies.

[Jennifer] I’ve been at the Institute, next month, seventeen years, and three different roles.  And also outside of MIT, I’ve been a supervisor for over 25 years in those roles.

So there’s many different ways to be a supervisor. So we went to the dictionary, and we just said, as we talked about it a little bit, “the action or process of watching and directing what someone does or how something is done.” You might be a student leader, you’re running  your student group.  You could be the safety person in your lab.  Or you could be somebody who actually writes somebody’s performance evaluation. It could even be a coach on a team trying to get results, getting something done.

Getting to know other people is really important as a supervisor. Know your staff, know yourself. What’s the big deal, right? They come in; you know them. But no – you don’t really know them. What’s their strengths? Where do they maybe need a little more help? Some people are open, and they want you to know – they find it great when you walk in, you know about their family.  But also respecting people’s privacy on the other side.  Somebody might be more introverted – they would find that offensive.

So it’s being emotionally intelligent as a supervisor and saying, “Let me get to know people. Let me spend time with them,” and so you have to be approachable, but you also have to do the work. You have to go out and make the effort. Learn what they’re doing.  Ask them their opinions—it’s really important.

And then, you have to also reflect on yourself. Not only are they unique people, you are. You come with certain strengths and weaknesses. It could be, like in my case, I don’t love conflict, but I’ve learned how to deal with it because in my role I have to do that.

As you learn about who they are, you may know other people that they could go and meet. Or providing opportunities for colleagues to network. One of the biggest time things that you have to do is train new people. Send them to trainings, send them to workshops, conferences. Not only do they bring back great information, but they also get to grow. People that grow, stay.

Sometimes you’re going to be the mentor for that person. You are sort of by default, but you also sometimes recognize that maybe you’re not the perfect mentor for them – there might be another match. So help them in that process so they can find a really good mentor.

Match interests with opportunities, and most importantly, spread the wealth, people. Don’t play favorites. It’s the biggest killer. Make sure everybody has the opportunity. Hey, maybe you go to a conference, you go to a conference this year. Next year you make sure two other people go to the conference—really spread the wealth.

[Claudette] So we’re going to talk a little about integrity and loyalty, and those were some of the good habits and traits that you are looking for in a good supervisor. You want to gain people’s trust and respect, and once they do that, it will build good morale. I know that we’ve had situations where staff will come in early to get a project finished, they’ll stay late, they’ll work through their lunch hour, or they’ll even come in on weekends. We have staff that come in even when we have a snow storm and the governor declares this a state of emergency—now that’s loyalty. So, It’s about building trust, and people will feel flexible, they want to be part of the , and they’ll go the extra mile.  So that’s the bottom line. We want people to be the best they can be.

Communication. This is very critical. We want staff to know exactly what we expect from them. If you don’t where you’re going, you might end up at the wrong place. Don’t assume that the other person know what that is, even though it might be obvious to you. You might even have to help prioritize sometimes: give them a little direction, make some decisions. And sometimes you have to remove roadblocks as a supervisor. They might have something that’s challenging, and they don’t know how to get over it. It’s our job as supervisors to make employees be the best they can be.

Set timelines and deadlines. We want to give them a certain timeframe of when we expect work to be done, and we live in a result-oriented society, right? So we don’t want things to drag on.  So it’s important to set timeframes.

Provide regular feedback. Having conversations, difficult conversations, sometimes can be really uncomfortable but, as a supervisor, it’s our role to provide feedback. And it’s always good to mix the good with the bad. So you always start off with the good, squeeze the bad in the middle, and finish with the good at the end. You want to be very specific and give performance pointers. You can’t at the end of year say, “Oh, this is what you earned,” without giving feedback throughout the year. Don’t wait to the last minute.

We want to be open to feedback – hear what others are saying – not all suggestions are good, but at least we should let staff feel comfortable to come to us and make suggestions, and then you rule out what’s good and what’s not good. But always be open to suggestions and new ideas. And this might be your opportunity to create solutions for problems, or minimize them before they become too big. It’s that one-on-one.

[Jennifer] This is going to seem really obvious, but – positivity. The staff that you work with as a supervisor feeds off of you. So you have to be careful about your own interpersonal stuff. Like, I tell people when I’m having a bad day. Doesn’t mean you can’t have a bad day, but maybe just be upfront about it, and say, “Hey guys, just having a bad day,” or “I’m sick.” And sometimes, I’d say in the sickness world: don’t come in and contaminate everybody else. You are role modeling what you want your staff to do.

And fairness. Believe it or not, this is the biggest money for people. If they do not feel like they work in a fair workplace, they will move. Once again it’s the “favorites” problem. You want to be very careful to distribute evenly amongst. And also when people come to you with really serious problems – they’ve been harassed, they feel that they have been wronged in some ways, they’ve been bullied – that’s really serious. You want to listen and make sure that, not only are you being fair, but the institutions that you work for are fair. That’s what makes people want to work in places, and do the great work.

[Claudette] Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Respect goes a long way, but it should start with you as the individual. You need to be empathetic. Be sensitive to some people, they might have a situation going on that is not visible to the eye. So it’s always good to have conversations, be accommodating, and be understanding, especially because we have people from different parts of the world – it’s a global economy, different ethnic backgrounds – you never know what’s going on.

It’s always important, also, to reward somebody for doing something good. So it’s always nice to say, “Oh, job well done.  Thank you for doing so and so.” It’s not always the negative things that you should comment on.

And always be honest. You want to create authentic relationships with your staff. Always think before you speak. You might say something you regret. You might say something that you’ll end up in HR with.

Every situation doesn’t deserve a response right away, so remember – everything’s not urgent. Some things need to happen today, some things don’t need to happen today. Sometimes you just need to digest. Somebody writes an email to you that you don’t feel well about, don’t fire off right away. Think about it. Think about what you’re going to respond. Once you hit that send button, it’s gone. And it might not be what you wanted to say – or you might not be looked at the same way ever again.

[Jennifer] Collaboration. What you’re trying to do is build great teams of people to get great work done. And one of the things you want to remember is that all those people together are greater than the sum of them individually. Also think of yourself as a supervisor: there are some decisions that you will have to make. But a lot of decisions can be much more shared decision-making with input from different people. Also, you need to make sure people are included. You might have that shy person, that person that doesn’t think they’re valued—you as the supervisor need to make sure that they feel part of the group. You may have to talk to somebody else, talk to other supervisors, network yourself, because most of the time people want to contribute, but they’re not sure. Men, for instance often feel really comfortable speaking right up, women sometimes worry about that they talk too much in meetings: and it goes from there all across the board. So you have to be aware of that. And I said, once again, the more people collaborate, one of the reasons I love working for CAC is I get to do a lot of different things, and I like to work with a lot of different people. And so that makes me want to stay because it’s a little bit different each day, I get to work with a lot of great people across campus and off campus.

You want them to stay.

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