Why Don't Supervisors do what We Tell Them?

Rob Snyder
May 14, 2019

Executives in companies with hourly workers - regardless of whether you’re in foodservice, facilities services, security, or retail - face the age-old conundrum: To get anything done, you have to convince tens, hundreds, or even thousands of frontline supervisors to change their behaviors. And that’s not easy to do.


Why is it so hard to get frontline supervisors to “do the right thing”?


We’ve spoken with business owners, executives, and VPs across industries, and understand their goals. We’ve also spent time with frontline workers and supervisors who get inundated with requests to do things differently.


Unsurprisingly, there’s frustration on both sides when asking why important things don’t get done. Here are some actual quotes from our interviews with executives:

  • “Frankly, our supervisors can be idiots.”
  • “We’re promoting janitors to be supervisors. They’re good at being janitors, but they just don’t think in the supervisor mindset.”

It’s worth pulling in quotes from the front lines, too:

  • “They [HQ staff] have no clue how things actually work here!”
  • “Oh great, another new thing I’m supposed to do…”


We’ve found that many of the initiatives, projects, and tasks that HQ tries to push on frontline supervisors are difficult, ambiguous, and time-consuming, and that’s why many fail to deliver as expected. Here’s our personal example, when we discuss pitting SYRG against features that are hidden away and difficult to use in existing timekeeping and scheduling systems.


SYRG sells a replacement staffing solution that helps companies avoid short-staffing and reduce overtime. Sometimes when we talk to executives, the conversation goes like this:


Owner: “Well, our software technically has a feature that could do this…”


Us: “How does that feature work?”


Owner: “Well, the supervisors would have to log in via their work computers, which many of them don’t have, or aren’t readily accessible. Then they’d have to enter a bunch of information about the shift, and the system would take a few minutes and tell them who to call. And then the system will give them a list of employees they should call, but they often don’t have these employees’ contact information so they call HQ to get the employees’ phone numbers… then they’d call the employees to see if they’re qualified and available to work, until someone picks up and accepts the shift… and then they’d have to give the replacement employee detailed instructions about how to get to the job site and all other relevant info.”


Us: “So, if we bet you $100 that none of your frontline supervisors regularly use that feature, would we win?”


Owner: “You would win that bet.”


In this instance, there are clear benefits to the organization for following an efficient replacement staffing process: They don’t wind up understaffed. And if they follow the right procedure, they’ll fill these shifts without giving out overtime. Their customers will be happy


So why isn’t this happening today? Put simply, it’s just too hard for supervisors to follow the rules. This means supervisors will default to calling their favorites, or the people they know are available (whether or not that would count as an overtime shift). If they can’t fill the shift after the first couple of calls, they’ll do the work themselves - a solution, yes, but one that prevents the supervisor from actually supervising.


A solution that’s too complicated for a front-line supervisor to efficiently use is waste. It won’t get used. Worse, when no progress gets made, it will frustrate both your executive team and your supervisors. Your executive team will wonder why this is still an issue, your current system has a feature that does this! And your frontline supervisors will rightly retort that this feature is too hard and complicated to use.


That’s why we’ve built our software to be extremely supervisor-friendly - it’s the simplest way to find replacement staff and get back to supervising. We know that some existing systems may have somewhat similar features that are nestled away and difficult to use. Just forcing your supervisors to use a clunky, time-consuming feature isn’t the solution, however. They won’t use it - and your organization won’t solve its most pressing problems.


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