T Nation

I'm A New Supervisor


I just found out today I got a promotion I've been hoping for and now I am a newly minted supervisor.


ahem Sorry about that.

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about it, but I know there is a lot to learn. I have a lot of my own thoughts on what it takes to lead/manage/supervise employees (and those are 3 entirely different things, in my mind), but I am also looking to put a lot of effort up front into learning as much as possible to be the best I can be in this new role.

So, 2 questions:

1) Anyone out there know of any useful books on transitioning to being a new supervisor? There are a few kajillion books on management and 99% of them are fairly useless.

2) Anyone who has supervised others before who might have a few general tips?

Please bear in mind that I don't expect to get everything I need out of a book or from the advice of others on these forums... but I figured it wouldn't hurt to get some more input and thoughts.



Don't go messing with everything that is already working just to put your name on it...


When my father was promoted, he was asked to read "The One Minute Manager." He thought it was interesting.

And that is the extent of my ability to give input.


Congratulations! How many people under you? What kind of business is it?

Look for books by Scott Adams.

The biggest mistakes I see made:
1. Not discussing things with the people under you that are going to be affected by your decisions.
2. Tampering with things that are fine, solely to put your fingerprints on them.


You will have alot of guys that were your buds that will shun you now, don't take it personally. Deal with little issues as they come up, every time you talk to an employee, document it...trust me. Do not rely on once a year reviews, have frequent departmental meetings in an open format.

Let your people know upfront exactly what you expect, explain to them that they can discuss anything with you in confidence but that your primary role is to be sure the company succeeds. Treat everyone the same, this usually means you will have no friends but if you are truly fair and consistent you will have their respect. I could go on but you get the idea.


What kind of staff are you supervising, what's the nature of the work?

Basically just manage them from a more global perspective(your new job) while keeping track of the how things are performed(your old job). As a supervisor you will have to plan ahead and have a schedule for the whole week as opposed to waiting for a command. Don't be an asshole but if someone is consistently slacking off calmly let them know that you are aware of it. If they continue then report to upper-management. Nothing personal - it's your job and if they're not doing theirs then it's their fault. Just prepare for it to be more of a resource-organizing job rather than what you had before. And you'll need a separate set of paperwork unless it's really simple.

Also what morepain said - be fair and forthright. If you're consistant with that then you will respect yourself and be respected as a result.

Most of the time that's all you need to know.


Most excited I've seen a Wal-mart employee in a while. ha ha


Hire good people and let them do their jobs. Make sure you build a strong team.

Respect those who work for you and may have more experience in certain areas. You will learn a lot from them.

Set clear objectives and goals for your folks and manage consistently towards them. Whether it is productivity or revenue objectives make sure you communicate those goals and manage towards them on a consistent basis.

They are some simple and broad ideas. Good luck!


Kudos to you, Kuz. As far as I'm concerned, it couldn't happen to a better guy. I'm sure you'll do pretty well if you can keep you enthousiasm in check :wink:

For recommendations, I leave that to others more knowledgeable than I


Although I'm not too sure this is the best place to ask for advice, I have to admit I was pretty impressed by the fact that you're humble and intelligent enough to ask for help. If you keep that humility you will certainly become a great boss.

I deal with managers every day, and although my job is mainly to teach them the intricacies of Microeconomics, sometimes we have some deep conversations about management. It?s an MBA program after all, right?

There are many books about the subject, and many schools of thought, but there are a few rules that are as simple as they are essential -- but very few managers follow. They are:

  1. Positive reinforcement (carrot) is much more important than punishment (stick). ALWAYS reinforce good behavior IMMEDIATELY, even little things. Of course, the reinforcement has to be proportional to the importance of the behavior, but, still, never delay it or skip it. You don?t need to become a cheerleader: a simple and casual but heartfelt "Thank you John" or "that?s great stuff John" does more than you think. You need to treat employees like what they do well is a gift, even if you?re paying them for it.

1a. Remember that it is the employee that defines what constitutes positive reinforcement. Some people respond well to money, others to flattery, others to food (a lunch), or more free time, or letting them leave at 3 every now and then to pick up their kids from school... basically find out what constitutes positive reinforcement to everybody that you supervise.

  1. Having said that, the stick is also important -- and everything I say above also applies to sticks (immediate punishment -- you need to be firm when people screw up -- and let them know about it right away -- and you need to figure out what constitutes punishment for each of the people that work for you).

  2. Keep the carrot and stick for 1-on-1s. Public displays of carrots and sticks are almost always bad -- making people examples for other is insanely dangerous because, again, to each its own. Many managers incite direct competition between employees, not understanding that long term that?s invariably bad.

  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Did I mention communication? Talk to each of "your" employees as much as you can. At least once a day informally, with scheduled 1on1 meetings at least once a week. Use those daily and weekly meetings not only for carrot and sticks, but to let them know what's going on -- how they are doing, how the company is doing, how YOU are doing, etc. And always be direct -- don't beat around the bush or hint at stuff; just go ahead and say what's on your mind -- calmly.

4a. For crying out loud do NOT use e-mail for ANY communication with people who work for you. Talk face to face. E-mail is eViL.

Those are the basics.

And yes, read Dilbert comics. Not taking yourself too seriously is one of the most important qualities of a manager, and Dilbert helps that...


"He who knows how will always work
for he who knows why."

-David Lee Roth


LMAO You bastard.



Those really are some excellent points. The one thing I've been wondering about is how my friends in the department (since I have been there 3 1/2 years) will end up acting towards me. A lot of people were happy to see me get the job, but I know it is a [i]very[/i] tricky line to walk between acting accordingly as a supervisor and being someone's friend. They really don't mix well a lot of the time, so we'll see how that works out.

I also think the idea of treating everyone the same is a big deal. I work within the Legal department of a Fortune 50 company and so there are so many rules, procedures and policies in place, that you would be a fool to not treat everyone equally since it will come back to haunt you.

But thank you - really great advice.



This is good advice, but be VERY careful in certain areas (you haven't mentioned what line of business you're in).

I obviously have contact with managers that are mostly with high-tech companies (this is called the Silicon Valley for a reason...) and they quickly found out that measuring things like productivity and contribution to revenue is immensely difficult. In fact, my wife and I have worked on several projects that involved finding ways to measure these for high-tech employees and she had to work up some pretty sophisticated models to get something resembling useful measurements.

Two examples:

  1. Tech support workers were measured for many years based on the number of calls/incidents they close. Tech support managers quickly found out that is a HORRIBLE measurement, because workers started focusing on closing as many cases as possible, rather than focusing on helping customers through; so then came customer satisfaction surveys but that is not a good measure too because only about 10-15% of customers respond to those and most of the time the ones that do are the ones that were either royally pissed off or extremely happy -- so instead of getting a Normal Distribution (as you should) you get a "valley" (peaks on the extremes of the spectrum).
    And if that wasn't enough, e-mail made things worse because now since e-mails go to queues, techs could cherry-pick the cases that were easier and leave the harder ones for the poor bastards that came in on later shifts.

  2. Software Engineers were measured for many years (and still are) by # of lines of code produced. However, how any GOOD Software Engineer will tell you, good code is efficient and clean code, hence guys that produced small, efficient software by giving some thought to each line were in disadvantage to crappy programmers that just type away line after line and create bloated pieces of crap...

Basically, all of this to exemplify the old story of quality vs. quantity...

So, yes, goals and objectives are essential, but be VERY careful on what you measure and set... it's much harder than what it seems.



That's a good point. A lot of people seem to think that unless they piss on everything to mark their territory, somehow they are not doing a good job. Personally, I just want to see my people do well since I think that is the greatest reflection on how well I do as a supervisor.


It's funny you mentioning the measurement examples since we have our own version of a quality system in place for the entire global company, so that part is pretty much taken care of (whether that is a good thing or not I leave up to debate). But we measure the ever living hell out of seemingly everything... and I truly wonder how much of it gets to quality vs. quantity or just doing things to satisfy a metric vs. creating an actual, long-lasting, meaningful improvement.


Listen "Kuz", if that IS your real name, no one wants to hear you bragging about your job.

Really, congratulations! You're a not completely incompetent guy and may have actually deserved the success.

Can I be your assistant now?


Well, I'm not a supervisor, but, I am required to give technical direction to company craftsmen and contractors at our refinery.

My #1 tip..... Do not forget where you came from.

I see so many supervisors make this mistake. They demand more effort of their subordinates than they were willing give when they were at that level. They see the thoughts and ideas of their subordinates as inferior to theirs because they are the "boss."



Now you work twice the hours for a nickle more and no overtime!

Seriously though, you got some good advice above.

All I can add is when you do praise (and make it often) do it publicly. Let everybody know who did the good job and why they did it.

When you need to reprimand someone, do it privately, no matter how pissed you are and document that you met with them. EVEN IF IT IS ONLY A VERBAL. Just make a note in the file of the date/time/general subject matter if it is a verbal. And do verbals first unless it is a very flagrant violation...coming to work drunk or under the influence, gross misconduct...etc.

In my area, I could only give out gold stars for good things done. Some people died to get one, others could have cared less until I explained that was all I could give (state employees...personnel rules established by the legislature elected by the people who know it all).

But find something that motivates your staff and use that as much as you can. And tie it to whatever productivity measure your company has selected for your group. It will be obvious to everybody what you are doing, but, hell, that is what the company is in business for and why they came to work for the company.

And be honest. If there is a policy matter that you cannot discuss, just be upfront about it.

And get a can of "Leg-Off", because you will also develop friends who see an opportunity to use you for their own purpose and not the company's or other employees benefit.


Talk about a pat in the back! LOL.

Low on the poptarts, Dave?