The New Supervisor
Grace Reed had been working at the County Medical Society Answering Service for 18 months when she received a promotion to shift supervisor. Grace was quite excited. She had worked very hard to develop the technical skills for answering calls and the interpersonal skills for communicating with patients and their doctors. Also, she had
demonstrated her desire for the promotion by volunteering for overtime and holiday work. Finally, she had been promoted.
However, now Grace faced problems she had not anticipated. How would she be able to convince her friends to take her seriously in her new role as their boss? How was she going to maintain her friendships and still maintain the discipline needed in this workplace?
The medical Society’s physicians were extremely disappointed with former county answering service companies, which handled not only physicians’ calls, but business and private accounts as well. Thus, the doctors had decided to start their own answering service. Their call handlers would handle only medical calls, would be better trained to recognize urgent and emergency calls, would receive better benefits, and would be paid more than the competing answering service companies paid their call handlers. The doctors believed this would allow them to attract and retain the best-possible workers.
To oversee the day-to-day operations of the service, the physicians hired a professional manager, and each shift had a supervisor whose responsibilities included scheduling workers; handling complaints from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and patients concerning how their calls were handled; learning how to operate new equipment, and train their call handlers to do the same; and maintaining the high level of service required by the physicians. These duties were in addition to the supervisor working his or her own eight-hour shift.
Grace was the fourth call handler hired by the organization and the first promoted from the ranks. When she was first hired, she was lucky to train with a very experienced, competent call handler. She modelled her own skills on those of her trainer and worked diligently to handle the most calls with the fewest mistakes and even fewer complaints. Whereas the other call handlers worked only 60 to 70 individual incoming lines, Grace routinely handled 100 to 120 lines, including some of those with the highest call volumes.
She not only cleared her own calls, but frequently assisted other call handlers in clearing their backlogged messages. When extremely difficult calls came in, such as suicide calls or nuisance calls from patients to whom even the doctors did not want to talk, often Grace was asked to handle them. She rapidly developed excellent relationships with all of “her” doctors, their staffs, and even their families. During her first year, she was named call handler of the month five times. In her second year, she learned how to schedule workers and received other advanced operations training.
Although the work was extremely fast-paced and required concentration, there was always time to talk with other employees, joke and have fun. Strong friendships developed among the workers, who frequently socialised after hours and on their days off. Moreover, the high levels of training and pay led to extremely low turnover rates, giving workers a sense that they were a “family” of sorts. There were always waiting lists of applicants for the positions. If
a call handler wished to leave, he or she had no problem finding work at hospitals or for the phone company. Morale was generally high.
Grace’s friends at the answering service threw a party for her when she received the promotion. Everyone who wasn’t working attended. They were happy for her and sincerely wished her well. After all, it was proof that any one of them could be promoted from the ranks! Grace was anxious to assume her new responsibilities and even try new procedures she had been devising.
Within a month, Grace wasn’t nearly as happy with her promotion as she had thought she would be. Her friends, who were now her subordinates as well, didn’t seem to pay attention to her suggestions concerning their job performance. They ignored her instructions and frequently treated them as a joke. She worked many hours planning schedules only to have the call handlers switch shifts, leave early or arrive late, saying they were sure she wouldn’t
mind because she understood all their personal complications with their romantic relationships. She was their friend, after all; they knew she would cut them some slack. And her best friends seemed to be some of the worst offenders.
Grace soon realised that her new position was missing one thing – authority to go with her new responsibilities. She had no authority to sanction any of her subordinates; she couldn’t dock their pay, make them work overtime, or cut back on their hours. She couldn’t shorten their lunch breaks or eliminate their coffee breaks. Only the overall company manager could impose sanctions of that sort. The problem was that if she tried to insist that a call handler
use a new procedure or work certain hours and the call handler balked, she had no recourse. If she complained to the manager about her situation, she would be viewed as unable to do her job. She couldn’t complain to her friends because they were part of the problem.
To combat her problems, Grace tried to act with a great deal of authority. For example, she insisted employees follow the new methods she had devised. As a result, she was met with hostility, and her friends stopped talking to her. One day she had had enough and berated a group of her friends about how they gave her no respect, were uncooperative and were not doing their jobs. After all, she never asked them to do anything she wasn’t willing or able to do herself. Still, morale was plummeting and productivity falling. Grace felt like a failure at the new job she had worked so hard to get, and even beyond that, she felt she was losing her friends.
Grace knew that something was going to have to change. She needed to try something new, to somehow regain the respect of her subordinates and find a new way to inspire them to improve their performance and efficiency and to restore morale. And she had to accomplish all of this while still maintaining her friendships.
You have been hired as a consultant to provide some advice to Grace and the County Medical Society Answering Service to improve her relationship with the employees and increase productivity.