New supervisor, but it's the same old problem

Maintenance Supervisor Art Chisolm was liked by everyone, respected for his technical and supervisory savvy, as well as his age and experience. When he retired to move to Florida, his crew's disappointment was unanimous.


Maintenance Supervisor Art Chisolm was liked by everyone, respected for his technical and supervisory savvy, as well as his age and experience. When he retired to move to Florida, his crew's disappointment was unanimous.

Also unanimous was the crew's disapproval of Max Norcross, Chisolm's replacement, brought in from a neighboring plant. For one thing, many of the staff felt Ed Kalley, Chisolm's assistant, should have gotten the job. For another, Norcross was only 30, younger than most employees he would be supervising. Third, he was a newcomer and outsider.

Norcross, a top performer with 2-yr supervisory experience, knew from day one he would have a hard time winning over the crew and getting its cooperation and support. The question was how could he do this without making their antagonism worse than it already was? It was going to take some thinking to come up with an answer.

One day, 3-mo after Norcross took over the job, Plant Engineer Jack Cullen summoned him to his office.

"How's it going, Max?"

Norcross frowned.

Cullen smiled. "It's no picnic, is it, taking over a department under these circumstances?"

Norcross returned the smile. "No sir, it sure isn't."

"I've done some observing on my own," Cullen said, "and what I've seen and concluded is no surprise. Nor will the rough weather be over in the predictable future. I'm afraid you'll just have to ride out the storm."

Question: In Cullen's place, what advice would you give Norcross on how to accomplish this purpose?

Cullen's counsel: "Max, I don't have to tell you as a smart supervisor that before solving a problem, you first have to define it. Reality one is that the man you replaced was very competent, well liked, and well respected. Reality two is that you are also very competent, but not yet, I guess the word is accepted, or equally well respected. While supervision isn't a popularity contest, it's important to have your people, if not like you, at least appreciate your sense of fairness and dedication to good performance and quality. This feeling will eventually win their respect.

"What will also win their respect is, through your actions and responses, to demonstrate that you respect them, their opinions, their desires, and needs. Not only their job needs, but their personal needs as well. I think the most important thing you must guard against is responding to their antagonism, individually or as a group, with hostility or bitterness of your own. Max, this will eventually dissipate if you play your cards right. It's been said that patience is the companion of wisdom. In your situation that's a good thought to keep in mind."

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