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What Makes for an Effective Supervisor?

While you might be able to tell me who your most effective supervisors are, it’s probably much more difficult to say just what exactly makes them so good at what they do. Is it their personality? Communication skills? Their experience ? Something unique about the reps on their team? Is it their management style? The list of potential factors goes on and on…

When CCC set out to investigate what makes an effective supervisor, our first step was to try to make sense of all the above variables—and more. And while it’s true that no two supervisors are exactly alike, we’ve managed (with the aid of a few statistical tools) to simplify a seemingly infinite universe into five distinct supervisor personas based common characteristics. Here’s what we found:

  • 33% of supervisors are Firefighters – these detail-oriented multitaskers are skilled at attending to urgent situations
  • 29% are Mavericks – independent and creative, these delegators follow their instincts
  • 21% are Opportunists – flexible leaders, they are in touch with team needs but prefer a more informal approach to developing their team
  • 10% are Learners – self-motivated individuals, they are interested in self-development and frequently seek out learning opportunities
  • 7% are Internal Consultants – ambitious and career-focused, they often work on tasks outside their core role expectation


Now, admittedly, the above list is somewhat simplistic—but I bet as you read through it you’re reminded of a few standout supervisors (both good and bad) and can appreciate the very different approaches that people bring to the job of frontline supervisor. What’s really interesting, though, is not just that these five distinct personas exist, but that in terms of effectiveness they produce vastly different outcomes:

Taking a look at the above data, we can see that Firefighters—the persona that characterizes fully one-third of all supervisors—are the least effective group. And not only are they ineffective, they are actively degrading team performance to a substantial degree. Why, you might ask? Well it’s because Firefighters tend to focus on the most urgent task at hand, often getting caught up taking care of escalated customer issues—at the expense of preparing for coaching sessions and devoting more time to team development activities.

On the other hand, Opportunists, who excel at very different tasks and activities than Firefighters, are far and away the most effective group of supervisors.

This, of course, begs the question: why is the Opportunist so effective?

The short answer is that coaching is the most effective staff development activity, and Opportunists excel at a particular type of coaching called integrated coaching (we’ve blogged in the past on the topic of Coaching). Supervisors who practice this kind of coaching create real-time learning opportunities out of everyday scenarios; and with traits such as flexibility, knowledge of team needs, and a more informal style, the Opportunist is best oriented toward integrated coaching

The best news is that while not all supervisors are Opportunists, your supervisors can learn to replicate the effective behaviors and activities of the Opportunist—and boost team performance significantly by doing so.

We’d love to hear your thoughts—in your experience, what else makes for an effective supervisor?

CCC Related Resources:

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