A Supervisor’s Most Valuable Tool

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Front line supervisors, managers and team leaders can have a positive impact on their success if they use one simple tool as part of their daily management routine: a pocket-sized notebook.

The most obvious use of this notebook will be to document issues that support progressive discipline but that’s only the beginning.

Can a simple notebook also be the key to unlock employee motivation, improve shift changeover and support continuous improvement?

You bet it can; find out how:

1. Supporting Progressive Discipline

HR has a primary interest in having supervisors do a better job at documenting performance and behavior issues because, in order for progressive discipline to stick, there needs to be evidence that a series of conversations and corrective actions have taken place. A notebook can serve as an invaluable tool for that purpose.

Supervisors who complain that they don’t get backed up by management when they write up employees should remember that without good documentation, HR has little ammunition to counter employee accusations or excuses. A supervisor who regularly documents observations is less likely to be accused of harassment or unfair targeting because the supervisor will demonstrate a fair and consistent approach to employee relations.

2. Don’t Be A Traffic Cop 

In the same way that a police officer carries a notebook to take down observations in order to complete an incident report, supervisors should do likewise. However, the notebook should be used to document all kinds of observations including positive ones. That way employees won’t see the notebook as a punishment log – they will see it more positively.

Front line leaders can have a positive impact on their success if they use one simple tool as part of their daily management routine: a pocket-sized notebook. Share on X

3. Increase Employee Confidence

Picture yourself in a restaurant with five family members or friends. The waiter comes to your table and listens attentively as each person tells him their drink, appetizer, entrée and side dish order but the waiter doesn’t take any notes. Impressive? Most of us would admit to feeling a bit anxious that something was going to be missed. “Will he remember I wanted my dressing on the side? Or that I asked for no peppers on my entrée?”

Even a great server would ease the customer’s anxiety by writing down notes. In the same way a supervisor who takes notes will increase the confidence level in the employee that he is likely to follow up on the employee’s question, concern or suggestion.

Great supervisors know that their notebook is a great visual indicator that shows employees that the supervisor takes their input seriously and follows up on questions, issues and concerns. It helps counteract the dreaded “Leave it with me,” or “I’ll get back to you,” only to have the employee get frustrated when the supervisor completely forgets to close the loop and get the employee an answer to their question.

4. Smooth Out Shift Change

Shift change is another challenge for high volume operations and trying to remember to pass along key information is difficult without noting observations throughout the shift. Making ongoing notes about equipment, materials and quality issues would make it much easier to provide a better snapshot to the supervisor on the following shift.

5. Documenting Continuous Improvement 

Taking notes supports continuous improvement because ideas present themselves in real-time. Employee suggestions can be noted and passed along. The supervisor’s own thoughts and observations can be captured.

note taking

Here are some tips for effectively using a notebook as part of effective supervision:

  • Notebook entries should be dated and in the case of a significant incident, the time should also be noted.
  • Write down observations so that if someone else were to read it, it will be seen as factual and fair. A supervisor who expresses his frustration by writing down inflammatory words like stupid, dumb, lazy, etc. will only see their documentation thrown out in court or arbitration.
  • In the case of a performance or behavior problem, the supervisor should describe the situation, summarize what was said to the employee and any response given by the employee. Any supporting actions, commitments and follow-ups will be noted.
  • Some supervisors are self-conscious about spelling and grammar but that isn’t a big deal. Instead, focus on capturing the info. Bad spelling won’t be a determining factor in the enforcement of consequences.
  • Supervisors should keep notebooks indefinitely or at least for 18 to 24 months. We’ve seen examples where notes might be needed months and years later with a particularly challenging employee performance situation.

Using a Computer in Place of the Notebook is Less Effective

Some supervisors ask if a computer can be used in place of a notebook? The challenge is that unless the supervisor works in an office environment, he or she is likely to be (or should be) roaming the floor and the notebook is the most portable documentation device. Plus a computer won’t provide the employee with the sense that his or her concerns will be followed up with.

The use of a notebook can increase the effectiveness of your supervisors, improve employee satisfaction, and support disciplinary action. Developing the skill set of effective notebook use and the conversations that should accompany those observations will increase the confidence and competence level of your front line leaders.