WT644 You Can't Supervise What You Don't See

Many years ago, when I was working with Kip McGrath and new to management, I proudly announced that I was going to engage a cleaner. Kip thought that was a great decision. What he didn’t think was so great, was my expectation that I was going to be able to supervise the cleaner to do things the way I wanted them done.

“Shirley, you can’t supervise what you don’t see”, he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“If you’re going to supervise someone, you have to be able to see what they’re doing. You have to be able to monitor their work.”

It was many years later before I fully understood this.

It doesn’t mean that you micromanage someone. It doesn’t mean that you watch them like a hawk.

What it means is that you have to be able to observe, in some way, the actions they are taking towards the outcomes you want.

It means that you have to have an understanding, of what the person is meant to be doing. You can’t outsource supervision, but you can outsource the work.


Here’s an example:
Say you have a team of workers who are working remotely. They may be onshore or offshore. How do you monitor/supervise their work if you can’t “see” what they are doing?

Here’s the fine distinction between my example with the cleaner and your remote workers. With my cleaner, I was only able to see the outcome. Was the house clean? Unless I was in the house or had cameras installed, I wasn’t able to observe how the cleaner did the work.

If I wasn’t able to see how the cleaner did the work, I couldn’t help them improve or become more efficient, assuming I knew the best way to clean.

It’s the same for you and your team. You need to be able to observe how they work in order to help support them. Think about the salespeople in your business. I expect they have targets to reach, either number of sales or dollar value.

If you don’t know what they are doing to reach those targets, you can’t help them grow and develop or become even more efficient.

It’s the same with your workers who may now be working from home or overseas. You need to be able to see what they are doing. You can do this via systems and processes. You can do this via regular catch ups with them. Ask them how they do things. Ask them to show you. Ask them to explain their thought processes.

In my years as a consultant, I’m still amazed at how people perform tasks. I’m still intrigued that many don’t look for a better way to do things. I’m still challenged when there is a better way to do something and we meet resistance from those who don’t like and actively resist change.

You can’t supervise what you don’t see.

Your task this week is to start looking. If you want to improve things, best you know how things work first.

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