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Transform your company before dinner. Fire your supervisors.

Managing Employees

3 min read

You need your managers doing real managerial work, and real managerial work has nothing to do with being a supervisor. Real management is about designing and building systems, and mentoring people - which is a very different thing than supervising them.

You can make your business better in a few hours by removing a few positions - not the people in them - but some positions that are an invisible drag on your business. There are two kinds of supervisors, neither of which produce real value - they're only there because something else more essential is missing.

The first kind is the "Mother Hen" - and there are just as many men in this category as there are women. That's the person everyone goes to with their complaints about their job or about the business - where they "unload" and then go back to work. In a lot of small businesses, the Mother Hen become an informal HR department - sometimes they're even described that way.

The second kind is the "Taskmaster" (again, man or woman). Those are the supervisors who spend their day watching over people - sometimes obviously and sometimes in more subtle ways - but they spend their day keeping track of other peoples' days, their work and their time.

It seems like the Taskmaster would increase accountability and the Mother Hen employee happiness. The irony is that they do the opposite. The Taskmaster can get you more compliance but actually stands in the way of your employees really caring. People who have to be told to care never will. And the last thing people who actually care want is to be lectured to about it.

Without a real management system, you won’t get employee ownership. Without employee ownership, you default to needing supervisors.

On the flip side, it seems like the Mother Hen helps people get along, so you don't have to deal with "people problems". But what they really do, despite their best intentions, is keep the problems from surfacing where you can deal with them and allow people to get better at conflict resolution between themselves. Giving a disgruntled employee an unofficial "complaint/suggestion box" just fans the flames of their negativity, and they'll try to enlist everyone else to justify their victimhood.

When you give someone a supervisor instead of a real manager, you rob them of the chance to really own their job for themselves - to be self-accountable - which is the secret ingredient to growing your business beyond you as the owner or lead technician.

Why are the Mother Hen and Taskmaster there? Because the business lacks a real and vital management system. Without a real management system, you won't get employee ownership. Without employee ownership, you default to needing supervisors.

The good news - which you'll find out as soon as you take action - is that your best employees are dying for this change. They hate working next to people who need supervisors, because they are the ones picking up the slack for those people. They're tired of hearing the complaints of people who need a Mother Hen, and they hate seeing the team's performance get dragged down by the people who need a Taskmaster.

This doesn't mean firing anyone. It means crossing boxes off your org chart (or, more likely, realizing that some boxes got created over time that you didn't actually put there). It will shake some things up and there's no guarantee your former supervisors can make the pivot into a higher value role. But you give it your best and trust that if it's right for the business it will be right for everyone involved, even if there's pain in the short term.

Don't fall into the trap that if you do away with supervision, then all "that stuff" will fall on you. It won't, at least not in the way you think. All you have to do is remember that this is exactly the opportunity you've been looking for all along - because it answers the questions you've been living with since the day you started growing your business:

  1. "How do I get my people to really care about the customer?"
  2. "Why don't people really own their jobs?"

If you find yourself saying you don’t have the time or the motivation to do this work, it just means there’s one Mother Hen or Taskmaster still on staff, and you're working for them.

PS: As long as you address the underlying cultural and people development issues, your Mother Hen could become a great salesperson or customer service manager (they are good listeners), and your Taskmaster a great Project Manager (they understand the value of structure).

Jonathan Raymond

Written by Jonathan Raymond

Jonathan was a frequent contributor to the EMyth blog from 2011-2015. His articles focus on marketing, branding, and organizational culture.