How to Understand the Individual Employee

Essential to helping people learn and grow is knowing what they are feeling and understanding their opinions. Learning how to grasp those opinions and feelings is thus pivotal. A good supervisor understands and respects these opinions and feelings when giving appropriate guidance.

How can the supervisor understand a person who comes into their unit well enough to fit them into the organization? Here are some thoughts.

You can talk with them, question them, observe them, throw out conversational leads , listen to them, and think and listen and think, seeking ever to look behind appearances and first impressions into the background of feelings, sentiments, and other reactions which make up the employee’s “self”.

Keeping in mind that it is not a question of “either-or” but rather “the degree to which”, the supervisor can use the following questions in their learning of each individual. In using each question, however, the supervisor must think constantly … “To what extent do they do this? In what degree is this true or not true of them? How far is this aspect important in this individual? Why do they react the way they do?” Here are questions that can help:

  1. Are they “doing a good job?”
  2. Do they fail to understand instructions?
  3. Does their attention wander from the job?
  4. Are they interested in their job?
  5. How do they respond to recognition?
  6. Do they stand on their own feet?
  7. Do they seem ill adapted to the job?
  8. Do they get along well with fellow workers?

Each of these questions may be considered a little further.

  1. Are they “doing a good job?”  What parts did the person do well? What parts were missed?  Do they really know what you expect of them? Find out.
  2. Do they fail to understand instructions?  The easy way out is to just say the person is “dumb.” But most employees are high enough in mental capacity to learn readily the jobs to which they have been assigned.  Could it be narrowness of experience? How was their training?
  3. Does their attention wander from the job?  Complete absorption in a task, and disregard of surroundings amid the distracting noise and activity of a busy office or shop is not a natural act. But it can be learned and most people do it in a relatively short time.
  4. Are they interested in their job?  An employee will have an interest in a job if they feel it is in harmony with their own purposes, that it is “getting them somewhere.” In the same sense that a person who buys a share in a business is “interested in” that business. When this happens there is no trouble about effort.
  5. How do they respond to recognition?  Does praise stimulate them? How do they take criticism?  The new employee learns more from praise than from censure.
  6. Do they stand on their own feet?  Do they lean on the supervisor too much, or go to the opposite extreme and act as if they know it all? The supervisor is interested at all times in each employee’s reactions to the job and their fellow workers, because they are facts which affect them doing the job, their attitude toward it, and toward the whole organization.
  7. Do they seem ill adapted to the job?  In spite of the best efforts of line supervisors and personnel organization, employees are sometimes placed on jobs they cannot do satisfactorily. Two cautions are in order here:
    First: Don’t assume that an employee is a misfit in a job until they have been fully and correctly instructed on that job and have shown that they cannot do it successfully.  Second: Don’t assume that when an employee is a misfit in one job they are useless.
  8. Do they get along well with fellow workers?  Sometimes employees know how to do their jobs well, and yet they are not effective because they don’t get along well with the people they work with.

Also, consider whether any differences in your relationships with the various people are part of the situation.  You may need to re-align the team in order to get a group which can work together.

SUMMARY
People are complicated.  People will differ according to the time, the place, and the circumstances.  Supervisors should not think their job is finished if they only know the workplace and train their people. They need to be well aware of their people’s opinions and feelings.  Good supervisors watch their people carefully and give appropriate individual assistance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article was written by Richard Abercrombie. Richard has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing, most of it with the Boeing Company in Washington State. There, Richard became involved in Boeing’s Lean Manufacturing initiative as a member of the Boeing Supplier Support Center which assisted key Boeing suppliers, both domestic and international, with beginning a continuous improvement program based on the Toyota Production System. To fulfill this role, Richard received training in TPS from the Shingijutsu Company both in Japan and at Boeing.

Since retiring from the Boeing Company in 2000, Richard has continued to consult independently as President of Lean Promotions. Recognizing that TWI is one of the fundamentals of daily work routine management that support the Toyota Production System, Richard was one of the first consultant trainer trained and certified by the TWI Institute in 2003. In 2006 he was trained as the first TWI Institute Master Trainer to conduct train-the-trainer sessions for the TWI Institute. Richard also continues to deliver Job Instruction, Job Relations, Job Methods, Job Safety and Problem Solving for TWI Institute for clients around the globe in manufacturing, aerospace, steel, food, banking, construction, and the healthcare industries.

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