The Role of Supervisors

By Certo, S.C.

Edited by Paul Ducham


Planning is the management function of setting goals and determining how to meet them. For supervisors, this process includes figuring out what tasks the department needs to complete to achieve its goals, as well as how and when to perform those tasks. For action-oriented people, planning can seem time consuming and tedious. But the need for planning is obvious, especially if you consider what would happen in an organization in which no one plans. For example, if a store did not implement planning, customers would not know when the store would be open, and employees would not know what inventory to order or when to order it. The location of the store might be an accident, with no marketing research to determine where business would be sufficient to generate a profit. The managers would not know how many employees to hire, because they would have no idea how many customers they would be serving. Clearly, this business would fail in the mission of providing its customers with high-quality service and merchandise.
       Supervisors and other managers plan for several reasons. Knowing what the organization is trying to accomplish helps them set priorities and make decisions aimed at accomplishing their goals. The act of planning forces managers to spend time focusing on the future and establishes a fair way to evaluate employee performance. It helps managers use resources efficiently, thus minimizing wasted time and money. Time spent in planning a project can reduce the time required to carry it out. The total time for planning and execution can actually be shorter for a thoroughly planned project than for one started in haste.
      Many inexpensive software packages can help supervisors plan projects efficiently. Templates that supervisors can customize for their own purposes lead the way through the various planning steps and help establish project phases and the order in which they need to be accomplished, project goals and deadlines, people and departments involved in the project, anticipated obstacles and action plans for overcoming them, and budgets and other resources.
      Finally, the other functions managers perform—organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling—all depend on good planning. Before supervisors and other managers can allocate resources and inspire employees to achieve their objectives, and before they can determine whether employees are meeting those objectives, they need to know what they are trying to accomplish.
          Supervisors rarely have much input into the way an organization does its planning. Rather, they participate in whatever process already exists. To participate constructively, supervisors should understand the process.

Planning centers on the setting of goals and objectives. Objectives specify the desired accomplishments of the organization as a whole or of a part of it. According to one school of thought, goals are objectives with a broad focus. For example, an organization seeks to be the number one supplier of nursing home care by the end of next year. That would be considered a goal. In contrast, the accounting department seeks to have all invoices mailed within two weeks of a patient’s departure; this is more specific and therefore an objective. This text uses the term objectives in most cases and treats the terms objectives and goals as synonyms.
         No matter which term is used, an organization’s goals identify what its people should be striving toward. At General Cable Corporation, management wanted to reduce an expensive problem: scrapped materials, which amounted to 4 percent of the company’s cost of materials. After analyzing where most of the scrap was occurring, General Cable made sure that all employees saw and understood the charts pinpointing the problem areas. Then employees began looking for ways to reduce scrap by setting goals to fix problems in the costliest areas. Four years later, the scrap rate was down to 1.1 percent with a goal of 0.85 for the following year. Because General Cable makes sure equipment operators have information about where problems are occurring, these employees can contribute to meeting the scrap reduction goals. For an example of how some banks are choosing their objectives, see the “Supervision across Industries” box.

Strategic Objectives
Planning should begin at the top, with a plan for the organization as a whole. Strategic planning is the creation of long-term goals for the organization. These goals typically include the type and quality of goods or services the organization is to provide and, for a business, the level of profits it is to earn.
        General Electric (GE), for example, has a broad strategy of seeking ways to innovate so that the company can sell more profitable new products rather than competing just by keeping prices low. The company has granted funding to the GE Lighting business group to develop a new technology called organic lightemitting diodes (OLEDs). Scientists at GE Lighting hope the company will be able to produce OLEDs in rolls of flexible material such as plastic that can be used to make light-up ceiling tiles or curtains. As this technology has improved, it has shown the potential to replace traditional light bulbs in the future. Management has determined that OLED development fits its overall Business Strategy. However, getting the products to market may take another 15 years.
            Usually it is top managers who engage in strategic planning; in other cases, a planning department prepares objectives for approval by top management. Either way, the managers at the top decide where the organization should be going.

Operational Objectives
The objectives for divisions, departments, and work groups support the goals developed in strategic planning. These objectives, developed through operational planning, specify how the group will help the organization achieve its goals. Operational planning is performed by middle managers and supervisors. Table 6.1 summarizes the characteristics of strategic and operational planning.
         Middle managers set objectives that will enable their division or department to contribute to the goals set for the organization. Supervisors set objectives that will enable their department or work group to contribute to divisional or increase profits by 8 percent next year, the goal of a branch located in a highgrowth area might be to increase its own profits by 9 percent. At this branch, the vice president (supervisor) in charge of lending operations might have the objective of increasing loans to businesses by 15 percent. The head teller might have the objective of keeping customer waits to five minutes or less. (The good service is designed to support organizational objectives by attracting new customers to the bank.)
        Operational objectives should get all employees focused on their role in supporting the company’s strategy. Fire departments have established specific operational objectives for the group such as bringing a fire under control within 10 minutes after arrival of the first fire company and having all firefighters wear full personal protective equipment. Along with these objectives, goals for individual performance include such detailed measures as ensuring all firefighters are wearing seat belts, carrying the proper tools, and using hose lines.
       Notice in these examples that the objectives become more specific at lower levels of the organization, and planning tends to focus on shorter time spans. This is the usual pattern for planning in an organization. Thus, top managers spend a lot of their time thinking broadly over several years, whereas much of the supervisor’s planning involves what actions to take in the current week or month.

Personal Objectives
In addition to planning for the department as a whole, each supervisor should apply good planning practices to his or her individual efforts. This includes determining how to help the department meet its objectives, as well as how to meet the supervisor’s own career objectives. Another important application of planning is effectively managing the use of one’s time.

Characteristics of Effective Objectives
For objectives to be effective—that is, clearly understood and practical—they should have certain characteristics. They should be written, measurable or observable, clear, specific, and challenging but achievable (see Figure 6.1).
    Putting objectives in writing might seem like a nuisance, but doing so gives them importance; employees can see they are something to which managers have devoted time and thought. The people required to carry out the objectives can then look them up as a reminder of what they are supposed to be accomplishing, and they can take time to make sure they understand them. Finally, writing down objectives forces the supervisor to think through what the objectives say.
        Making objectives measurable or at least observable provides the supervisor with a way to tell whether people are actually accomplishing them. Measurable objectives might specify a dollar amount, a time frame, or a quantity to be produced. Examples are the number of sales calls made, parts manufactured, or customers served. The words maximize and minimize are tip-offs that the objectives are not measurable. If the objective is to “maximize quality,” how will anyone know whether maximum quality has been obtained? Instead, the objective might call for a defect rate of no more than 2 percent or for no customer complaints during the month. Other objectives that are difficult to measure are those that simply call for something to “improve” or “get better.” The person writing the objective should specify a way to measure or observe the improvement.
      When the supervisor needs other people to play a part in accomplishing objectives, those people must understand the objectives. Thus, it is easy to see why objectives should be clear. The supervisor can make sure the objectives are clear by spelling them out in simple language and asking employees whether they understand them.
     Making objectives specific means indicating who is to do what and by what time to accomplish the objective. Specific objectives describe the actions people are to take and what is supposed to result from those actions. For example, instead of saying, “Computer files will be backed up regularly,” a specific objective might say, “Each word-processing operator will back up his or her files at the end of each workday.” Being specific simplifies the job of ensuring that the objectives are accomplished; the supervisor knows just what to look for. Also, specific objectives help employees understand what they are supposed to be doing.
        Objectives that are challenging are more likely to stimulate employees to do their best than those that are not. However, the employees have to believe they are capable of achieving the objectives. Otherwise, they will become frustrated or angry at what seem to be unreasonable expectations. Most of us have had the experience of tackling a challenging job and enjoying the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with finishing it. In setting goals, the supervisor should remember how stimulating and confidence building such experiences can be.

Policies, Procedures, and Rules
To meet his objective of staffing his information systems department with topquality employees, Bruce Frazzoli hired some people he used to work with at his former job. He was later embarrassed to be called on the carpet for violating his employer’s policy that managers must work with the personnel department in making all hiring decision. Frazzoli learned that supervisors and other managers must consider the organization’s policies, procedures, and rules when setting objectives. The content of the objectives and the way they are carried out must be consistent with all three.
        Policies are broad guidelines for how to act; they do not spell out the details of how to handle a specific situation. For example, a firm might have a policy of increasing the number of women and minorities in its workforce. Such a policy does not dictate whom to hire or when; it merely states a general expectation. Figure 6.2 summarizes a dress code policy for a Wisconsin bank.
        Procedures are the steps that must be completed to achieve a specific purpose. An organization might specify procedures for hiring employees, purchasing equipment, filing paperwork, and many other activities. Publishing company McGraw-Hill’s management guidelines include suggested procedures for how to conduct Performance Appraisals and employment interview. A supervisor may be responsible for developing the procedures for activities carried out in his or her own department. For example, a restaurant manager might spell out a cleanup procedure or a maintenance supervisor might detail the shutdown procedure for a piece of machinery. Procedures free managers and employees from making decisions about activities they carry out repeatedly.
        Rules are specific statements of what to do or not do in a given situation. Unlike policies, they are neither flexible nor open to interpretation. For example, one rule at Opto Technology is that employees must wear safety goggles whenever they handle chemicals and when they weld, solder, drill, or cut wires. Restaurants have rules stating that employees must wash their hands before working. Rules of this kind are often imposed by law.

Action Plans
Objectives serve as the basis for action plans and contingency plans (see Figure 6.3). An action plan is a plan for how to achieve an objective. If you think of objectives as statements of where you want to go, then an action plan is a map that tells you how to get there. For a successful trip, you need both kinds of information.
        The supervisor creates an action plan by answering the questions what, who, when, where, and how:

What actions need to be taken? Do sales calls need to be made, customers served in a certain way, goods produced? The supervisor should outline the specific steps involved.

Who will take the necessary steps? The supervisor may perform some tasks, but many activities will be assigned to specific employees or groups of employees.

When must each step be completed? With many types of processes, certain steps will determine when the whole project is completed. The supervisor should be particularly careful in scheduling those activities.

Where will the work take place? Sometimes this question is easy to answer, but a growing operation may require that the supervisor plan for additional space. Some activities may require that the supervisor consider the arrangement of work on the shop floor or the arrangement of items in a warehouse or supply room.

How will the work be done? Are the usual procedures and equipment adequate, or does the supervisor need to innovate? Thinking about how the work will be done may alert the supervisor to a need for more training.

Contingency Planning
A lot of people believe in Murphy’s law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Even those who are less pessimistic recognize that things don’t always go as planned. A delivery may be delayed by a strike or a blizzard, a key employee may take another job, a “foolproof” computer system may crash. The sign of a good supervisor is not so much that the supervisor never has experienced these nasty surprises but that he or she is prepared with ideas about how to respond.
        Planning what to do if the original plans don’t work out is known as contingency planning. The wise supervisor has contingency plans to go with every original plan. One useful technique for contingency planning is to review all objectives, looking for areas where something might go wrong. Then the supervisor determines how to respond if those problems do arise.

      During the summer of 2003, a power company blackout cut off electricity to much of the northeastern United States, as well as parts of the Midwest and Canada. More than half the manufacturers in Ohio were affected, costing them an estimated $1.1 billion. Ford Motor Company was forced to shut down almost two dozen factories in Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario. However, the company was prepared. Teams of employees quickly switched the most important operations to batteries and generators to preserve data and maintain customer service. Others worked to repair damage. Ford was prepared for such a contingency, but many companies are not. A survey by Robert Half Management Resources found that more than one-third of companies lacked a plan for continuing operations following a storm, fire, blackout, terrorist strike, or other catastrophe.
         Contingency planning is not always formal. It would be too time-consuming to create a written contingency plan for every detail of operations. Instead, the supervisor simply has to keep in mind how to respond if some details of the operation do not go as planned.

Management by Objectives
Many organizations use a formal system for planning known as Management by Objectives (MBO), a process in which managers and employees at all levels set objectives for what they are to accomplish. Their performance then is measured against those objectives. Basically, MBO involves three steps:

1. All individuals in the organization work with their managers to set objectives, specifying what they are to do in the next operating period (such as a year).
2. Each individual’s manager periodically reviews the individual’s performance to see whether he or she is meeting the objectives. Typically, these reviews take place two to four times a year. The reviews help the individual and the manager decide what corrective actions are needed, and they provide information for setting future objectives.
3. The organization rewards individuals on the basis of how close they come to fulfilling the objectives.

      Figure 6.4 shows examples of objectives for employees at several levels of an organization using MBO. Notice that the sample objective for the nonmanagement employee supports the achievement of the supervisor’s objective, which in turn supports the achievement of his or her manager’s objective, and so on up the hierarchy. (In practice, of course, each person in the organization would have several objectives to meet.)
           For the effective use of MBO, managers at all levels (especially top management) must be committed to the system. Also, the objectives they set must meet the criteria for effective objectives. For example, a salesperson would not be expected merely to “sell more” but to help develop specific objectives, such as “make 40 sales calls a month” and “sell 50 copiers by December 31.” Finally, managers and employees must be able to cooperate in the objectivesetting process.
        Some people dislike MBO because setting and monitoring the achievement of objectives can be time-consuming and requires a lot of paperwork. However, the organization can benefit from involving employees in setting goals, which may lead to greater commitment in achieving them. Also, the employees can benefit from a system of rewards that is rational and based on performance rather than personality. In light of these advantages, a supervisor may want to use the MBO principles with the employees in his or her own department even if the organization as a whole has not adopted a formal MBO system.



When banks set objectives, they want to achieve profits, but what makes a bank profitable? A lot of banks consider objectives for increasing the number of customers or the number of accounts. But according to Rich Weissman, chief executive of Database Marketing Agency, this focus on volume has important drawbacks.
   Through his experience helping banks build profitability, Weissman has found that a small subset of a bank’s customers bring in most of the profits. If these customers leave or even take just part of their business elsewhere, the bank’s profits can all but disappear.
      Sometimes banks counter that risk by setting volume objectives related to cross-selling, that is, selling more products to existing customers. But Weissman says this objective too can be unprofitable.
     Weissman advises banks to look at what he calls “share of wallet” and “profit dynamics.” His company helps banks break down their Customer Data to identify which customers are most profitable in terms of their total relationship with the bank. Then they look at dynamics: what branches and employees are doing to cultivate these successful relationships. Finally, the bank sets objectives related to doing more of what builds profitable relationships.

Table 6.1

Figure 6.1

FIGURE 6.2 Dress Code Policy for a Wisconsin Bank

Professional attire, neatness, cleanliness, and good personal health habits are important to the impression we make on our customers. Clothing should fit appropriately (i.e., not snugly). Hair, makeup, and jewelry styles should be suitable for business and not excessive or distracting.

Supervisors are responsible for the professional appearance and image of their areas.

For All Employees

• Visual body piercing other than the norm (i.e., the ears) is not allowed unless the jewelry is removed while at work.
• Tattoos must be covered at all times.
• Low-rise pants are not acceptable.

For Women

• Dresses, skirts, and coordinated pant outfits are acceptable.
• Shorts, golf skirts, miniskirts, sundresses, backless dresses, and dresses with low necklines are not allowed.
• Tube tops, halter tops, tank tops, and T-shirts are not allowed.
• Businesslike shoes are to be worn to work.

For Men

• Employees with public contact or supervisory or professional responsibilities are expected to wear a suit or sport coat, slacks, and tie. Apparel for employees in nonpublic areas should be clean, neat, and moderate in style.
• Jeans, sweatshirts, tank shirts, T-shirts, sandals, tennis shoes, and similar items of casual wear do not present a businesslike appearance.
• Hair length should not extend beyond the shirt collar.

Figure 6.3

Figure 6.4




In most organizations, supervisors are responsible for the creation of plans that specify goals, tasks, resources, and responsibilities for the supervisor’s own department. Thus, at the supervisor’s level, objectives can range from the tasks he or she intends to accomplish on a certain day to the level of production the department is to achieve for the year. To be an effective planner, the supervisor should be familiar with how to set good objectives in these and other areas. The “Supervisory Skills” box describes the planning responsibilities of supervisors in the construction industry. The general guidelines apply to similar challenges met by supervisors in many different settings.
     Although supervisors might resist doing the necessary paperwork, thoughtful planning is worth the investment of time and effort. In carrying out their planning responsibilities, supervisors may engage in a variety of activities, from providing information to allocating resources, involving employees, coaching a team’s planning effort, and updating objectives.

Providing Information and Estimates
As the manager closest to day-to-day operations, the supervisor is in the best position to keep higher-level managers informed about the needs, abilities, and progress of his or her department or work group. For that reason, higher management relies on supervisors to provide estimates of the personnel and other resources they will need to accomplish their work.

Allocating Resources
The department for which the supervisor is responsible has a limited number of resources—people, equipment, and money. The supervisor’s job includes deciding how to allocate resources to the jobs that will need to be done.
     The process of allocating human resources includes determining how many and what kind of employees the department will need to meet its objectives. If the department’s workload is expanding, the supervisor may need to plan to hire new employees. He or she also must plan for employee vacations and other time off, as well as for employee turnover.

      The process of allocating equipment resources includes determining how much equipment is needed to get the job done. For example, does every bookkeeper need a personal computer, or will calculators be enough? The supervisor may find that the department needs to acquire more equipment. In that case, the supervisor must justify the request to buy or rent it by showing how it will benefit the organization.

Developing a Budget
The process of allocating money resources is called budgeting.A budget is a plan for spending money. Many households use budgets to decide how much of each paycheck should go for housing, car payments, food, savings, and so on. Businesses use budgets to break down how much to spend on items such as wages and salaries, rent, supplies, insurance, and so on. These items would be part of an operating budget; big-ticket items such as machinery or a new building would more likely be accounted for separately as part of a capital budget.
        Some organizations expect their supervisors to prepare a budget showing what they think they will need to spend in the next year to meet departmental goals or carry out a specific project. Table 6.2 illustrates a sample budget for a machine shop project. The line items show different categories of expenses. The first column of figures contains the amounts budgeted for expenses in each category. The right-hand columns have the actual amounts spent each month in each category. The supervisor uses the actual amounts in controlling.
       In preparing a budget, the supervisor typically has rules and guidelines to follow. For example, one company may say that pay increases for the department as a whole must be no more than 5 percent of the previous year’s budget for salaries. Another organization may specify a total amount that the department may spend, or it may give the supervisor a formula for computing the department’s overhead expenses. On the basis of these guidelines, the supervisor then recommends how much to spend in each area. In most cases, the supervisor and his or her manager review the budget. The supervisor must be willing to modify it when higher-level managers require a change.

The supervisor continually needs to think about how much work the department needs to accomplish in a given time period and how it can meet its deadlines. Setting a precise timetable for the work to be done is known as scheduling. This process includes deciding which activities will take priority over others and deciding who will do what tasks and when.
        Many organizations expect supervisors to use one or more of the techniques and tools that have been developed to help with scheduling. Two of the most widely used techniques are Gantt charts and PERT networks. A Gantt chart is a scheduling tool that lists the activities to be completed and uses horizontal bars to graph how long each activity will take, including its starting and ending dates. The sample Gantt chart in Figure 6.5 was created with software called QuickGantt which automatically fills in the chart using activity and schedule information entered on a spreadsheet.
    The program evaluation and review technique (PERT) is a scheduling tool that identifies the relationships among tasks and the amount of time each task will take. To use this tool, the planner creates a PERT network. For example, in Figure 6.6, the circles represent the events that must occur to produce a film. The arrows between the circles represent the sequence of activities. The letter on each arrow refers to the activity that results in the corresponding event. Many PERT charts also include information about how long each task is expected to take. An important piece of information in a PERT network is the critical path—the sequence of tasks that will require the greatest amount of time. A delay in the critical path will cause the entire project to fall behind.
     In addition to these tools, supervisors may use a computer to help with scheduling. Many project management software packages have been developed for this application.

Involving Employees
To make sure that employees understand objectives and consider them achievable, supervisors may involve them in the goal-setting process. Employees who are involved in the process tend to feel more committed to the objectives, and they may be able to introduce ideas that the supervisor has not considered. In many cases, employees who help set objectives agree to take on greater challenges than the supervisor might have guessed.0
      One way to get employees involved in setting objectives is to have them write down what they think they can accomplish in the coming year (or month or appropriate time period). Then the supervisor discusses the ideas with each employee, modifying the objectives to meet the department’s overall needs. Another approach is to hold a meeting of the entire work group at which the employees and supervisor develop objectives as a group. 
        One organization where employees participate in setting objectives is the government of Yolo County, California. Department heads and other managers attend an annual retreat to establish an overall agenda for the coming year. Then supervisors meet with their employees to discuss the year’s goals and ways the work unit can contribute to meeting the goals. When these group objectives are established and approved, employees contribute to the establishment of individual goals for particular tasks and projects. Although this goalsetting process is time-consuming, it helps keep employees more interested in and committed to their job requirements.

Planning with a Team
In many applications of teamwork, teams, not individual managers, are charged with planning. In these cases, supervisors are expected not only to seek employee involvement in planning but also to coach their team in carrying out the planning function. This requires knowing and communicating a clear sense of what the plan should encompass and encouraging team members to cooperate and share ideas freely.
            When teams draw on the many viewpoints and diverse experience of team members, they can come up with creative plans that dramatically exceed past performance. American Airlines recently turned to a team approach when it decided it could make its maintenance centers so efficient that the company could profitably sell maintenance services to other airlines. American formed teams of union and management employees to figure out how to raise the productivity of each maintenance center. At the center in Tulsa, one solution was to overhaul the basic approach to heavy maintenance. Under the traditional arrangement, an airplane would be parked in the hangar, and hundreds of workers would swarm over it, removing and replacing parts. The teams figured out it would be more efficient to set up three work areas and move each plane from one stage to the next. With suggestions from workers at all levels, the company redesigned the entire workplace, repositioning supervisors and rearranging parts and equipment to place them nearer to where they would be needed. With these and other changes, American expects the Tulsa facility to meet its overall goal: to reduce costs and increase revenue for a total gain of $500 million.

Updating Objectives
Once the supervisor has set objectives, he or she should monitor performance and compare it with the objectives. Sometimes the supervisor determines that objectives need to be modified.
       When should supervisors update the objectives for their department or work group? They will need to do so whenever top management updates organizational objectives. Also, organizations with a regular procedure for planning will specify when supervisors must review and update their objectives.



James Adrian, a consultant to companies in the construction industry, believes that the performance of the onsite supervisor is the most important ingredient in a construction company’s profits. The supervisor’s planning and decision making should help the company cope with the challenges of weather, suppliers, and labor unions. Careful planning guides the onsite supervisor as he or she makes up to 80 decisions a day related to project time, cost, quality, and safety.
         To fulfill these demands, supervisors need to understand the importance of each project they are planning. Adrian recommends listing each of the day’s construction tasks in a worksheet. Next to each task, indicate the cost per unit for completing it. Then rate each task in three areas: (1) whether completing the task on time is critical to meeting the overall schedule; (2) whether productivity risk—the chance that quality or efficiency will suffer if the supervisor is not involved—is high, low, or somewhere in between; and (3) whether the task is new or unfamiliar to the employees who will perform it. Finally, taking into account the costs and ratings, the supervisor ranks the tasks according to how much direct supervision will be needed. The supervisor should give the highest priority to tasks that have high costs, are critical to meeting the schedule, have high productivity risk, and are new or unfamiliar. High priority means the supervisor makes a point of observing the task and being available to help resolve problems.
       Adrian has observed many workplace situations in which his planning worksheet could have improved the supervisor’s skills. For example, in the construction of a concrete foundation wall, the tasks include building forms, placing rebar, and pouring concrete from the truck into the wall. Typically, the supervisor observes the pouring of concrete. However, schedule and cost problems more often occur during the stage of building the forms. In this case, the productivity risk is greater for building forms, suggesting that this stage requires more attention from the supervisor.
     Similarly, Adrian has discovered that many construction supervisors are unfamiliar with costs of materials and equipment. He demonstrated the significance of this problem to a group of students in a course on productivity. He took the group to a construction site to observe the work and note productivity problems. Everyone criticized the fact that a group of workers (who were paid more than $40 an hour) were taking a 15-minute break. But no one commented on a piece of equipment that stood idle for four hours. The students didn’t think about it because none of them realized the rental cost of that equipment was more than $120 per hour.

    Most supervisors are familiar with planning that addresses spending and scheduling. In addition, busy supervisors would do well to try adapting Adrian’s practical view of planning how to allocate time.

Table 6.2

Figure 6.5

figure 6.6


Controlling is the management function of making sure that work goes according to plan. Supervisors carry out this process in many ways. Consider the following fictional examples:

Bud Cavanaugh told his crew, “I expect the work area to be clean when you leave each day. That means the floors are swept and all the tools are put away.”
Once or twice each day, Maria Lopez took time to check the documents produced by the word-processing operators she supervised. Maria would look over a few pages each employee had produced that day. If one of the employees seemed to be having trouble with some task—for example, deciphering handwriting or preparing neat tables—Maria would discuss the problem with that employee.
Sonja Friedman learned that citizens calling her housing department complained of spending an excessive amount of time on hold. She scheduled a meeting at which the employees discussed ways they could handle calls faster.

    As shown in these examples, supervisors need to know what is going on in the area they supervise. Do employees understand what they are supposed to do, and can they do it? Is all machinery and equipment (whether a computer-operated milling machine or a cell phone) operating properly? Is work getting out correctly and on time?
       To answer such questions, a supervisor could theoretically sit back and wait for disaster to strike. No disaster, no need for correction. More realistically, the supervisor has a responsibility to correct problems as soon as possible, which means that some way to detect problems quickly must be found. Detection of problems is at the heart of the control function.
       By controlling, the supervisor can take steps to ensure quality and manage costs. Visiting the work area and checking up on performance, as Maria Lopez did, allows the supervisor to make sure that employees are producing satisfactory work. By setting standards for a clean workplace, Bud Cavanaugh reduced costs related to spending time looking for tools or to slipping on a messy floor. Sonja Friedman engaged her employees to improve work processes. In many such ways, supervisors can benefit the organization through the process of control.

The Process of Controlling
Although the specific ways in which supervisors control vary according to the type of organization and the employees being supervised, the basic process involves three steps. First, the supervisor establishes performance standards, which are measures of what is expected. Then the supervisor monitors actual performance and compares it with the standards. Finally, the supervisor responds, either by reinforcing success or by making some adjustment to bring performance and the standards into line. Figure 6.7 illustrates this process. If the control system is working properly, the supervisor should be uncovering problems before customers and management discover them. This gives the supervisor the best opportunity to fix a problem in time to minimize damage.

Establish Performance Standards
Performance standards are a natural outgrowth of the planning process. Once the supervisor knows the objectives employees are to achieve, he or she can determine what employees must do to meet those objectives. Assume that the objective of an eight-person telephone sales (telemarketing) office is to make 320 calls an evening, resulting in 64 sales. To achieve this objective, each salesperson should average 10 calls an hour, with 2 in 10 calls resulting in a sale. Those numbers could be two of the office’s performance standards.
          Standards define the acceptable quantity and quality of work. (The measure of quantity in the example is the number of telephone calls made; the number of sales measures the quality of selling, i.e., turning a telephone call into a sale.) Other standards can spell out expectations for level of service, amount of money spent, amount of inventory on hand, level of pollution in the workplace, and other concerns. Ultimately, all these standards measure how well the department contributes to meeting the organization’s objectives to serve its customers and—for a business—earn a profit.
         The way supervisors set standards depends on their experience, their employer’s expectations, and the nature of the work being monitored. Often, supervisors use their technical expertise to estimate reasonable standards. Past performance also is a useful guide for what can be expected. However, the supervisor must avoid being a slave to the past. In creating a budget, some supervisors assume that because they have spent a given sum in a given category in the past, that expense will be appropriate in the future. Sometimes there are better alternatives. Supervisors may have additional sources of information in setting performance standards. Equipment manufacturers and systems designers can provide information about how fast a machine or computer system will perform. Some companies arrange for time-and-motion studies to analyze how quickly and efficiently employees can reasonably work.
        To be effective, performance standards should meet the criteria of effective objectives; that is, they should be written, measurable, clear, specific, and challenging but achievable. Standards also should measure dimensions of the goods or services that customers care about and that support the company’s strategy. A bank once based some marketing-related performance standards on the types of products it expected to be most profitable. The bank had determined that home equity lines of credit brought in a high return, so it had branches promote this product. However, a big share of the consumers who applied for the lines of credit lived in southern Florida. Most of them were retired people who didn’t really want the cash they could borrow against their home equity. Rather, they wanted the product as a kind of “insurance” that they could get cash if they ever needed it. The bank was going to the expense of approving the credit and setting up the accounts, but it wasn’t earning much from consumers actually borrowing against their line of credit. An employee or branch that met objectives for opening the lines of credit contributed less than expected to the bank’s profit. 
          Not only should the supervisor have standards in mind, but the employees should also be aware of and understand those standards. In communicating performance standards, the supervisor should put them in writing so that employees can remember and refer to them as necessary. 
         The supervisor should also be sure that the employees understand the rationale for the standards. It is human nature to resist when someone lays down restrictive rules, but the rules seem less a burden when they serve a purpose we can understand. Thus, if a law office’s word-processing department has a standard to produce error-free documents, the department’s supervisor can explain that it is part of the firm’s plan to build a prestigious clientele by delivering an excellent product. With such an explanation, the word processors are less likely to feel overwhelmed by the stringent quality standard and more likely to feel proud that they are part of an excellent law firm.

Monitor Performance and Compare with Standards
Once performance standards are in place, the supervisor can begin the core of the control process: monitoring performance. In the example of the telephone sales force, the supervisor would want to keep track of how many calls each salesperson made and how many of those calls resulted in sales.
        One way to monitor performance is simply to record information on paper or enter it into a computer, a task that can be done by the supervisor, the employees, or both. The telephone salespeople in the example might provide the supervisor with information to enter into a log such as the one shown in Table 6.3. Some types of machinery and equipment have electronic or mechanical counting systems that provide an unbiased way to measure performance. For instance, the electronic scanners at store checkout stations can track how fast cashiers are ringing up merchandise.
         A growing number of firms use forms of electronic monitoring to keep tabs on employees’ performance. Some use software that tracks employees’ use of the Internet. Others record the phone calls of customer service representatives. Electronic monitoring can be important for supervising employees who “telecommute,” working from home or other locations away from the supervisor. Supervisors often worry about how to control the work of someone they cannot watch, so they may welcome the detailed information about employees’ activities. However, it is also important to consider other ways of supervising remote workers. Supervisors need to focus on results more than activities, asking “What did you accomplish today?” rather than “What did you do today?” Supervisors of telecommuters also need superior listening skills so they can become aware of employees’ concerns and problems expressed over the telephone, between the lines in e-mail, or even indirectly in the quality and type of work delivered. 
      Of course, the monitoring must be efficient and accurate. In addition to using electronic monitoring, supervisors can get accurate information by observing workers directly. The supervisor’s physical presence signals that the supervisor is interested in employees and what they are doing, and it makes the supervisor available to answer questions and help solve problems. An active supervisor not only checks on workers and ensures that they are meeting goals but also takes on many other roles, including teacher, safety officer, and advocate for employees.
       From a quality perspective, monitoring performance should include assessing whether customers are satisfied. In the case of groups that provide services to other employees in the organization, supervisors should ask those “internal customers” whether they are getting what they need when they need it. At Bristol- Myers Squibb Company, regular surveys ask whether employees are satisfied with in-house services such as housekeeping, grounds crews, and employee dining. The giant pharmaceutical company recently set up a team to improve the surveys so that they would use measures that are “actionable,” meaning the department providing the services can use the results to identify types of changes that are needed. For example, the survey about dining facilities used to ask for an overall rating, but an overall rating of “fair” or “excellent” doesn’t suggest areas for improvement. The new surveys ask questions such as “Are the menu choices currently being offered meeting your dietary needs?” 
      When monitoring performance, the supervisor should focus on how actual performance compares with the standards he or she has set. Are employees meeting standards, exceeding them, or falling short? Two concepts useful for maintaining this focus are variance and the exception principle.
        In a control system, variance refers to the size of the difference between actual performance and the standard to be met. When setting standards, the supervisor should decide how much variance is meaningful for control purposes. It can be helpful to think in terms of percentages. For example, if a hospital’s performance standard is to register outpatients for lab tests in 10 minutes or fewer, the supervisor might decide to allow for a variance of 50 percent (5 minutes). (In a manufacturing setting, a variance of 5 to 10 percent might be more appropriate for most standards.) Some organizations strive for a standard of accepting zero defects.
         According to the exception principle, the supervisor should take action only when the variance is meaningful. Thus, when monitoring performance, the supervisor would need to take action only if outpatients spent more than 15 or fewer than 5 minutes registering for lab tests.
         The exception principle is beneficial when it helps the supervisor manage his or her time wisely and motivate employees. Asupervisor who did not tolerate reasonable variances might try to solve the “problem” every time an employee made one component too few or went over the budget for office supplies by the cost of a box of paper clips. In such a case, employees might become frustrated by the control system, and morale would deteriorate. At the same time, the supervisor would be too busy with trifles to focus on more significant issues.

Reinforce Successes and Fix Problems
The information gained from the control process is beneficial only if the supervisor uses it as the basis for reinforcing or changing behavior. If performance is satisfactory or better, the supervisor needs to encourage it. If performance is unacceptable, the supervisor needs to make changes that either improve performance or adjust the standard. The right-hand column in Table 6.3 lists some ways the telemarketing supervisor plans to respond to performance data.
         When employees are doing excellent work, customers are happy, and costs are within budget, the supervisor needs to reinforce these successes. Reinforcement means encouraging the behavior by associating it with a reward. In general, there are two types of reinforcement. positive reinforcement involves the presentation of something pleasant after a desired behavior has occurred. An example of positive reinforcement in the workplace is verbal praise for a job well done. Praise from the supervisor for performance that meets standards not only gives the employee a good feeling but also clarifies what is expected. For exceptionally high performance, the supervisor also may reward the employee with a monetary bonus. The supervisor’s actions will depend on company and union rules regarding superior performance.
         The second type of reinforcement, negative reinforcement, involves the removal of something unpleasant after a desired behavior has occurred. For example, a supervisor might coach customer service employees on how to calm customers who are upset. As employees see that applying the supervisor’s ideas puts an end to unpleasant customer behaviors such as shouting and complaining, the employees will feel reinforced to use those techniques more often.
       When performance significantly falls short of standards, the supervisor should investigate. Below-standard performance is the sign of a problem—some factor in the organization that is a barrier to improvement. The supervisor’s task is to identify the underlying problem. For example, if the supervisor in the telephone sales company learns that the group is not meeting its sales objectives, the supervisor could find out who is falling short of the sales goals: everyone or only one or two employees. If everyone is performing below standard, the problem may be that the sales force needs better training or motivation. Or the problem may lie outside the supervisor’s direct control; the product may be defective or customers may lack interest for some other reason, such as poor economic conditions. If only one employee is failing to make sales, the supervisor needs to search for the problem underlying that employee’s poor performance. Does the employee understand how to close a sale? Does the employee have personal problems that affect performance?
         Poor performance itself is rarely a problem, but a symptom—an indication of an underlying problem. To use the information gained through controlling effectively, the supervisor needs to distinguish problems from symptoms. To see how this effort applies to one common situation, employee scheduling, see “Tips from the Firing Line.” In the example of the Bristol-Myers Squibb survey, the facilities department was surprised to learn that employees were dissatisfied with the menu variety offered in company cafeterias. The apparent problem was that menus had too few items. But before squeezing more offerings into the dining facilities, Ann McNally, the team leader responsible for the surveys, assembled a group of employees to talk about the problem. The employees in these groups described their busy days. When they headed for the café to grab lunch, they didn’t study all the menu choices but just grabbed whatever they usually bought. The team determined that the complaint about menu variety was really a symptom of a communication and time problem. Employees needed to be able to see their alternatives at a quick glance. The department worked with its supplier of dining services to display alternatives differently and post menus online for employees to check ahead of time at their convenience. Adding more choices to the menu would have increased the company’s costs without solving the real problem. 
      Sometimes a problem underlying significant variance is that the standard is too low or too high. For example, if no employees on the telephone sales force are achieving the desired number of sales, the standards may be too high, given current economic or market conditions. In other cases, what the manager learns about performance may indicate that a standard is not measuring the right thing.
      Fixing the problem may entail adjusting a process, the behavior of an individual employee, or the standard itself (see Figure 6.8). For process and behavioral problems, supervisors can choose from among a number of possible actions:

• Develop new rewards for good performance.
• Train employees. • Improve communications with employees.
• Counsel and/or discipline poor performers.
• Ask employees what barriers are interfering with their performance, then remove those barriers. (Common barriers include insufficient supplies or information, poorly maintained equipment, and inefficient work procedures.)

The best response to problems related to standards is to make the performance standard more appropriate. The supervisor may need to make the standard less stringent or more challenging.
        Whatever actions the supervisor selects, it is important to give employees feedback soon after observing a deviation from the standard. This enables the employees to make changes before performance deteriorates further. A problem that has been allowed to continue is often harder to correct. For example, an employee may get into the habit of doing a task the wrong way or fall so far behind that it is impossible to catch up. Modifying standards brings the control process full circle. With new standards in place, the supervisor is again ready to monitor performance.

Types of Control
From the description of the control process, it might sound as though controlling begins when employees’ work is complete: The employees finish their jobs, then the supervisor checks whether a job was done well. However, this is only one type of controlling. There are three types of control in terms of when it occurs: feedback control, concurrent control, and precontrol.
         Feedback control is the type just described, that is, control that focuses on past performance. A supervisor reviewing customer comments about service is practicing feedback control. The customers provide information about the quality of service; the supervisor reacts by reinforcing or trying to change employee behavior.
           The word concurrent describes things that are happening at the same time. Thus, concurrent control refers to controlling work while that work is being done. A restaurant manager who greets customers at their tables and visits the kitchen to see how work is progressing is practicing concurrent control. This supervisor is Gathering Information about what is going smoothly and what problems may be developing. The supervisor can act on any problems before customers or employees become upset. Another technique for concurrent control is Statistical Process Control.
          Precontrol refers to efforts aimed at preventing behavior that may lead to undesirable results. Such efforts may include setting rules, policies, and procedures. A production supervisor might provide employees with guidelines about the detection of improperly functioning machinery. The employees can then request repairs before they waste time and materials on the machinery. Precontrol is one of the functions of the management philosophy known as Total Quality Management.

Tools for Control
When considering how to monitor performance, the supervisor can start with some basic tools used by most managers. Budgets and reports are common in most organizations. In addition, supervisors can benefit from personally observing the work.

Creating a budget—a plan for spending money—is part of the planning process. In controlling, a budget is useful as a kind of performance standard. The supervisor compares actual expenses with the amounts in the budget.
      Table 6.4 is a sample budget report based on the example in Table 6.2. The first column shows each category of expenses for the machine shop project, which was scheduled to last for six months, from January through June. Thus, the six-month budget represents the total the supervisor expected to spend in each category for the project. This report was prepared on March 31 (halfway through the project), so the next column shows what would be budgeted for half of the project. The adjacent column shows the amounts that actually were spent during the first three months. In the right-hand column appears the variance between the actual and budgeted amounts. In this case, the machine shop has a negative total variance because the project is $679 over budget for the first three months.
         When using such a budget report for controlling purposes, the supervisor focuses on the variance column, looking for meaningful variances. In Table 6.4, the supervisor would note that the total unfavorable variance is due entirely to a large expense for equipment repair. The machine shop is otherwise under budget or exactly meeting the budget standards. Following the exception principle, the supervisor takes action when meaningful variance occurs. Typically, this involves looking for ways to cut costs when the department goes over budget. The supervisor in the example will want to focus on avoiding further equipment breakdowns. Sometimes the supervisor can change the budget when a variance indicates that the budgeted figures were unrealistic.

Performance Reports
A well-structured report can be an important source of information. A performance report summarizes performance and compares it with performance standards. These reports can simply summarize facts, such as the number of calls made by sales representatives or the number of deliveries completed by delivery personnel, or they can be analytical; that is, they may interpret the facts.
         Most supervisors both prepare and request performance reports. Typically, the organization requires that the supervisor do a particular type of reporting of the department’s performance. The supervisor’s role is to prepare this report. Supervisors also may request that employees prepare reports for them. In that case, the supervisor can influence the type of reporting.
        Consider the reporting needs for a customer service call center. The center’s supervisor needs to provide management with regular reports that show the volume of work and the speed and effectiveness with which employees handle the calls. In most organizations, management will want to know the size of the workload, the costs and revenues (if employees take orders), and customer satisfaction, among other measures. The supervisor would identify the specific measurements available, given the company’s measurement technology, and decide how to include them in the report. For example, the report might plot weekly or monthly call volume on a line graph, and it might compare actual and forecasted volume. Comparing actual performance with goals and forecasts is important for identifying problem areas. Whenever actual performance varies significantly from standards, the report should provide an explanation. If the service level fell and the average time to answer a call rose during a month, the explanation might be a power outage that led to higher call volumes. Such explanations help with planning and problem solving. Useful reports clarify rather than conceal problems. Hiding performance problems can make it difficult for supervisors to convince managers that the group needs more resources or training. 
         As much as possible, supervisors should see that reports are simple and to the point. A table or log may be more useful than an essay-style report. Graphs can sometimes uncover a trend better than numbers in columns. Figure 6.9 shows how the data from Table 6.3 can be converted into a graph. In this case, variances were first computed for the difference between each employee’s performance and the performance standards. Notice how easy it is to tell from the graph the wide variation in the number of calls made by each employee. Does this mean some employees are working harder than others? Maybe, but remember the process of searching for a problem. It is also possible that some employees are better at keeping calls short and to the point.
          Perhaps even more important is the supervisor’s role in creating a climate that fosters full and accurate reporting. Supervisors can shape a favorable climate by actively seeking ideas from employees and being willing to listen to reports that something may be wrong.
         The supervisor also should determine whether every report he or she is receiving is still useful. Many reports continue to be generated long after they have lost their usefulness. In deciding whether to continue using a report, the supervisor can consider whether it has the characteristics of effective controls.

Personal Observation
A supervisor who spends the entire day behind a desk reading budgets and reports is out of touch. An important part of controlling involves spending time with employees and observing what is going on. Management consultant Tom Peters has popularized this approach, which he calls “management by walking around.” While engaged in this approach, the supervisor can listen to employees, help them discover better ways of doing their jobs, and make the changes necessary to help employees carry them out. For example, a nursing supervisor might observe that the nurses frequently spend time debating which demands to respond to first. The supervisor could discuss this with the nurses and help them develop criteria for setting priorities.
        Personal observation can help the supervisor understand the activities behind the numbers in reports. However, the supervisor must be careful in interpreting what he or she sees. Often the presence of a supervisor causes workers to alter their behavior. Also, the supervisor must visit work areas often enough to be sure of witnessing routine situations, not just an unusual crisis or break in the action. At the same time, the supervisor must not spend so much time among employees that they feel the visits interfere with their work. How much time is the right amount to spend in management by walking around? The supervisor probably will have to rely on trial and error, weighing employee reactions and the amount of information obtained.
         The inability to control through personal observation is a challenge of supervising employees who work at home. This issue is growing in importance as communications technology makes telecommuting possible for people with disabilities, working parents, and others who simply prefer not to dress up. How can a supervisor make sure employees are not devoting their time to raiding the refrigerator and catching up on the latest soap operas? Freelance service provider addresses these concerns with the contractors in its network by using technology to keep tabs on workers. For example, monitoring systems can do random checks of what is on the telecommuting employee’s computer screen, count how many keystrokes a worker has typed during a given period, and even take photos of the worker at the computer. However, employers are more often uncomfortable with that level of monitoring and prefer to rely on careful selection of telecommuters who work well independently. Tangela Hamilton, a supervisor for Working Solutions, considers her employees to be highly motivated and is mainly concerned about keeping the lines of communication open through e-mail, instant messaging, and voice mail so that she can resolve difficulties as soon as they arise.



When employees who are paid on an hourly basis work overtime, they cost the company extra, because they typically earn one and a half or two times their hourly wage. Occasionally working overtime to finish up an emergency or rush project may be an important way to keep customers happy. But if workers are frequently putting in overtime hours, the extra expense is a symptom of an underlying problem, and the supervisor should investigate. The supervisor should look for a pattern in the overtime hours. Are employees regularly working longer during certain peak periods? If so, it may be possible to schedule more employees for these times of heavy work or to get more done during slow times so that employees don’t have to work longer when the demand picks up. Perhaps break times can be staggered so that work keeps flowing throughout the day. Another possibility is that certain employees are the ones who consistently need to work overtime to complete their job responsibilities. In that case, the problem may be that assignments are not being divided appropriately among the employees so that each has an amount of work that can be accomplished during the workday or workweek. Another possibility is that certain employees need coaching, training, or better access to resources so that they can work efficiently. Defining this problem may require one-on-one meetings with employees, as well as careful observation of how they handle their jobs. Employees themselves may be able to suggest what needs to change.

Figure 6.7

Table 6.3

Figure 6.8

Table 6.4

Figure 6.9


No supervisor can keep track of every detail of every employee’s work. An effective control system is one that helps the supervisor direct his or her efforts toward spotting significant problems. Normally, a supervisor has to use whatever control system higher-level managers have established. However, when making recommendations about controls or setting up controls to use within the department, the supervisor can strive for the following characteristics of effective controls.

The controls should be timely, enabling the supervisor to correct problems quickly enough to improve results. For example, an annual budget report does not let the supervisor adjust spending in time to meet the budget’s goals. In contrast, monthly budget reports give the supervisor time to identify spending patterns that will pose a problem. If the supervisor’s annual budget includes $500 to spend on overnight couriers but the department has already spent $200 by the end of February, the supervisor knows that work must be planned far enough ahead that materials can be sent by other, less expensive means.

Cost Effectiveness
The controls should be economical. In general, this means that the cost of using the controls should be less than the benefit derived from using them. In a supermarket, for example, an elaborate system designed to ensure that not a single item of inventory gets lost or stolen may not save the store enough money to justify the cost of the system.

The controls should be acceptable to supervisors and employees. Supervisors want controls that give them enough information about performance that they can understand what is going on in the workplace. Employees want controls that do not unduly infringe on their privacy. One area of controversy has been electronic monitoring of employee performance. For example, computers can track how many telephone calls operators handle and how much time they spend on each call. Electronic monitoring gives the supervisor a lot of information, including how much time operators spend going to the bathroom. Does this scrutiny enhance performance by encouraging employees to work hard, or does it merely lower morale and remove the incentive to take time to greet customers in a friendly way? The answer lies partly in the way supervisors use this information.
        Employees also appreciate controls that focus on areas over which they themselves have some control. For example, a control that measures the number of units produced by an employee would be acceptable only if the employee always has the parts needed to produce those units. An employee whose performance looks poor because of an inventory shortage would feel frustrated by the control.

Finally, the controls should be flexible. This means the supervisor should be able to ignore variance if doing so is in the best interests of the organization. For example, in comparing expenditures to a budget, a supervisor should be aware of occasions when spending a little more than was budgeted actually will benefit the company. That might be the case when employees have to put in overtime to fill an order for an important customer. In the future, better planning might make it possible to avoid the overtime, but the immediate goal is to satisfy the customer.
        One reason flexibility is important is that performance measures might be incompatible. For instance, employees may find it impossible to cut costs and improve quality at the same time. In that case, the supervisor may have to set priorities or adjust the control measures. Such actions are a type of planning, an example of how controlling and planning work together to help the organization reach its goals.