How do I be a competent supervisor?
February 18, 2016 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm a charge nurse in a residential facility where I work with 5 nurse's aides and 2 med techs each evening. Part of my job is supervising them. Before this job I was a floor nurse for 2 years with a charge nurse that I myself reported to. This is the first supervisory job I've had. I am so bad at managing people and I don't even know where to start.

My problem is that I want everyone to like me and I hate to be mean to people.

I report to the Care Manager, who doesn't give a flip if the aides watch TV with the residents if all of their work is done. It is a very relaxed environment but we need some semblance of order. I've been in this position for almost two years and I get only good performance reviews. However, I am definitely the worst at being a supervisor. Up until now I haven't cared much because as long as I keep residents safe and get good reviews I'm happy. However, I don't want to be a floor nurse forever and I'm getting my RN and want to eventually move into a higher position in a nursing home or skilled nursing facility.

Supervising the aides is only part of my job. I also do regular nurse stuff. What's difficult now is that the aides really like me, because I do not call them out on their transgressions.

Here are examples of situations that I find difficult:

1. A particular aide each night is assigned to whirlpools and will bathe up to 6 residents. All of the residents are assigned 30 minute slots. I will often find her sitting in the living room saying, "Mrs. H refused a bath because of x". I will then go talk to Mrs. H and I can easily convince her to take a bath. How do I address this with the whirlpool aide? I feel like I'm micromanaging her if I constantly keep tabs on her. If I say, "Tina, I want you to try harder to get the residents in the tub. You know it's important for xyz", that just seems so vague and mean, and it will be awkward between us in the future.

2. When the night shift comes in one of the med techs will go off about something trivial, like she will take the pagers that are sitting on the table and loudly say "guess nobody (from the previous shift) knows how to do their job" and go return them to the med room. I just ignore these comments because they are honest mistakes, not people being lazy but I want her to stop saying these things.

3. When I am on nights I supervise as well, and when the same med tech goes through the med administration record and sees that she now has to do a 6am blood sugar that had in the past been assigned to day shift, she will say "This is bullshit, they can't just give us more work, I'm changing it back to 7am". In the moment I told her that she needs to wait until I talked to the nurse who changed the time. But I feel like I should have addressed the larger issue, which is she is overstepping her role.

4. Throwing a wrench into the situation: oftentimes the aides do know better than me. For example if someone had a condition change with resulting weakness and I go down to help the aides, they ALWAYS know how to set up the transfer better than I would, in terms of safety and ease for the resident. So if later on I see that aide pushing another resident in a wheelchair and it doesn't faze me, their partner might say "Mrs. Jones has been walking to meals, just so you know. Susie always wants to push people" (implying that it's easier.) This is a situation I normally don't even touch. I feel like there is so much going on that's not correct that I don't even realize! How do I go about addressing this?

If it's something clear-cut like one of them is walking around with their cell phone out I will say "Steven, can you please put your cell phone away? If you need to take a break and it is okay with your partner then you are welcome to step off the floor for a few minutes." That's a little hard for me but I do it because it is the violation that is the problem, not the person. I feel really bad when I attack the person's work ethic or some part of their personality, you know?

I also have no problem being assertive to outside people.. like for example if the pharmacy is unwilling to send a needed med stat then I will go up the chain to the pharmacist until the med gets delivered, or if a nurse at the ED can't find a bed for a patient who we cannot care for then I will do what I have to do, even if it is talking unpleasantly to someone. It's just the good people I work with.

This is embarrassing to write, I know it is like Management 101 but they don't teach you this stuff in school and I am at a loss. And I KNOW I shouldn't care if things are awkward between me and an aide but I do! I don't want to make anyone's night worse, plus I'm outnumbered and I want everyone to like me. How do I stop this cycle?
posted by pintapicasso to Work & Money (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend Manager Tools. The whole site is like Management 101, and I used it when I went from individual contributor to manager.

Specifically, the Feedback Model would help in the situations that you mention. In situation #3 that you listed the feedback might be something like, "Hey (med tech), can I give you feedback? When you say what you just said I feel like you're overstepping your bounds. What can you do different?" Their response might be something as basic as "don't do that again" and that's fine.

There's a whole method to rolling out the Feedback Model that involves giving only positive feedback first for a few weeks until you and everyone else are used to it, and then you start rolling out "adjusting" feedback to change the behaviors that you desire them to change.

There's a lot in Manager Tools that makes this whole thing fit together, and I recommend browsing over all their podcasts and picking out ones that seem relevant to you.
posted by zompus at 10:10 AM on February 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a lot like you. I've spent my whole adult life as a manager and supervisor, and I have never gotten over wanting to find the solution that makes everyone happy so we all shake hands as the credits roll. But sometimes I need to say, "Goddammit, Stu, you are fucking this up for everyone and you need to stop, and if you can't, I can find another Stu who won't fuck it up for everyone." You know why I need to say that, despite wanting Stu to like me? Because Stu doesn't like me already. Not if he's willing to keep fucking it up after I've pointed out that he's fucking up, why his fuck-ups hurt everyone else, and how he can stop fucking it up.

Being the cool boss is great. I've gotten to do it a lot. But they pay me more money because sometimes I have to suck it up and feel bad about how I had to fire Stu and find someone better. I remember everyone I've ever fired (or demoted or taken any other negative action against), but I regret the ones that I didn't, who fucked things up even worse, and I could have prevented it.
posted by Etrigan at 10:18 AM on February 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Being a good boss is actually about looking for ways to get people to do their best and care about the quality of their work.

Think of it as reaching across not down.
There's no boss more despised than the bossy imperial personality who treats others as if they are less than.

Think of yourself as a team leader.
posted by BarcelonaRed at 10:46 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think one way to go about this is always asking if what is happening is bad for patient care--and then if it is, that can be your motivator. Like in example 1--not attending to ADLs/not bathing -- not great for patients. So when you talk to the aide, you can frame your response that way. Patient care is king, and more important than whether or not aides like you. Same with example 4--i assume you want ambulatory patients to be ambulatory if they aren't fall risks.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 11:59 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just be aware that the best way to get people to check out is to destroy their sense of ownership over their work. Lay out guidance, give them what they need to achieve what they should, make clear that there are consequences for not achieving the objectives, and then butt out. Give them the tools to succeed and the space to fail. Rely on the more experienced of your aides to "manage up" - to keep you informed of problems before they become problems, and help you help them do their jobs with a minimum of headache. Aside from ensuring regulatory compliance (where that is at issue), a good manager is an enabler.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:29 PM on February 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

One of the things a good manager does is make their expectations of their staff really clear. In your bathing example, does the staff member understand that her job is to bathe the residents, including trying to convince them to do so, or might she think her job is to offer to bathe the residents, and bathe them if they want a bath? If you think the former and she thinks the latter, and she doesn't know there's a problem because you haven't said so, then it would be unfair to silently seethe at her. It's not mean to clarify it with her. And if you're on the same page, and she still won't do it, then you have a starting point for a discussion about why.
More generally, you might find the archives at Ask A Manager useful.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 1:19 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Crucial Conversations". It's a great tool for learning to have hard converstaions. Unlike most management books, it's not puffed up touchy feely stuff. It acknowledges all the feelings you're having about avoiding confrontation and explains how to overcome them.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:22 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Much great advice here.

One small thing to focus on is that it can feel especially awkward to bring these things up when you both know they've been going on forever and you've never said anything. I just want to say that it's 100% OK to say, "Hey, Susie, can I talk to you? This is really difficult for me to say, because I really value our working relationship, and it feels awkward to bring it up when we've been working together for so long, but I've really been worried about patients not getting enough baths. I really expect and need you to be a big cheerleader for bathing. What you do is so important for the residents - it helps their healing and mobility and mood - others may not always appreciate it, but I do. Are there things I could be doing to make it easier for you to convince the residents to take baths?"

You're being genuine and authentic, you're recognizing her good work, you're offering to remove barriers - which is part of your job as a manager - and you're not bringing in assumptions ("I think you're not trying hard enough to convince people"), you're just stating what's bothering you and what you need her to do.
posted by Ausamor at 1:28 PM on February 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm a relatively new manager as well, and one thing I have found helpful is focusing on the outcomes and behaviors. As another person put it upthread, ask yourself if the problem behavior hurts patients. If it does, then it's relatively easy to just address the harm to the patients, in that moment. And absolutely, you are correct that you should not be talking to them about big things like work ethic, at least not at first. Just focus on behaviors.

So, like, with #1 - patients do need baths. You could go back to the aide, and say, "hey, I tried this and convinced Ethel to take a bath - can you try that next time?" And then if she comes back and says the next week that Ethel wouldn't take a bath, ask her if she tried that thing. This works on two levels: one, you're helping to solve a problem. Two, if the aide is trying to subtly get away with something, you're subtly, and in a non-confrontational way, letting her/him know that you're not going to let that happen.

I think an important corollary to this is that you should also always be looking for opportunities to give positive feedback as well. I went through a management training where they told us that we should be giving 6-7 pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of negative feedback. This can actually be kind of challenging, but it really does help.

One thing to remember about positive feedback, that took me a while to learn: it doesn't have to just be when people excel. You can use it to reinforce the basic expectations for the job. I get the sense that you're someone with high professional standards, which is probably why you are now a manager! But for a lot of people, just meeting the expectations of their job can be a struggle, either because they're inexperienced, or hate their job, or they have some sort of other barrier. (And it does sound like you are a nice/positive boss, so you might not even need this advice, but there's a difference between being nice/laid-back as a boss and proactively searching for and naming your reports' specific successes.)
posted by lunasol at 3:27 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for the record, #2 is something I would probably let slide, unless it's happening in front of patients or there is a widespread problem with trash-talking (and if the latter is the case, you're not going to be able to solve it on your own). But the rest of the items are all things that could negatively impact patient care.
posted by lunasol at 3:28 PM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

One "manager trick" is asking people lots of open-ended questions. That is, questions where the answer could genuinely go either way (how / why / what) versus (do / don't / why didn't).

This works because it lets you figure out what their mental model of the situation and what their understanding of the job's expectations are, and what they may be frustrated about. Then you can tailor your feedback to the particular expectations you're not aligned on, or give a pep talk on the personal aspect of the frustration they have, etc.

This works well if you make regular time just to talk to your employees 1/1 as well because these conversations are less triggering "out of the moment"
posted by hyperion at 5:55 AM on February 19, 2016

Excellent advice above. My two cents:

Being liked as a manager is not the goal. If that's your motivation, you'll do yourself and your employees a disservice. Set reasonable expectations to allow your team to succeed, communicate those expectations clearly, and follow-up appropriately (including giving timely negative feedback when necessary).

That sounds easy when you type it out like that. It's not. I recently had to give a formal performance correction plan to a member of my team. This was after weeks of informal notices that a behavior needed to be corrected. Honestly, I still feel guilty about it, but I know that it needed to be done for the good of my office if nothing else.

If you do this consistently, kindly, and respectfully you'll be respected as a fair manager. Most of your team will probably even like you. However, it's hard to be personal friends with people you supervise. For my part, I had to let that hope go - you'll always have disproportionate power in that relationship. Keep that power dynamic in mind, and treat your team fairly. This means not letting a hope of being liked prevent you from giving them appropriate feedback.
posted by owls at 11:39 AM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

owls' point about being liked is so true, and it's something I've had a hard time learning as well. I've actually managed to still have great relationships with the people I supervised, but it's based more on mutual respect than friendship.
posted by lunasol at 3:33 PM on February 19, 2016

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