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Observing Performance in Supervisor Training: New Supervisors Must Get This Skill Right

Posted by Daniel Feerst on

Whether a supervisor dreads observing employee performance or believes that they excel at it, chances are that 

New and First Time Supervisors must learn to observe behavior properly

they’re not performing the task in the optimal way, especially if they are a new or first-time supervisor. There is training for new and first-time supervisors available online, but many miss this key skill.

It’s an absolutely essential skill for supervisors, which is why it’s the first one featured in our supervisor training course. In this segment, we’ll highlight why directly observing employee performance is so important for supervisors. Then, we offer supervisors the framework they need to perform the task in a way that benefits themselves, their employees, and the whole company.

When tasked with evaluating employee performance, it’s easy for supervisors to go with their gut instinct about who is “good” at their job, and who is not. But if you interrogate those impressions a bit, you’ll likely find that they have a pretty flimsy basis: they may just be based on a recent positive encounter that the supervisor had with the employee; or perhaps it’s because the employee’s department produced great results in the last quarter; or maybe the supervisor is just in a good mood and feeling generous that day.

Regardless, both experienced and first-time supervisors have inherent biases that can negatively impact the way they evaluate employees. Proper evaluation requires real evidence that supports the supervisor’s impression of how employees do their jobs — and that real evidence can only come from performance observation. In our supervisor training course, perfect for both new supervisors training sessions or a skill refresh for veteran supervisors, we dive deep to help supervisors truly understand and internalize the importance of evidence-gathering before evaluating employees.

But there’s a subtle distinction here, one that many supervisors miss. The fact is, evidence comes in many different forms, and not all of them are reliable indicators of how well an employee is doing their job. Some supervisors, especially first-time supervisors who are not yet particularly comfortable with intra-office dynamics, prefer to study activity reports, spreadsheets and work-flow charts as their evidence. This, as surprising as it may seem to many supervisors, is a big mistake. Sitting at a desk behind closed doors poring over paperwork prevents supervisors from seeing with their own eyes how workers behave and what they actually do during their shift — and this latter part is, in fact, far more telling than the former.

The simple truth is that there is no substitute for directly observing employees’ performance. Of course, results matter a great deal as well, but by focusing solely on what supervisors see on paper, they may end up giving undue praise to certain employees, and making their best workers feel underappreciated (and, in turn, seek other employment). According to Dick Grote, a prominent researcher in the field who has consulted for many Fortune 500 companies, performance should always be based on the combination of two things: results and behavior. While results are easy for any supervisor to see by scanning the numbers, behavior is a far more difficult aspect to evaluate. However, it is an invaluable tool to assess workers’ skills, motivations, and attitudes toward their job, which is why our supervisor training course provides supervisors with the skills and structure they need to master the task.

For example, imagine that an employee is tasked with a project and delivers the supervisor an exemplary final product. A first-time supervisor might be tempted to give all the credit to that person based on the work in front of them. However, had they been out on the floor, observing employee performance, they would have seen that actually several employees collaborated on the project, and much of the exemplary work came from others on the team. Or, take the case of an employee who is constantly turning in work late. On paper, a supervisor might fault this employee. But through performance observation, they might see that the reason the employee doesn’t have time to finish their work is because they are constantly assisting other employees and taking on new tasks to help others. All of this is vital information when it comes to making employees feel valued and motivating them to do their very best work.

The bottom line, which should be drilled home in every new supervisors training program, is this: performance observation cannot rely on a single source, but needs to encompass a variety of different areas. The best way to consistently and fairly observe performance is to devise a standard system that covers everything supervisors should look for. Supervisors need not only assess work quality, but also evaluate other important aspects like conduct, appearance, vitality, attitude and eagerness to learn.

Applying a consistent set of criteria to every employee ensures that supervisors observe performance with a fair-minded focus on what matters most. It also enables them to compare employees’ actions and behavior based on observable standards of excellence. By the end of skill 1 in our supervisor training course, every supervisor, from first-time supervisors to those who have been supervising for decades, will be able to devise their own system for fair and successful employee observation.

Get a corporate level supervisor training program for your supervisory and leadership staff from You will find the full preview of the product here.

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