The significance of supervision

Denton Hartman

In most organizations, everyone is accountable to someone. Line staff report to first line supervisors, first line supervisors report to the next level of authority and so on, up the organizational chart. A challenge that organizations may wrestle with is, “If we hire the right people, with the right skills, is ongoing supervision essential to the success of the organization?”

Let’s begin with the premise that organizations exist to fulfill a promise they make to their customers, clients, stake holders, etc. That promise is based on the organization’s mission and the service, product, or other activities that represent the fulfillment of that stated mission. Supervision, in successful organizations, provides the connection between that promise and measurable performance.

In other words, the plan of every organization is to succeed. Organizations create a structure and establish a culture to reach their goal of success. Creating the organization’s structure and culture tends to be the focus of upper level leaders and managers. Executing the essential tasks of the organization to support the culture requires coordinated effort…sometimes referred to as supervision.

Sounds sort of “old school.” Do these principles really work in today’s world with tomorrow’s workforce? I think they do, and Daniel Coyle, author of the New York Times best seller “The Culture Code” does too.

In his book, Doyle shares that each year about 1,000 new restaurants open in New York City. Each one is launched with optimism and high hopes for success. Five years later 800 have disappeared. They have vanished for various reasons and, in some senses, the same reason. Good food and good location do not guarantee success. Good service, branding, and training are not enough to survive. Survival depends on doing all of these things, over and over, night after night. That is a feat that cannot be accomplished without superb supervision.

In his book, Doyle refers to a gentleman named Danny Meyer who has built the unlikely record of opening 25 restaurants in NYC over the past 30 years and all, save one, are outrageously successful. These are eateries that have won countless awards and are worth billions. When asked about his success, Meyer gives a one-word answer, home.

When you walk into one of Meyer’s restaurants, you immediately feel that you are being cared for. The food is perfect (every time), the surroundings are extremely comfortable, but the most vivid memory is the people. All staff approach each interaction with familial thoughtfulness. They pay uncanny attention to every diner’s needs and often anticipate and meet those needs before they are even expressed.

Ask Meyer his secret and he will tell you it is a simple set of principles that stimulate behaviors that benefit customers. Ask him his secret to staff development and he simply says, “It starts with me.” Meyer demonstrates the “on duty” behaviors he wants to managers, who demonstrate them to shift supervisors, who demonstrate them to servers, dishwashers, etc., who demonstrate them to customers. Those who do not conform are gently released.

Some of Meyer’s behavior principles are so simple that anyone can learn and do them. Things like: “Read the guest”, or “Deliver athletic hospitality”, or “Finding the Yes”, or “Be aware of your emotional wake.” But when these principles become the motivation for “on duty” behavior, a culture is created.

So, what is the significance of supervision in our businesses and industries today? There are at least three essential functions that supervisors perform. They embrace the mission, they demonstrate mission-driven behaviors, and they are keepers of the culture. Supervisors connect an organization’s promise to its performance.

Denton C. Hartman is an adjunct instructor at Hagerstown Community College.