Sharpening Your Tools

Have you ever tried to cut with a dull knife? It is dangerous, frustrating, difficult and inefficient. The same goes for equipment that is not well-maintained.

Sometimes, the tools that we neglect the most are the ones that are most important to our success - our employees. But take heed: we only look good when our employees are given the right equipment and motivation to do their best. Don't make excuses for your shortcomings as supervisors and managers. Instead, sharpen and polish your tools.

1. Clearly define your supervisors' jobs, tell them why they are doing it and how well they are faring. This process allows you to examine your thoughts and sell your ideas as they ask questions and provide feedback.

If you fear that you are inviting criticisms, find other work - you probably are woefully unsure of yourself and unsuited for a supervisory position. Letting others in on your ideas is not decision-making by committee. Instead, it helps everyone know what should be done, how it should be done and the extent of each person's role.

Employees that object to knowing the "big picture" just want to be told what to do. Oblige them, but mark those who offer suggestions as future candidates for higher positions.

Consider derogatory remarks thoughtfully because cynics can be converted into valuable contributors.

2. Hire the best qualified employees you can while providing information that enables them to do the best job possible. People either are hired because they have done the job before or because they appear to have the skills and aptitudes to do the job - even if they lack experience. Either way, if you look at employees as potential supervisors, trainers and candidates for other positions, then you'll have a pool of assets rather than drones.

An employee that shows drive is a resource. But not all employees have to be future managers. Workers may have sound reasons for not wanting to move up. But give qualified employees the tools they need to advance.

For example, employees can rotate duties to develop more skills. They can be given special tasks, volunteer to help others with problems or be part of an advisory group for feedback on equipment, facilitating the information flow and having input in policy making.

3. Make learning opportunities available to all who have good work records. Of course, this only holds true when there is a hierarchy of positions within the operation. It won't work where an employee is expected to jump from trash collector to mechanic - the jobs have unrelated skills. Never let personal reasons influence your policies.

4. Remember, if you teach someone what you know, you haven't lost your knowledge - you've expanded it. If no one shared their knowledge we all still would be living in caves. So get with it, start sharpening those tools!