In organisations, supervisors occupy the proverbial “ham in the sandwich” position, getting pressure from above to implement objectives and deliver on targets and pressure from below over issues like available and effective resources and organisational wellness and culture concerns. Many are not adequately trained to handle all these demands and find it challenging to lead their respective departments towards achieving success. In a pre-assessment questionnaire completed by over 1 700 supervisors on Free To Grow’s SOAR! and LeadQ programmes, 40% of supervisors indicated that they never before had attended any leadership development intervention, a further 39% noted only attending one or two, with the remainder attending three or more. This feedback is alarming. Whilst senior leaders have the responsibility of shaping the culture of an organisation, it is first line leaders who have the greatest impact on the daily engagement levels of employees. On account of daily interaction with staff, supervisors are most likely to influence the experience employees have at work.

It is fairly ironic that the supervisory level in organisations is the area where the biggest capability gaps exist. Business leadership often appears to be unaware of the critical role that supervisors play in influencing engagement and are not upskilling their supervisors adequately for this task. Furthermore, if supervisors lack skills in this area and are not fully engaged themselves, inspiring their people towards full contribution becomes impossible. Alinda Nortje, Founder and Executive Chairperson of Free To Grow notes: “Our findings reveal that almost half of the supervisors are disengaged. They do not find meaning in their work and do not feel committed to their organisation. How can they inspire passion and commitment in the people they lead if they themselves are running on empty in these areas?”

Whilst many supervisors are technically sound (for example, they are well skilled to optimise machinery effectiveness and manage production processes), most supervisors are totally ill-equipped for the critical cog role that they play in the engagement gearbox. Senior leaders expect them to execute strategy through their respective teams, but members of these teams expect them to pay attention to their individual needs, give recognition, show appreciation, coach them, treat them with dignity and respect, make their work meaningful and support their development.

First line leaders are also the primary channel for organisational communication efforts. With respect to information from the top, supervisors need to represent and share the organisation’s goals, objectives and values to employees. With respect to feedback from the bottom, they need to ensure that employee concerns and suggestions are heard, respond to them and pass the information back to senior management. Free To Grow’s findings reveal that just under half of supervisors are fulfilling this role without having received any training equipping them for this position.

Ongoing engagement and perhaps the most essential daily engagement efforts take place at the supervisory level in any organisation. Supervisors are the critical cog within the engagement gearbox. Training is essential to equip supervisors to meet the expectations that both the employees and the organisational leadership have of them.

Free To Grow offers the supervisor leadership training workshops SOAR! and LeadQ as part of their employee engagement suit of products