Posted by: davidhayden | May 14, 2010

Supervisor: You can disagree with company policy and not destroy your career!

After a particularly brutal meeting, one of my fellow supervisors whispered as we left the meeting, “It’s their dog, they can beat it if they want to.”  That is the polite version, he used a different verb.

Fortunately, my friend was not overheard, but he made a powerful statement about his disagreement with the new company policy.  Knowing his place, he did not express his sentiments in the company meeting.

As a Supervisor you MUST know your place

One of the hardest lessons to learn as a new supervisor is knowing your place in the overall scheme of things.

Yes you have been given a little power.

Yes you are a little closer to management’s ears.

Yes your opinion may matter a little more than it did before you got the job.

NO, it is not your place to disagree with management in a company meeting!

If you have a pulse, you will disagree with management

Companies are dynamic and decisions get made at all levels of the organization, often you may disagree with the decisions handed down to you.  Some examples you may disagree with may include:

  • Employee lay off list
  • Disciplinary actions
  • Overtime scheduling
  • Departmental budgets and expenses
  • New hires / dismissals
  • Your role in the organization

As a supervisor, unless you are in a very small company or a very open company, you will not be privy to all the information that goes into any particular decision.  That means what may seem insanely stupid to you, makes perfect sense to your boss(es).

You may be looking at getting through the next week or project and their time line maybe more strategic and involve goals months or years in the future.  Or, you may think you need a person or resource and management is looking at cash flow.

Often managers will not share the “big picture” because they are afraid you will let something slip that is not ready for prime time.  In some cases,  higher policy or SEC regulations may prevent them from giving you all the details.

That does not mean you can not or should not express your opinions.

Express your dissenting opinions to your manager, not your employees
If your manager has respect for you, he will be interested in your opinion and want to assuage your concerns.  BUT, nothing will lose your manager’s respect faster than finding out you are undermining their policies by complaining to your employees.

You must remember your place is to implement policy, not make it.  Therefore, your job is to suck it up, get your whits about you and present a unified face to your employees.

“But wait just a minute, my employees won’t respect me if I always follow the party line!”

Think again.  Your employees will not respect you if you are a whiner.  Every time you go to your employees with a tale about how you disagree with management and would do it differently,  you are saying:

  • You have no spine – if you did you would move on to company that respects your opinion
  • Your opinions don’t matter to upper management – if they did you would not be complaining
  • You are not credible – if you were, you would be calling the shots
  • You are not a leader
  • You are more interested in being their friend than being their supervisor

Worst of all, after telling your employees how you would have done it better, something happens and the whole story comes out.  You find yourself with egg on your face because you did not know all the facts.

Get the facts before you jump to conclusions

Repeat after me:

I only think I know what is going on, I really don’t have all the facts
I only think I know what is going on, I really don’t have all the facts
I only think I know what is going on, I really don’t have all the facts
I only think I know what is going on, I really don’t have all the facts
I only think I know what is going on, I really don’t have all the facts

The supervisor’s role is not a strategic one.  Supervisors are not privy to all the facts, never have been, never will be.  The supervisors focus needs to be on making sure the tasks get done and that the available resources (people, machines, etc.) are utilized to the greatest extent possible.

When you don’t understand a management decision or direction, ask your manager . . . politely.  And ask with an honest curiosity.   Explain to your boss, that you want to know more about the decision and the reasoning behind it.  Let them know that the only way you can grow in your career is if you learn more about how important decisions get made.

A curious approach will tell your boss that you are willing to learn, but don’t expect them to tell you the whole story.

There are many reasons why you will not be told the whole story

Manager’s have a lot on their minds, some of which is not for public consumption.  For example most companies experience cash flow problems.  Some more often than others.  Critical decisions might be made just to insure that they can meet payroll.   In a case like that, manager’s may or may not want to tell you their motivation.  They may feel that if cash problems get out, it will hurt morale, hurt customer confidence, scare away investors or whatever.

Managers may know of a merger or possible buyout coming up and to improve the odds of success, may make decisions that don’t make sense to you.  Telling you the full details, could violate sound business practices or even SEC regulations.

Often a manager may just be trying to make a target number to enhance his / her career and feel that is just none of your business.

Regardless of what you learn or don’t learn you need to communicate with your employees.

The Earl story – what do you say to your employees

One of my early supervision jobs was at a small job shop.  We had about 150 employees and primarily did work for the Department of Defense.

My first hour on the job as a supervisor, I was told to take Earl off his machine and make him clean up a huge mess of smelly, dirty spilled oil created by someone else.  Now this did not make sense to me.  Earl was running a machine at a billable rate of $75 per hour and the person who made the mess was a forklift operator that was not all busy.

So, I asked. “Say Frank, Earl’s machine is running great, why do you want pull him off to do Jim’s job?”

“Just do it!” Frank barked back.

As I was walking over to Earl’s machine, my mind was reeling.  How was I going to explain this to Earl.  I had never met him before and he didn’t even know I was the new supervisor.

Honesty has always been my policy.  So I introduced myself and said, “Earl, I don’t know why but I have been charged with responsibility to make sure you clean up Jim’s mess over there?”

Silence . . .

Earl just looked at me then back towards Frank.  I was ready to run, clearly I was caught in the middle of something i didn’t fully understand.

Then with out warning, Earl burst out in laughter.  He said, “ya no problem.  Frank is really hacked off since I refused to work overtime this weekend.”

Regardless of your manager’s motivation, you have to communicate management’s intention to your employees.  Honesty is always the best policy.  By that I don’t mean give them your opinion, I mean honestly express management’s wishes . . . even if you disagree.

REMEMBER:  Speaking badly about company policy will NOT earn the respect of your employees and definitely not your boss.

Everyone has a stake in the company.  As a supervisor, your stake is a little higher.  You might say it is your dog too.   Maybe if you do your job well, management will not need to beat it so often.



  1. Great comments David!

    We need to keep on reminding each other about things like this.

    Thank you.

    • Thanks for the comment. It is easy (as least for me) to lose perspective once in a while..

  2. I don’t understand the last two sentences in this piece, “You might say it is your dog too. Maybe if you do your job well, management will not need to beat it so often.”

    Otherwise, I totally get it and strive to live by it. These have been my thoughts and I am glad to see it explained here. I am thinking that I should share with my Team Leads (who I supervise). Do you see any problems with that?

    • Lynne,
      You are welcome to share this post with anyone you see fit and I don’t see a problem at all. Hopefully your team leads will embrace the concepts.

      The “it’s your dog too” comes from a common expression that was used at one place I worked. Disgruntled employees would comment on management’s decisions they disagreed with by saying “It’s their dog, they can beat it if they want to!” Except they often used an expletive rather than “beat.” The phrase was often followed by “it doesn’t matter to me, I am here 40 hrs anyway.”

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