Former employees give a lot of reasons for quitting. Unfortunately one thing nearly always stands out: a poor relationship with his or her immediate supervisor.

Frontline supervisors, often chosen for their productivity or longevity rather than management skills, lack the competency to manage today’s workforce, according to a recent report by the Denver (CO) Workforce Initiative. Moving from being one of the guys to being one of “them”, the bosses, is a monumental transition. It involves moving from actually doing the job to accomplishing goals through the work of others.

Many supervisors never quite make the connection, and this is costly to the reputation and bottom line of companies. There is more to being a supervisor than meeting deadlines and production goals. The move to supervisor shifts the individual into a more professional career path. It requires an entirely different set of skills. It requires getting along with employees – not only establishing a comfortable working relationship, but resolving their conflicts, helping them achieve their career goals, and guiding them through a variety of personal and job-related crises. This is the human side of supervision – by far the most challenging part of any job. For many individuals, this is intuitive. For others it requires additional training.

The 1990’s saw middle managers excised from companies and the mature, experienced manager accepting early retirement or jumping ship for more lucrative and challenging careers. Younger, less experienced managers were promoted prematurely many times out of necessity to fill a void due to rapid growth and high turnover.

But too often organizations did not have the time to provide formal development and now they may not have the budget. Availability, just a few months ago an acceptable criteria for promotion, was not and is not an acceptable supervisory competency and many supervisors on the job today are ill-equipped to manage effectively during such difficult times.

Before the war on terrorism, our country was engaged in the war for talent. Has management realized the impact that untrained and inexperienced supervisors and mangers had on their bottom line?

Hardly. Nearly 43 percent of organizations, according to the Training magazine annual report released in October 2001, conduct training by the annual “sheep dip” method or on as needed basis: where managers and supervisors are herded up and run through a quick series in time management, interpersonal communications, and updates on the companies performance and forecast. In three of the highest employee turnover industries – manufacturing, distribution, and healthcare – the number of organizations that provide supervisory skill training only as needed or not at all is an alarming 45 percent, 51 percent, and 42 percent respectively.

Too often management and supervisory training is informal and disjointed. Classes or tuition reimbursement may be offered but these offerings are not part of a formal program that is linked to organizational goals.

Many organizations have found an answer. Recent studies by a number of major U.S. corporations have identified twelve competencies that highly effective managers and supervisors possess to a greater degree than average performers.

The correlation between having these competencies – Administrative, Communication, Supervisory, and Cognitive – and being ranked as a top performer is extremely high. These top managers distinguish themselves with consistently effective results and they do things well in a variety of situations.

There are ten steps to take in implementing a competency-based supervisory or managerial development program.

  • Identify the skills and the level of proficiency needed by supervisors and managers.
  • Determine existing skills levels of incumbent supervisor and managers.
  • Compare the current skills of your managerial workforce to future needs.
  • Identify supervisors and managers who best match the needs of the organization.
  • Align training with your organization’s immediate needs and strategic plan, as well as meeting the personal interests and skills of each individual.
  • Gain commitment from each supervisor and manager by giving him or her the responsibility to develop an individual performance development plan.
  • Develop and provide training opportunities based on the skill gaps and future needs identified.
  • Establish quantifiable objectives wherever possible and tie compensation to meeting them.
  • Provide on-going feedback and opportunities for coaching.
  • Recognize management development is an on-going process and needs to be evaluated and adjusted continuously to accommodate organizational needs and objectives.

Regardless of how well the transition is made from worker to supervisor, investing in competency-based training for the front-line improves employee retention and productivity which drops right to the bottom line.

Ira S. Wolfe is founder of Success Performance Solutions, Leola (PA), a consulting firm specializing in on-line and classroom based assessments and training for employee selection and development.