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Transform Your Company Before Dinner: Fire Your Supervisors

by Jonathan Raymond

May 23rd, 2013


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.

Josef Shapiro EMyth Coach Training Manager

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:

  • “How do I get my people to really care about the customer?”
  • “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.

Jonathan Raymond

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).

Please join me for the free State of the Business Owner Key Findings Webinar, an in depth discussion on key business development practices. Watch Webinar Recording.

  1. Colin Hawkins says:

    A great article and one that all business owner should study, getting employees to value the customer is the key to success
    Thank you for the article

  2. Mark Murphy says:

    Very insightful article Jonathan. I have worked for large and small organizations that have directly displayed these characteristics. I never really was inclined to the management styles of “Mother Hen” or “Taskmaster” which probably influenced my decision to become an entrepreneur. Thank you for the wake-up call to not fall into this trap now since I am a business owner with employees. This is definitely a word in due season for me.

  3. Allan Vandall says:

    The main reason that only 10% of all employees are fully engaged in this country is this over management desease described above which is rampant!

  4. Martin O'Connor says:

    Well written, concise, to the point. Thank you!

  5. Chike okoro says:

    Fantastic article! As a small business owner is easy to make this mistake. Thanks for sharing .

  6. Harvey Taylor says:

    Well said. If I still had hair I would still be tearing it out every time I train in a business where personal accountability and autonomy are being stunted by taskmasters and mother hens. It’s nearly 50 YEARS since Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard created the situational leadership model but there is still a long way to go. Perhaps it’s like painting the Fourth Road Bridge (although someone sorted that out I think).

  7. kyambadde Amir says:

    thanks for that wonderful article my brother. i really do appreciate that as am planing to start up a small business as soon as i retire

  8. Jan Terkelsen says:

    Excellent article and distinctions.
    Most managers are promoted to the position based on technical competency not managerial competency. Businesses need to develop this skill set in their people. Self awareness, Achievement focus and humanistic- encouraging. Killer combination in any business.

  9. Ben Vaughn says:

    Great article! So, what specific steps do we take from here to make this change?