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Speaking of Precision is a knowledge preservation and thought leadership blog covering the precision machining industry, its materials and services. With over 36 years of hands on experience in steelmaking, manufacturing, quality, and management, Miles Free (Milo) Director of Industry Research and Technology at PMPA helps answer "How?" "With what?" and occasionally "Really?"

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Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

Posted July 19, 2011 8:00 AM by Milo

The job of the supervisor is one of the most difficult and one of the most rewarding. It is a joy to take your team to a new level of performance. It is a joy to see people smile with confidence when they meet the new challenges that every day seems to bring.


You don't need to wear a white shirt and suit coat to have an important job supervising people.

The job of the supervisor is also one of the most unpleasant, when employees under your authority don't seem to "get it."

"I talked to them about that last month. I don't know why they are still dong it that way."

There is one simple test to determine if your efforts are truly helpful, or if they are just enabling.

Here it is:

"Did what I do for the employee change their behavior and the results they achieved, or not?"

If the answer is "Yes," congratulations. You are an effective supervisor.

If the answer is "No," then you need to reconsider what it is you do to get your employees to change behavior.

Because what you are doing right now is just enabling their undesired behaviors.

The difference between helping people and enabling bad behaviors is that if the results don't change as a result of your advice, coaching, or counseling, you're enabling the undesired behaviors.

That's not helping.

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Editor's Note: CR4 would like to thank Milo for sharing this blog entry, which originally appeared here.

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#1

Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/20/2011 3:33 PM

Sorry but you have made one huge assumption here.

You are assuming that the employees want to learn, want to improve and want to change their behavour. My experience is that the majority want only to collect a pay cheque while doing the least work possible and making the smallest effort.

I have had the exquisite pleasure of working with some eager young people who wanted to learn and master the job but they are getting to be a truely rare breed.

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#2

Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/20/2011 6:07 PM

I have to agree with Apothicus to some extent here. Having supervised a work force for 25 years I can say with some assurance that I have never been able to turn a poor worker into a good one. I will say that I have retained some poor ones to my discredit because I liked their general attitude if not their work ethic, and they seem to be more skilled at interfacing with customers. But they never became good workers, learning, adapting, manifesting efficiency. My best workers and the ones most willing and anxious to learn came in the door that way. And some of them are not so adept at social skills, and so I limit their customer interaction. It is a subtle game to play, but inspiring any employee to the point of changing their work habits? Not a frequent occurrence in my experience. Perhaps some of the answer lies in my lack of ability to inspire, but I suspect not a great deal of it.

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Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/21/2011 11:06 AM

You are correct that changing behavior (and attitudes) is often more difficult than a challenging technical problem. Most people only change when they understand the benefit for them. People will only listen to and follow you to the proportionate degree they believe you care about them.

Most, if given respect and training/direction with an explained cause, goal and reward, want to achieve and improve. Only a fool would spend 40 hours a week and not want to make the best of the opportunity. The few who don't, need your assistance in motivating them to find another job they can respect.

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Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/21/2011 3:57 PM

"Did what I do for the employee change their behavior and the results they achieved, or not?"

If the answer is "Yes," congratulations. You are an effective supervisor.

If the answer is "No," then you need to reconsider what it is you do to get your employees to change behavior.

Because what you are doing right now is just enabling their undesired behaviors.

--Milo

Sorry but you have made one huge assumption here… You are assuming that the employees want to learn, want to improve and want to change their behavour.

--Apothicus

But they never became good workers, learning, adapting, manifesting efficiency. My best workers and the ones most willing and anxious to learn came in the door that way. And some of them are not so adept at social skills

--illya Leonov

When experienced people disagree about causes, as this small sampling of posts indicates, there are usually interacting variables at play. To use mathematical language, Y is a non-linear function of X1, X2, X3, etc. As a therapist with a science and engineering background, I've had the opportunity to experience the supervisor-employee relationship both with and without extensive training in psychology and human behavior.

The independent variables being discussed above are:

· The supervisor's input (courtesy of Milo)

· The employee's internal motivation (courtesy of Apothicus)

· The employee's innate ability/personality (courtesy of illya Leonov)

(Though they have not been mentioned, supervisor motivation and personality also carry significant weight in this environment as does the input of the supervisor's manager.)

The presumed dependent variable is an employee's behavior.

Each individual who introduced one of these variables assumes (or at least writes like it in the limited space) that the variable he/she introduced is the key variable to causing behavior in others.

Systems theory (usually associated with family therapy and/or industrial psychology) and its associated observations reveal that the variables introduced to the discussion so far are not independent. In reality, a supervisor's input can influence employee internal motivation, and an employee's internal motivation can shape a supervisor's input. Likewise, personality and input mutually interact, as do personality and motivation. One really neat piece of systems theory is the fact that it takes only one person in a system to change the pattern of interaction.

For example, Milo's personality (or at least his advice) advocates for a supervisor to continue to try different approaches to giving input regardless of anything about the employee. This actually turns out to be really good advice if the supervisor is appropriately skilled (see below). Positives include signaling the employee that you care about his/her performance and are willing to be flexible in your approach to achieve collaborative results. Negatives might include an employee believing you are a pushover (easily handled once you pick up on it) or your manager/supervisor thinking you overly patient with problems. While changing one's approach is often effective, it is going a bit too far to categorically state that a lack of seeing the desired behavior indicates that the supervisor is enabling. There really are incorrigibles out there.

Apothicus's stated approach says, "If you don't respond to me, there is something wrong with you-probably your motivation." While it is true that lack of motivation is a problem, it is false that a supervisor's approach cannot boost an employee's motivation to change. Taking the "respond or else" approach works best in an employer's market. While it can alienate potentially useful employees, it may communicate to your employees and your supervisor/manager that you are a "no nonsense" and time conscious supervisor. In an up economy, this approach leads to high turnover and the costs associated with hiring and training plenty of new people until you find the ones that stick. With a little modification, this approach is very useful in establishing clear boundaries to acceptable behaviors in the workplace.

ilya Leonov's post, like Apoticus's, presumes an ontological flaw in the "problem" employee. It is softened by the belief that a personality that is weak at "efficiency" might easily be strong on "social skills." These kinds of assumptions are the same that underlie the Meyers-Briggs or Belbin personality approaches to job assignment and team formation. Strengths of this approach include demonstrating to employees that you care about matching their skills and personality drives to work that they enjoy. Weaknesses include stereotyping employees with certain strengths as always possessing certain weaknesses and assuming that personality is static.

With a little training and a fitting attitude, supervisors can learn and practice communication skills that enable them to have a very high success rate in collaboratively working with employees to change behavior. Even "unmotivated" employees can be persuaded (not manipulated) with techniques from motivational interviewing (a fairly easy-to-learn skill set from motivational enhancement therapy). It requires an openness to more than one way of skinning a cat and a willingness to act counterintuitively, but use of learnable skills should produce at least a 75% success rate in promoting change in an individual's performance.

This is not just book theory. I've seen it work in practice. I've managed a couple of facilities over the years. The most challenging that I took on had an average life of employment of only three weeks when I took over. One year later, I had that up to six months, and with the culture changed I introduced, it continued to climb after I moved on for another opportunity. I've also seen a higher-than-average success rate in reducing recitivism in the DUI clients I've treated in their court-ordered therapy (talk about an unmotivated population). Though I'm new at it, the recitivism rate from my clients at the six month mark is only 23% compared with the county average of 44%.

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#5
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Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/21/2011 6:26 PM

This certainly advanced the conversation!

Thanks for contributing!

Milo

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Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/21/2011 7:51 PM

Agreed. An excellent contribution. Now I'm going to have to go and rethink a bunch of stuff.

Is there a way to remotivate someone who flat out tells you "I don't care, I don't want to learn, I just need my pay cheque every month"?

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Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/23/2011 10:11 AM

GKC, thanks for bringing up some very good points. I agree that relying too heavily on popular psychology such as using the Meyers-Briggs
yardstick often muddy the waters and allow for oversimplification of the issues while masking or ignoring other problems that may be reducing efficiency
and quality. For the record, I was not trying to say that the personalities of my employees were mutually exclusive in their abilities to be both
social animals and good workers. Quite the opposite, I often find both traits together in many of my employees. I was only stating that they
sometimes did not go hand in hand as a way of excusing my negligence in letting poor employees go. But you may have begun to open my
eyes a bit to the fact that I may indeed be to blame for more of it that I have shouldered in the past, because I do seem to see my employees
as being set in their ways and not subject to moldability, and that may be just because I do not wish to abandon my thinking on the matter.
It can be difficult to want to change management thinking and practices after using them for so many years but I may be cheating myself out
of a better adapted and more cognizant workforce in the process. Our mistakes are one of the few things we can truly call our own, our
stubbornness is another. My eyes are a bit more open now, I thank you.

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Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/25/2011 10:07 AM

Thanks, I appreciate the positive feedback, and yes, it is possible to remotivate someone who flat out tells you, "I don't care, I don't want to learn, I just need my pay cheque every month."

When you say "remotivate," it sounds like this individual has been motivated in the past, but something changed. If that's the case digging into that change is critical. I'd picture a conversation something like:

"I want you to get your cheque each month too, especially when I remember [specific contributions here] that you have made/done. I get the impression you aren't enjoying the work that earns that cheque as much as you used to. Is that true?" Your tone of voice is critical. If the employee acknowledges the change, you follow up with, "Tell me what changed that you aren't enjoying work as much as you used to." This is your raw data. The "reasons" may seem silly to you, but you have to be able to communicate to the employee that you understand him/her and how the reasons are important to that employee. With the employee seeing that his/her perspective really matters to you, the door is open to share what you want from the employee. Reiterating that you want the employee to keep earning the cheque and add 'I would also like to see you enjoy this new [whatever it is you'd like to see the employee learn]. Then ask the employee if he/she sees ways you can both have what you want from the work relationship. Use these points to form a specific plan of action, and set a follow-up date. Make sure each of you has specific actions that can be clearly seen as having been done or not done.

If there never really was a spark of motivation in the employee, and you see a specific request of yours as the trigger for the employee's "hostility," it helps to confirm that you understand the trigger. "Ever since the company started _____" or "Ever since I asked you about ________ I've had the impression you are less satisfied in you work. Would you tell me about that?" If the employee does not open up, it's harder to get to a collaborative solution, but you can still proceed. "Well, when I asked if you would __________ you let me know you didn't care about that, and that you only cared about earning your monthly cheque. I know __________ is hard to do/learn, and not very many people are up to it (this little zinger is meant to 'get under the employee's skin'). I want you to keep earning your cheque too, what do you see as having to happen so you can keep earning the cheque?"

You want to keep the language on earning the cheque instead of just getting the cheque. You emphasize what you see as right in the employee's list, and mention any additions to that list that you see as important to continuing to earn the cheque. Discuss with the employee how realisitc the list looks and (very important) what does the employee need from you to be able to accomplish what is on the list. Set a follow up date to review how well the employee is doing with the list and how well you are doing with the "support functions." This a the traditional "documented verbal warning" but is delivered less as a threat and more as a goal setting session.

No matter which kind of conversation you are having, it is important to document the key points that come out of it. What did the employee identify as a barrier to changing, what performance points were discussed and agreed to, what follow up date was set, etc.

I realize these are general approaches, and I'm offering them without having met the employee. It comes out of the sense that when a person is expressing anger/defensiveness/hostility, that person is telling me about him/herself and not about me or his/her environment. Using these situations to understand the person and communicate to that person that he/she has been understood and that his/her wants/needs are acknowledged and important often opens the door for collaboratively forming a plan to address both that person's needs/wants and my needs/wants. If that does not happen, plan B is calmly setting boundaries, verifying the other person understands the boundaries, and setting a follow up to make sure the boundaries are being respected (e.g. is the person doing what he/she knows is important to earning the cheque and am I doing what I knew was imporant to support/respect the person in the tasks we discussed?).

I hope this is useful, and thanks again for the feedback.

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Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/25/2011 10:11 AM

Thanks for the topic to contribute to. This is one of my favorite workplace topics. You often bring up another one of my favorites--I'm a LSSBB as well as a guy transitioning into counseling.

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Re: Supervisors - Difference Between Enabling and Helping

07/25/2011 10:23 AM

For the record, I was not trying to say that the personalities of my employees were mutually exclusive in their abilities to be both social animals and good workers

I figured there would be more to your thinking on this topic than you coud squeeze into a one-paragraph answer. There is a reason that personality theories remain so popular--there are a lot of valid truisms in them. It sounds like you recognize how to use the useful information without becoming a personality-type fanatic.

I do seem to see my employees as being set in their ways and not subject to moldability, and that may be just because I do not wish to abandon my thinking on the matter

That's a huge insight! One of the things about the approach I use/teach is to be able to keep my way of thinking and feeling about a topic, to understand others' ways of thinking and feeling about a topic, and to find a plan of acting that respects both. If both parties involved have an attitude of respect for the other party, and at least one of the parties has good skills, such a way of acting can almost always be figured out. When one or both parties lacks respect for the other, your in a situation that either results in repectful boundary setting (one party, at least, is respectful) or a situation that is more a fight than a disucssion (neither party cares about the other).

Thank you for your feedback.

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