Effective supervisor workshop focuses on communication, hiring and legal issues

Close to 60 directors, supervisors and administrators gathered Thursday in Topeka for the first of two “Becoming an Effective Supervisor: Director’s Workshops.” A repeat of this workshop is scheduled for Wed. Oct. 16 in Garden City. 

The 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. meeting focused on leadership, communication, hiring, evaluation and legal issues for classified and support personnel. Attendees learned about building trust, conducting difficult conversations, hiring the best candidate and becoming the leaders for change and improvement. 

Gary Sechrist, KASB leadership services field specialist, led the group in discussions on effective communication and conducting difficult conversations with employees. His recommendations include making sure the issue is dealt with as quickly as possible after an incident.  

“Handle issues with immediacy and be direct but not confrontational,” Sechrist said. “Keep your demeanor calm, and avoid conducting the conversation while standing up. The issue is always personal – and therefore emotional – to the employee, so focus on the issue not the person.” 

He went on to outline the importance of focusing on the solution and setting goals. 

“Limit the goals to no more than three goals,” he said. “And you as the supervisor must monitor and evaluate the progress of the goal by sticking to the agreed timeline.” 

Sechrist said a supervisor will be more successful if they keep the conversation short and to the point, not letting themselves be drawn off target by arguments or emotion. It is always a good idea to have a witness to the conversation, and to document the meeting. 

The afternoon session dealt with legal issues presented by Luke Sobba, KASB attorney. The first topic focused on avoiding the possible legal pitfalls of suspending or terminating an employee. 

Sobba stressed the importance of making job descriptions clear regarding expectations, and making sure board policies, employee contracts and human resource practices protect against actions that might lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit. 

Hiring the best candidate with the correct skills is the first step, but on the job training is still important. 

“Training is often overlooked,” Sobba said. “They need to learn the culture of your own environment and what is expected,” he said.  

Sobba also reviewed workers compensation requirements and specific supervisor concerns covering sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying. 

The day wrapped up with a discussion of developing skills and capacity of employees and leading change within a department. 

Sechrist said change can be uncomfortable and even frightening to employees. 

“The supervisor is the one who has to believe change needs to occur,” Sechrist said. “Conflict and disagreement are elements of successful change, and people will require some pressure to change.” 

Asking employees to embrace change, particularly when the department is successful, is a “work in progress” Sechrist said. 

“Everyone in the department has to agree on the vision, and have the skills, incentive, resources and an action plan to make change successful,” Sechrist said. “You can’t effect change with just three or four out of five of these.” 

As a supervisor one must analyze what is missing, then provide the leadership and training to lead the department to success, he said. 

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