Being a Rock Star Supervisor Starts on Day One

Starting a new job, although exciting, is full of stressors. It's an overload of information-seeking and trial and error. It's a time when you're trying to figure out where to go and what to do, while simultaneously building new relationships and trying not to look like an idiot. 

At least that's been my experience.

Those first few days and weeks in a new organization or role are also ones in which you depend greatly upon the support and assistance of others. Good organizations often assign someone to show you around and help you adjust. Sometimes that person is your new supervisor; sometimes it's not. 

Regardless of whether or not your supervisor is formally acting as your sponsor during this time, he or she should be involved. He or she should know that you're around, meet with you and answer questions. He or she should at the very least have overall responsibility and accountability for making sure that someone takes good care of anyone new. And I think that these early socialization experiences in a new organization or role are one of a handful of distinct times when supervisors can have a key impact on their people. 

Research strongly supports the notion that supervisors are important. That's because their people perceive them as agents of the organization. To their people, namely, supervisors and the organization are often close to one and the same. Consider your current or one of your former supervisors, for example. When they valued what you did and cared about you, did that reflect positively on the organization? When they betrayed your trust or treated you unfairly, did that make you think less of your organization? 

Chances are, yes. (Here's a review of some of the research on this and related topics.)  

So, being a rock star supervisor starts on day one. 

Not your day one, of course; I'm referring to every single one of your new direct reports (and their direct reports, for that matter) and their day one. 

As a supervisor, you have a distinct opportunity to influence what your new people think and feel about their new organization or role. Therefore, you have a distinct opportunity to influence their level of motivation, engagement and productivity. 

What this might "look like" is likely a little different for every organization and for the nature and level of the new employee's job. But here are a few principles that are likely fairly universal.

  • Plan ahead. Let everyone else in your department or group know that you expect them to treat anyone new with kindness and respect. Tell them that you also expect them to help newcomers learn about the organization, their role and how to be effective. Also don't forget to tell them to involve the person socially, as appropriate. Being the new person is hard enough without having to eat lunch by oneself. 
  • Assign a sponsor. This might be you, but oftentimes it's not. Regardless, newcomers should have a "go-to" person who can help them learn and get situated. If you assign yourself as a sponsor, you should also consider a secondary sponsor who can fill in when you're not available. This can also provide an way for the newcomer to ask questions that he or she may not feel comfortable bringing to you. Understand that sponsors will need extra time to do this right, so give them the time they need. Avoid, if possible, simply piling this responsibility on top of everything else the sponsor normally does. 
  • Be patient. Although your goal, of course, is to help the newcomer become highly productive quickly, you must realize that what seems obvious to you or to other "old timers" is likely far from obvious (or even logical) for the newcomer. Think about the time and effort you (and others) are spending with the newcomer as an investment in your collective future--because it is. 
  • Check in regularly. Sit down with the newcomer during a few scheduled conversations during the first few weeks or months. Use those as opportunities to learn about what's going well and what's not from the fresh perspective of the newcomer. Also use these opportunities to answer questions and share your perspective regarding the person's role and how it fits into current objectives for the team.
  • Build a culture of mentoring and coaching. Although the focus here is on newcomer socialization, these activities can all be part of a larger focus on helping everyone on the team mentor and coach each other. 

Some readers may think that this is all common sense. That's rubbish. If it were common sense, it would be more common. Supervisors everywhere are missing these "day one" opportunities to lead and manage their people and teams to greater heights. 

When you or I are in this situation, then, let's do our best to capitalize on the moment--the opportunity to invest some time and attention on newcomers. If we do, I think that they, along with us and our organizations, will be better off.

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. More at www.benbaran.com and www.agilityconsulting.com.