The University Record, December 10, 1997

Supervisors no longer have to learn the hard way

By Jane R. Elgass

'Dealer' Robert L. Barbret, financial manager, Financial Operations, used different color poker chips to illustrate the variety of funding resources at the University in a recent 'Foundations of Supervision' session on utilization of resources. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

A new program from Human Resource Development (HRD) designed expressly for supervisors campuswide is taking that group by storm, so to speak. And it goes a long way in removing the burden of learning the intricacies of these demanding positions "on th e job."

"There was no other way [before this course] to get information except on the job," explains participant Vicki Davinich, administrative assistant in comparative literature. "You had to learn the hard way, and that's scary when dealing with human bein gs.

"I think one of the best parts of the course was having all the different viewpoints," Davinich says. "We got a really good cross-section of all the departments. They are part of a big group you really don't know. We were able to meet them and see who makes policies and why they do. We were able to have an open dialogue with them, question things and get answers."

Davinich's experience in the "Foundations of Supervision" course has changed the way she does her job in several areas, including issues of alcoholism and sexual harassment, the hiring process and writing evaluations. She's also gone back to the inst ructors for help when necessary. "I may have talked to that person before, but now I know the person, rather than just a voice on the phone. Putting a face to the person really helps."

"Foundations of Supervision," created at the request of the University's executive officers, is targeted particularly to new supervisors as well as those with some experience who may not have had any formal supervisory training. Four sessions of the program have been held; three more have been scheduled. To date, more than 70 individuals have taken the program.

Lynda Liston, a manager in Information Technology Division operations, "begged and pleaded" to attend the course. "I'm a relatively new supervisor, having inherited our group about a year and a half ago. I felt there were things about supervision I could really improve on, such as policies, procedures and general techniques."

Liston already had received a lot of training in total quality, coaching and team leadership. The course, however, "put it all in the context of supervising other people. You get a better sense of what your responsibility is when you are supervising someone. It's different from being a team leader. You are constrained in what you can and cannot do as a supervisor," Liston explains, and the course provided an opportunity to "discuss policies in a frank and forthright manner."

"The instructors made an effort to update our thinking about being a supervisor, made us more aware of the possibilities available through coaching, mentoring and empowerment. The course gave us new skills to help motivate people."

Liston has referred frequently to her course workbook and also says she is more likely to refer to the Standard Practice Guide when she has questions about something.

"In general, I am more aware of the relationship between a supervisor and staff member. No matter how nice you are, the position you are in carries more power. I try hard to keep that in mind. I want to motivate people, not dominate them. I've mod ified my approach to individuals I supervise to address them in a manner that resonates with them."

Chauna Meyer, student services assistant in civil and environmental engineering, echoes Liston's comments about dealing with individuals. "The personality tests we took taught us about ourselves. Most things I knew, but a few things were interesting . It has helped me be more aware of myself and how I can better interact with people. It has changed the way I work. I am aware of myself and the traits others have and why they might act a certain way in a particular situation."

Meyer notes that a session featuring a panel of supervisors was most helpful. "It helped me realize there are many people in the same situation dealing with the same problems I do."

The five-week program, which contains eight courses, includes about 50 hours of instruction spread over twice-weekly meetings using case studies, guest speakers, simulations, panel discussions, lectures, discussion groups and participant presentations .

Program topics are designed to familiarize participants with the University's policies and procedures and, more important, with the wide array of resources available to them to help implement those policies and procedures in their areas of responsibil ity.

Describing himself as a "young employee getting into a position that was beginning to have supervisory responsibilities," David Howell says the course gave him "a better appreciation of the diversity of people you can supervise and their needs and tha t you have to perceive those needs to succeed as a supervisor."

Howell, a programmer analyst at the Survey Research Center, says the program also provided "lots of good reference material for how the University operates as well as places to go with problems and for advice."

Learning about legal issues and working with bargained-for employees from the U-M point of view was especially helpful for Roger Myers, a supervisor in Printing Services who had held similar positions outside the University.

Myer also found the role-play activities to be a particularly good way of getting the point across, and appreciated the opportunity to meet others who share his concerns.

"HRD has been happy to partner with many people and departments across the University to develop and provide such an important program," says Robert B. Holmes, HRD director. "We see the program as a way of improving the 'organizational health' of the University, so it fits nicely with HRD's mission to be a partner with units to help them build their capacity to change and improve and to be an 'employee champion' to help people build their competencies and commitment.

"In a very real sense," Holmes explains, "Foundations of Supervision is an all-University program. It was designed to meet needs identified in focus groups and interviews with more than 85 supervisors and managers troughout the University. More than 40 individuals participated on curriculum development teams to design the content and delivery methods.

"Dozens of people, in addition to the participants, have observed some or all of the program, and we have had the benefit of their views on how the program should be shaped and continuously improved. The instruction has an all-University focus," Holm es adds. Instructors and panelists came from, among other units, HRD, Employment Services, Affirmative Action, Employee Relations, Faculty and Staff Assistant Program, Consultation and Conciliation, Financial Operations, Purchasing and Stores, Departmen t of Public Safety, General Counsel's Office, LS&A, Plant, Payroll and the Information Technology Division.

"Our goal in HRD," Holmes says, "is to add value to the units in the University and the people who work in them. We do this through our expertise in learning and adult education, and in areas such as strategic planning, change management, team develo pment, needs assessment, facilitation, process management, organizational culture and climate."

See the HRD catalog for more information on "Foundations of Supervision" or visit HRD on the Web at or the Professional Development Virtual Calendar at

Participants in the Foundations of Supervision pilot sessions identified what they believe should be the expectations for supervisors and managers, as well as the values and principles they believe should guide these individuals.

Supervisors should:


Maintain high ethical standards, demonstrating integrity, honesty and trustworthiness.


Attend to the public trust that is vested in the University by being aware of the special responsibilities and obligations we have to serve others, both at the University and in the larger society.


Deeply respect the University's educational and scholarly mission and the special contributions of all members of the University community.


Respect individuals and ideas while upholding and embracing the value of human diversity.


Pursue continuous improvement and innovation by fostering creativity and new approaches in order to ensure the continued excellence of the University; understand the processes and systems within which we work so that we can seek to improve them.


Collaborate and recognize our interdependence with others, so that the University can increasingly be greater than the sum of its parts.


Seek balance in all areas of our lives so that we can increase our personal and professional effectiveness.


Support professional development and growth through further education, training and experience so new and creative ideas can help the University move toward its future vision.

HRD is interested in comments by members of the University community about these expectations. Send any comments or reactions to Robert Holmes, 1111 Kipke Drive 1015, or e-mail,