It is easier to be a good supervisor in tough times than in economically easier ones. One is faced with more difficult decisions and problems during difficult economic conditions for your employer. What are some management behaviors that can improve the morale and productivity of your staff members?


Be decisive


As President, Harry Truman kept a sign on his desk saying, “The buck stops here” to remind himself of the leader’s responsibility for making decisions. I once worked for a nice man who had been an excellent staff engineer. However, as a manager he was afraid to make decisions. For example, the mid-1980s were a good economic period for most of the country but not for the oil industry. At this time the only way to increase business in the oil field services industry was to take it away from the competition. Despite field engineers calling for the introduction of a new product I had developed, this manager did not want to take the risk of introducing it to the field. A group of field engineers went to a vice-president who ordered the product introduced. It did very well and was responsible for my employer significantly increasing its market share and thus revenues. The manager, who had been in charge of an R&D department of about 30 people, was moved sideways to a staff position where he supervised no one and had few clear job responsibilities. He soon lost his job in one of a series of company layoffs.


Of course, CEO’s have the most opportunities to demonstrate decisiveness in large-scale ways. For example, in a few days starting in 1982 seven people in the Chicago area died after taking cyanide-laced capsules of Extra-Strength Tylenol. The painkiller then was Johnson & Johnson’s best-selling product. James Burke, the CEO quickly took the product off the shelf and gave free bottles of a different Tylenol product to consumers who returned the possibly contaminated product. Johnson & Johnson developed improved tamper-proof packaging. The company became a role model for others in handling product recalls.


Give credit where it’s due


When staff members do good work, their manager gets some of the credit, often too much of it. Giving credit to others, especially staff members, is an excellent motivating strategy – and an ethical one. People want to work for winners who share the credit. Your staff will regard you as truthful. Those outside your firm will tend to regard you as generous and competent.


Besides verbally giving their staff members credit in company meetings and performance reviews, managers can nominate them for performance awards, include them as authors on technical papers and give them opportunities to work on exciting projects. I once had a manager who said he was too busy to nominate his staff members for company awards. Is it any surprise that morale in his group was at rock bottom?


All the opposite is true if managers takes too much credit for their staff members’ work. You may be able to hire new employees to work in your group. However, it may not be too long before there are looking for opportunities to transfer to another work group where the manager shares credit and their own careers will be more likely to flourish.


Role models


Whatever kind of managers you have, good ones or bad ones, observing their behavior and learning from it can improve your own performance as a manager. We’ll talk more about constructive manager behaviors next week.