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Supervising Employees Effectively

Striking a Balance Between Control and Empowerment

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This article adapted from "Career Confidential"

© 2008 Mark Kolakowski

Supervising Employees Effectively Overview: To be an effective manager, you have to walk a fine line in supervising employees. Micromanage in supervising employees, and you sap your employees' initiative and creativity. You also fail to leverage their time fully, reducing the productivity and efficiency of your organization. On the other hand, if your method of supervising employees gives the staff too free a hand, and you fail to keep adequate tabs on what they are doing, you could set yourself up for trouble. Here are two case studies.

Supervising Employees Case Study Number One: A team of management consultants was engaged to clean up a bookkeeping department at a major bank. The bank cut many corners: inadequate automation, sloppy procedures, minimal controls, haphazard employee training and stingy pay that attracted only low-quality personnel.

As the consultants were studying the department and formulating their recommendations, the bank suffered a major crisis. A new bookkeeper discovered that his predecessor, who recently had quit the bank, had been making up numbers for months. This went undetected by his otherwise highly competent manager. This manager was forced to be very hands-off in supervising employees, since he had a very large staff and lacked the time and tools to audit his subordinates' work properly. It took the bank weeks of overtime, including weekends, to clean up the mess. Restitution to clients cost millions of dollars, far in excess of the meager savings that the bank had achieved by running the department on the cheap. The supervisor was fired, being a convenient scapegoat.

Supervising Employees Case Study Number Two: A new departmental controller at a leading financial services firm assumed a mix of responsibilities that reached far beyond the job title. His nominal responsibilities of budgeting and expense reporting were to be handled by a well-regarded employee who was well-experienced in these fields. The controller was instructed to focus on higher valued-added tasks like departmental strategy, market research and acting as chief of staff for the departmental head. Moreover, the new controller had neither experience nor interest in those rote tasks that he was able to delegate away, so he likewise took a very hands-off approach in supervising employees.

The subordinate in question got things done without any apparent hitches, and the controller had a lot on his plate, so he never bothered to delve deeply into exactly how the employee did what he did. This was a big mistake. For one, this exposed the controller to a potential crisis if the key employee took ill and had to be out of work for an extended period, or if he suddenly quit.

Those crises never came to pass, but the controller made a shocking discovery after the employee moved to another job within the company. Because of staff reductions, the controller had to split the departed employee's tasks with one of his remaining employees. It soon came to light that these tasks required only a fraction of the time that the departed employee had led the controller to believe was necessary during his 16 month tenure in the group. It was, by then, too late for the controller to take back the top performance reviews that he had given to the departed employee, and which had led to the latter's promotion. For the controller, this was a lesson learned the hard way in supervising employees adequately.

Source: Career Confidential: An Insider's Guide to Business by Mark Kolakowski.

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