Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many technology companies to achieve management results, and rather quickly, I recognized a reoccurring pattern. If you take a great scientist or engineer and make them a manager on the basis of being a skilled scientist or engineer, two things happen:

  1. You lost a good scientist.
  2. You got a bad supervisor.

This phenomenon is not unique to technology companies. Ask someone who works in sales and, most likely, they’ll have witnessed the same occurrence with good salespeople becoming bad sales managers.

At Insigniam, our notion of Super-Vision is that the foundation for being a skilled supervisor is understanding how to manage people’s actions (work), knowing how those actions generate value, and, ultimately, contribute to the company’s success.

For example, when we were kids we knew that Superman had X-ray vision. In the same vein, good supervisors can look through walls, i.e., silos and chimneys between departments in large companies, and from the beginning to the end of the business process of which their people are working. This super-vision gives highly effective supervisors the ability to empower and enable their people to produce results that are beyond the ordinary.

Of course, you need not have been born on planet Krypton to be a good supervisor. It comes down to three critical factors:

  1. Think like the CEO. Regardless of where you are in the organization, if you think like the CEO, you already have an advantage as a supervisor.
  2. Think horizontally. Don’t think vertically. The workflow is horizontal.
  3. Think differently. Regardless of how linear your operations may be, realize that what you are managing is a chaotic phenomenon: people in a complex organization.

In the second part of this discussion—Supervision: Part II — People vs. Process—we will dive into a specific example of how a U.S. airplane manufacturer improved productivity, engagement, and quality by not only focusing on the linear operations associated with the process of line management but also supervising people’s work and how that work occurs for them.

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