Poor supervisor performance hurts companies

With all the staff reductions many employers have done over the recent years, fewer people are left with more responsibilities, and this can lead to performance issues, particularly among managers, says Jason Carney, director of human resources at WorkSmart Systems Inc., a professional employer organization in Indianapolis. Many managers are put into supervisory roles because of their success at the practitioner level, but once they enter those managerial positions, they also have to oversee employees on top of their basic job requirements. By touching so many different levels on a daily basis, performance in one of those areas could very well fall behind company standards.  

“An engineer, for example, will spend a lot of their time engineering and probably not as much time as they should managing people,” Carney says. “They’re not just going to be a manager; they’re going to be a practitioner and a manager, so from that perspective alone, you have a lot more opportunity for performance issues.”

Solving performance issues is important for all positions, but it is especially critical when the problem comes from a supervisor, says Mary Herrmann, managing director of executive coaching for BPI Group, a global management and HR consulting firm in Chicago. Supervisors hold great influence on the company because of the other employees they manage. If a supervisor is having a problem, this could trickle down to others.

“Whenever there’s a performance issue for anyone in the organization, it’s impacting someone or something about the business, but that’s particularly true for those in supervisor roles because they are leading other people,” Herrmann says. “Supervisors usually have people that report to them so not only is it affecting their performance but the performance of those directly reporting to them.”

Productivity and morale are also negatively affected when managers have performance problems, Carney says. When a manager isn’t performing up to standards, other employees typically notice, and this could breed resentment. Rather than focusing on their jobs, some employees might be spending their time talking about their manager’s poor performance.

“A lot of time and energy is wasted because employees will gossip and talk about the bad manager or a manager with performance issues before the company even has a chance to get to the root of it,” Carney says.

Poor managerial performance can impact how other employees behave, as well, Herrmann says. Supervisors should set an example of what is acceptable within an organization, but if other employees see their supervisor is not maintaining the company’s standards, they could repeat the same actions.

“The risk would be that we’re usually looking to our leader as the model for how we behave in an organization,” Herrmann says. “The cumulative effect can be impactful for the organization.”

To prevent performance issues from ever happening in the first place, Herrmann recommends a work environment that encourages consistent performance feedback, and if a problem should arise, an actionable plan should be immediately put into place. Some employers fall into a trap where they only worry about performance management once a year, and when it comes time to address the problem, it has already become a habit and much damage has already been done.

“It’s usually about your performance management system and how you get feedback to that supervisor about their performance,” Herrmann says. “In an organization that has its talent management processes down, where performance management and reviews are conducted on a regular basis, those kinds of things are called to the supervisor’s attention quickly, so that they can begin to make changes.”

Ultimately, the HR department should be ready to help supervisors with whatever is causing the performance issues. Much of a supervisor’s success depends on the support he or she receives, and HR should alleviate whatever those problems are.

“Our job as the leader is to remove whatever barriers are hurting the supervisor’s performance to support them in success,” Herrmann says. “We’re all responsible for each other’s success, so if I’m leading that supervisor, and they’re not being successful, I’m part of the reason why.”



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