More Supervision, Less Management

Supervise2 I’m a firm believer that all the employee engagement, retention and satisfaction issues should be laid at the feet of our managers.  Not “Management” with a capital “m” – but lower-case managers – those who do the day-to-day work, responsible for few employees (say – less than 10).

I say that because most managers are caught up in “managing” instead of doing all the other stuff that really drives performance long-term in an organization.

Supervise VS Manage

@wallybock (a fave of mine and someone who should be in your reading list for blogs and Twitter) posted the other day on performance reviews and equated it to how we handle parenting.  I too believe raising children is a great analogy for our work as managers in a company.  What he wrote that really stood out was:


“Good performance evaluation is frequent, mostly informal, and rooted in supervision.”


It was the last word that got me thinking – and I checked the online dictionary to compare the definition of supervise and the definition of manage. The interesting thing? The root of supervise is all about “vision” – overseeing, watching. The root of manage is about controlling, training.

Quit Managing

After viewing these definitions, I believe we’ve got too much management and not enough supervision.

Managers – and I mean you – seek to control the people and the process in order to determine the output.

Supervisors – on the other hand – watch what’s going on and correct as needed.

Go back to the discussion on parenting.

Do you manage your kids or do you supervise them?  Do you control them – dictate their behaviors?  Or do you supervise them – allow for mistakes and guide them toward ultimate outcomes? And as they grow, do you supervise less?  As a manager – do you manage less or more as your team gets more independent? (For the record – I believe most managers – poor ones – end up tightening their grip as employees grow out of their need for “management.”)

Supervision Is Tougher Than Managing

If you have kids, you know that as you loosen your grip on them and allow more free thinking and less supervision, the anxiety grows.  From the first day on the school bus, to taking the car to prom, to the first week at college with NO supervision – anxiety is omnipresent.  It’s tough to let go and trust.

And if you are a “manager” in your organization, I believe it is tougher to supervise than to manage.

So, take a step back and ask yourself – are you a supervisor or a manager?  While the colloquialisms would indicate that manager is higher in the business caste system – I think we’ve got it wrong.

Supervisors are the top of the pyramid – that should come after you learn to manage – not before.

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. Great Posting – Couldn’t agree more. Once the definitions of supervision and management are clearly defined – it makes perfect sense that managers need to supervise more than manage.

  2. Dan Walter says:

    Another way to put this is: You manage problems. You supervise solutions!

  3. I think people confuse supervise and manage due to consultantspeak.
    Manager = fancy.
    Supervise = down & dirty.
    Good post.

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