I’m a newly-promoted line supervisor at a Japanese factory in Laguna. My problem is the lack of guidance from our human resources department on how I should be giving clear instructions to my workers. I’m at a loss as our department head keeps on telling me that I should go to HR for guidance. I suspect there’s a professional conflict, if not personality issues between the HR head and my boss. What should I do? (Itals end) — Fork in the Road.
When wild elephants fight, the grass always loses. But it should not always be the case in your situation. In the first place, forget about your suspicions about the “professional conflict” between the two department heads. Regardless, that should not be your main concern. If at all possible, make the “conflict” irrelevant by doing your best to discover the answer to your questions.
Rather than dwelling on the alleged “conflict,” try to find out what’s best with the help of other supervisors and with prior approval by your department manager. Before doing that, explain to your boss that you are having difficulties in getting cooperation from the HR department. There’s no need for you to put gasoline into the fire.
If you have been in that company for long, you may have already understood how office politics can ruin relationships. You don’t have to be a party to that. Therefore, I am suggesting the following steps which are fairly basic, simple and practical. They include:
One, ask your boss on the specific document he wants from HR. This could be your formal appointment paper which includes your job description, performance appraisal form, and job grade level. These are part of HR’s responsibility. You may also want to have a copy of your workers’ job description, job grade level, and skills level. It’s also important to know the personal details of people reporting to you by reading their 201 files. This should help you understand their strengths and weaknesses.
Two, understand the work expectations of your department boss. Get a copy of job standards, resources to be used, and timelines, among other metrics. Compared to HR’s responsibility as stated earlier, your boss has the responsibility to explain to you the requirements of the job. Take the time to discuss with the boss on how a specific task is to be performed by each worker. Sometimes, this may pose a problem when the boss is busy attending to his daily assignments, particularly when there are urgent matters to be dealt with.
Three, ask many questions, including those you failed to ask before. Try to understand the reason or reasons why a certain task is to be done. Explore the answers to the following: Can I make adjustments without affecting product quality or labor productivity? What are my limitations in making a decision without your approval? In case of your absence, how do we deal with such situation?
Last, understand the personality of every worker reporting to you. This is a bit tricky. Even if you think everything is clear, still you can expect your subordinates to miss out on certain things either voluntarily or involuntarily. Expect that one or two of your former co-workers may not like the idea of you being promoted ahead of them. They can even sabotage your work as a supervisor. Therefore, it is advisable for you to modify your personal style depending on the category of worker assigned to you. They may include slow learners, all-knowing superstars, perpetual alibi makers and troublemakers.
No matter how careful you are in giving clear directions on the tasks to be performed, you can never be sure unless you are in close coordination with your workers and your boss. All things can go wrong. This may include people who will be hesitant to bring out the issue into the open.
And so the only assurance that you can expect from people to follow the job standards is to be available all the time and to do periodic monitoring and checking. Try to achieve the right balance. You don’t have to do close guarding or neglect them completely on the pretext of giving them freedom.
Whatever happens, be careful about avoiding problems or making personal attacks. If you do that, chances are, it will only serve as a reason for them to reduce their willingness to cooperate.
ELBONOMICS: A clear instruction helps a lot, but encouragement can do much more.