Opinion: Becoming boss comes with unique challenges

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Editor’s note: This column is the first part of a two-part series on challenges facing new supervisors.

Being a new supervisor can be overwhelming. So much to do, so little time – at least that's a common perception – and so many small fires and occasional big blazes to put out. It can help to see challenges as more like opportunities, instead of always as obstacles.

My coaching conversations with new bosses often come after they have been doing their new work for six months to one year. We discuss the issues and events they have experienced that make their job both difficult and rewarding. It can be frustrating to have certain expectations and either not meet them or feel let down by people above or below you, who don't share your same energy or enthusiasm. It's often tough to navigate office politics, flawed policies, outdated systems, embedded bureaucracies and decision chokepoints.

This collection of six challenges (three for this column and three for the next) seem to be the ones most often voiced by new supervisors. They can and need to be turned into opportunities to do better, smarter work on behalf of your organization, your boss, other bosses, other departments, your staff and the external clients or customers you all serve.

Addressing repeated attendance problems
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, this is a consistent complaint from new supervisors: "Why can't my employees get to work on time, start on time, manage their breaks and lunches correctly and leave on time? I don't want to have to adjust work schedules because people come in late and try to make up the time."

Instead of allowing employees to come and go as they want, every member of your team must follow the same rules as every other department in the organization. Your HR department will not want to have to defend against a wage and hour civil suit that arises because a group of employees claims they weren't paid fairly and accurately. It can help to print out the company policy on attendance – for both hourly and salaried employees – and talk about it in detail at an all-hands staff meeting with your team.

The time to start enforcing this is now.

Managing your new boss
It may sound selfish, but in terms of career success and survival, you must put the needs of your boss first, balance the needs of your team second and then focus on the needs of each employee third.

Your boss should get the most attention because he or she has a different set of priorities, which will need to be met for the overall success of the department. He or she will have high expectations for the delegated projects you have been given. Your boss's success starts with your ability to understand what needs to be done, even when it's not always completely clear. You'll have to set a balance between too many clarification meetings and not enough, to get the directions you need.

It's not that you ignore the requests and concerns of your staff, but you need to keep your eye on your larger responsibilities.

Supervising former colleagues
This challenge often takes two forms: Your pal now works for you and expects an easier path since you're friends, or one of your colleagues, who is not a fan of yours, didn't get the promotion you got and may decide not to work very hard on your behalf.

Either situation can harm the pace and quality of work and must be addressed using one or more coaching meetings before things get out of hand. To your friend, you need to say, "I know we go back a bit and have a good relationship at work and outside of work. I want to be able to count on you to do your work and the things I ask you to do. We can still be friends even though I'm your boss, but I have to know I can depend on you."

To the former colleague who harbors a grudge, you can say, "I know you put in for this job and you may have some strong feelings that I got it. I've always respected your work ability and job knowledge. I want to be able to count on you to do your work and the things I ask you to do. I hope we can improve our relationship going forward." Different versions of the same speech, with the same goal.

Use a firm, fair and consistent supervisory style with both. Be sure to write accurate performance evaluations and coach each equally; you don't want to be accused of favoritism or punishment.

In my next column, I'll discuss the other three challenges on this list: staying compliant with HR policies and legal requirements; managing new and existing projects to meet quality needs and deadlines; and supporting a positive employee work culture.

Steve Albrecht is a Springfield-based human resources trainer, security consultant and employee coach. He can be reached at drsteve@drstevealbrecht.com.