Supervising Staff is Strengthening and Building the Organization for Tomorrow

Our concern for the productivity and contribution the staff make to the non-profit often motivates senior staff to quickly access and evaluate the way the staff members work and their on the job performance. At the same time the senior staff may neglect the role supervision and in-service training can play in strengthening both the staff and the organization. Supervision and training can add a great deal to the agency’s responding to community needs and delivering services.

When a person is engaged to perform professional and/or administrative functions for an agency we assume a basic level of competence. We expect the person to adapt their knowledge and experience to the specific role the person is playing in the organization. When a staff person receives a job description they have a clear understanding of not only their specific role in the organization but also their obligations and responsibilities. There is no question they should be evaluated and appraised based on their performance on the job. However, at the same time, professional supervision can provide the staff member with opportunities for professional and personal growth within the job.

Given the pressures of working with limited resources organizations tend to seek the most efficient path for making sure that staff members fulfill their responsibilities. Often this entails short weekly or bi-weekly meetings focusing on their specific performance and what was not accomplished. The focus might be on mistakes and how to correct the performance so the mistakes are not repeated. Due to time pressures meetings may be limited to a very short period of time.

There is another approach. This one follows a tradition of assisting the staff member in developing their knowledge and skills. It is assumed that a person will be able to contribute more to the organization as a result of their learning and development. The more we invest in assisting people in their growth and development the more they will be able to accomplish for us in their work.

What does it mean assisting them in their growth and development?

Growing and developing skills in a job is a process that begins with the hiring of the staff member. When someone is engaged by an organization there needs to be a focus not only on what the person brings to the job in the present but also what they can contribute to the organization as they gain more knowledge and experience. The supervisor’s role is to assess the potential of the staff member and to assist the person in discovering how he or she can use themselves more effectively and efficiently over time.

The use of time is a dynamic that needs to be considered in the supervisory process. First and foremost is examining how the staff member engages with clients and co-workers. We need to look at the person’s acclimation in the organization. This process is explored in supervision and can provide some insight into how the person adapts to new situations. Observing the new employee as he or she creates a place for themselves can often tell a great deal about the person.

The role of the supervisor is not only to observe the person but also to assist them in understanding how they are fitting into the new work environment and to establish an agenda for the supervisory relationship. The staff person and the supervisor create a number of items and issues that require attention and will be worked on during the coming months. This is particularly important when the agency has an initial probationary period (as discussed in a previous posting). Included in this process is the establishment of “milestones” for the staff person’s progress in the job. The purpose of the supervisory relationship is to create a supportive learning environment, as well as one of assessing and evaluating the staff member, the agency benefits as the staff member develops and performs more effectively and efficiently on the job.

In addition to regularly scheduled supervisor sessions, the agency can provide in-service training workshops and seminars, and staff members are able to have a sense of the organization’s investment in their development. These kinds of programs can be organized around learning focused on skills necessary to deliver the agency’s services or of a more general nature having to do with the function of the staff team in the organization. When the workshops and seminars are developed with staff input they are more willing to invest in the learning experience.

Evaluation and performance appraisal are important elements in the administration of a non-profit organization. However, these will not provide for the strengthening of the staff and the skills they need to implement the agency’s services. Through a developed supervisory process the staff members will be able to develop their skills, increase their knowledge, and contribute more to the organization’s functioning in the community. It is a worthwhile to invest in staff training, supervision and development through an organized program that focuses both on individual staff members and the broader needs of the staff group.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.