One of the most difficult jobs in the world today is that of a front-line supervisor. Front-line supervisors face considerable challenges each and every day—identifying and resolving critical business issues as well as tackling difficult human resource issues.
It seems to me that a front-line supervisor is a lot like the coach of an Olympic champion. During the last Olympic games, did you notice that in the face of incredible adversity, it was the well-trained person who somehow found a way to succeed? Did you notice that a person can set a goal and reach it as long as he has the right attitude and the proper training? Did you notice that champions aren’t always good at every event, but they always do their best.
The Olympics proved to me that first efforts aren’t always the most successful efforts— persistence is what pays off. It proved the importance of teamwork. It proved that even though one person might win the gold, all competitors can be considered winners if they commit themselves to the task. It proved that observers really enjoy encouraging people and watching them succeed. Finally, it proved that cheating doesn’t pay and the truth always comes out in the end. I guess what it really proved to me is that the Olympic games aren’t any different from the events that take place day after day in distribution centers all over the country.
Like Olympic champions, your employees need someone to train them, to observe them, and to encourage them. They need to have someone show them the connection between what they are doing right now and the impact it will have on their future. They need to understand that poor performance in one area isn’t necessarily a predictor of poor performance in other areas. They need to appreciate the feedback they get from first attempts at tasks and how they are likely to do better on subsequent attempts if they will simply learn from the feedback.
Your employees must be taught the importance of interdependence and collaboration. They need to know the consequences of cheating and how it will affect them, now and in the future. Your employees need to realize that they don’t need to have the top performance rating in the company to be considered a winner—instead, they should understand the importance of always giving their best effort and avoiding performance pitfalls at all cost. Ultimately they should be taught to keep their heads high and lean forward at the “finish line” to mark the completion of an honest day’s work.
As their coach, you must work tirelessly to help them improve their performance. You need to take care even when they lose their focus. You must help them through their most difficult maneuvers and be willing to roll up your sleeves and help them overcome every obstacle. Most of all, you must be willing to sit back and watch them receive their gold medal—perhaps a promotion.
In the end, you will receive practically no recognition for your painstaking efforts, and almost no one will connect your name with all of the good that was achieved. Your greatest reward will be the wonderful feeling you’ll enjoy of having groomed a champion.
Michael Droske is director of training for Long Grove, IL-based consultancy Tom Zosel Associates.