Carnegie Mellon University

Supervision Strategies

Your Role as a Supervisor

One of the most rewarding experiences you can have in your work at CMU is that of supervisor. A supervisor plays an important role in the success of an organization and its members. As a supervisor, you may serve as guide, mentor, coach and primary role model. The importance of the role of supervisor should not be underestimated. As a supervisor you will be challenged to set clear expectations, provide ongoing feedback and recognize the contributions of the members of your organization.

Whether you chose to be a supervisor or were assigned supervisory responsibilities, preparation for the role is extremely important. Having success as a supervisor is very different from having success in your area of expertise. You will want to increase your knowledge of the legal responsibilities of staff management. You may now have responsibility for hiring employees, so knowing how to develop a position description, get the position classified and the appropriate compensation identified, and then recruit the most qualified candidate will be important. Providing direction, feedback and support of those you supervise will be ongoing tasks. Finally, providing support and recognition will communicate an investment and value for those you serve.

There are several resources available to you to assist you in your development as a supervisor:

The expectations of supervisors at CMU are high. You monitor the responsibilities and tasks of your organization while encouraging the development and performance of the employees within your organization. As a role model you set an example through your decision making, direction and response to the challenges your organization faces. You provide leadership and vision and support the university's mission through your collective contributions.

Often your approach to your work is what has made you successful in your role. As a supervisor, your approach to work may or may not be the same approach a staff member may take. An important component of supervision is recognizing your own strengths and opportunities for growth. Having this self-awareness can be very insightful when building your supervisory relationships. Next, it is important to get to know the individuals you are supervising. Supervision is about much more than just getting the work completed — it includes direction, motivation, support and accountability. Building a strong supervisor-supervisee relationship starts with you.

The Strategies

You can begin setting the stage for a positive supervisor-supervisee relationship from the staff member's first day. From establishing clear expectations and providing feedback on the staff member's performance to helping them set professional goals and develop themselves professionally, your guidance and support are essential to the success of each of your employees and the organization as a whole.

A new employee comes into an organization with enthusiasm and the desire to be successful in their new role. Realistically, the first year of employment in a new position can be considered the onboarding period. However, the first several months of employment are when you and your organization will introduce the new employee to the culture, norms and expectations of the organization and the position responsibilities.

Learn more about onboarding strategies for Managers.

Success comes when an employee understands their responsibilities and the associated expectations of the position. As the supervisor, you need to generally know how to complete the tasks of the individual's role in order to provide clear expectations. The level of direction and support will vary based on the type of position and the length of service in the position by the employee.

When setting expectations for position output you will want to remember:

  • Be clear and specific with the details you provide
  • Provide both content and context as part of your direction
  • Have the employee reflect their understanding of your expectations or the task details
  • When introducing a new task, have the employee complete a portion of the task and then review with you to determine correct understanding
  • Identify the desired outcomes for the task or responsibility by describing what success would look like when achieved

Having focus is important in an organization and among its employees. Goal setting is one way to achieve this focus. The goals you develop may be related to the university's strategic plan, the mission of your department or a service provided by your organization. As a supervisor, you will also engage in setting position and professional development goals with your employees.

When setting goals it is helpful to use the SMART method. SMART goals are:

Specific — The goal statement should provide details on what is to be accomplished.

Measurable — How will you measure whether or not the goal is achieved? This may be determined by a defined result, number of results, quality of results or other measurement.

Attainable — The desired outcome of the goal should be attainable and aligned with the personnel, resources and time available to achieve.

Relevant — The goal should be relevant to the work of your organization or the development of the employee. Establishing relevance allows you and your organization to understand "the why" behind your efforts.

Time Bound — A goal statement needs to include an end date. By when should the goal outcomes be completed?

Resilience and Responsiveness

In a dynamic organization like CMU, our work is continually changing. When monitoring goals you should recognize that the information you had when you established the goal may not be the same information a few months later. Routinely reviewing the goals you have set, the priorities of the organization and the progress towards the goal will ensure success and allow you and your organization to adapt and respond as needed.

Feedback is your primary channel of communication as a supervisor. Providing routine and direct feedback ensures that you and the members of your organization are working in the same direction.

When providing feedback it is helpful to:

  1. Identify what you want to discuss. You may achieve this by describing the situation you want to discuss, by sharing a perspective, or setting an expectation.

    Example: "Sue, do you have a few minutes? I would like to clarify my expectations around the homecoming project you are working on."

  2. Express your thoughts or feelings about the given situation or provide your observations.

    Example: "I want so share my observations about the alumni event you are planning."

  3. Specify the areas of concern or reasons for acknowledgment.

    Example: "There is only an hour scheduled for the reception and it has been scheduled in a different building than the welcome event. I am concerned that we will not have enough time for our guests to get to the reception location in time."

  4. Establish desired outcomes, boundaries or consequences related to the given situation.

    Example: "I would like you to rethink the location of the reception and propose a viable solution by the end of the week."

Feedback Goes Two Ways

In addition to providing feedback to the members of your organization, as a supervisor, it is imperative that you create an environment where feedback is welcomed. You can achieve this by:

— Remaining open to receiving feedback from the members of your organization

— Encouraging the members of your organization to provide feedback to one another

— Promoting a climate of trust where members of your organization can learn and grow together

It is a privilege to lead others. As a supervisor, you have the opportunity to support your organization by increasing the capacity and capabilities of its members.

Building capacity is an ongoing process. It includes promoting the intellectual capital which means building the knowledge base of your employees; promoting the social capital of your organization by encouraging members to interact with one another, share ideas and encourage one another; and encouraging organizational capital by establishing a clear mission and vision for you and your employees to work towards.

Building capability is a strategic process. It includes providing opportunities for your employees to apply their knowledge to different tasks and experiences; allowing employees to perform tasks and learn through both mistakes and achievements; and promoting an understanding of context so your employees can begin to see the interconnection between experiences and begin to translate skills and abilities to different situations.

Much has been written about the importance of the recognition of employees. One of the best ways to develop a recognition program for your organization is to involve the members in its planning. Beyond a formal recognition program, it is important to remember you can show your appreciation each and every day:

  • Say thank you
  • Encourage employee professional development
  • Identify opportunities that will challenge or utilize an employee's skills and demonstrate their value to the organization
  • Explore campus opportunities that will allow the employee to contribute to the work of a campus initiative

Utilizing Your Resources

One way to ensure success in your role as a supervisor is by utilizing the resources available to you in Human Resources. Whatever the situation, we will support you by providing advice on legal issues, guidance on university policies and procedures, and development opportunities for you and your staff members.

Human Resources Manager

Your HR Manager is an expert in employee relations. This individual can assist you in navigating your role as a supervisor.

Compensation Manager

The Compensation Managers in HR can assist you with completing a market analysis of your positions and ensuring your positions are appropriately classified and compensated.

Recruiting and Staffing Services

The members of Recruiting and Staffing Services support you throughout the recruitment process, from using the Taleo recruiting system and participating in your interview process to completing the background check.

Equal Opportunity and Disability Services

The Equal Opportunity and Disability Services staff members in HR ensure that CMU is meeting its legal obligations for fair and equitable hiring processes. In addition, these individuals can assist you in providing appropriate accommodations for staff members who have communicated a need.

Professional Development Services

Employee training, performance and professional development programs and resources are provided by the staff members in Professional Development Services. These individuals can assist you with designing a training and development program for you and your employees.

Leaves Manager

The Leaves Manager in Human Resources can provide you with guidance regarding employees who may be taking a leave from their position.

HR CMUWorks Service Center

HR CMUWorks Service Center staff members will assist you with completing many of your HR and payroll transactions.