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How can supervisors best support HR directors and their teams?

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3rd Oct 2013
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What is supervision?

‘Supervision is an opportunity to bring someone home to their own mind, to show them how good they can be.’  Nancy Kline, ‘Time to Think’

Supervision is a process of reflection and insight and support that focuses on resourcing the supervisee.

Reflection, Insight and Support. Supervision enhances ‘seeing’ - the seeing into one’s working practice, the illuminating of subtle processes in professional and business conversations and the highlighting of blind spots in oneself and in one’s ways of working. Super-vision is then something that the supervisee takes away with them – an enhanced view, a super-vision of their working practice.’   ‘Reflection and Insight’ point to the range of learning which emerges as a result of sustained, supervisory focus on one’s work or on a particular aspect of the one’s current style.  The ‘Support’ of supervision is often overlooked; professionals in supervision regularly comment on the level of relief they experience because they have a safe, reflective space in which to explore their work.

Through skilled dialogue, creative interventions and collaborative learning, supervisees have an excellent space in which to reflect on and deepen all areas of their working practices.

Supervision operates in many professional and business contexts – for leaders, coaches, educators, board members, CEO’s, public servants. Increasingly, HR Directors and their teams are choosing professional supervision over coaching for support and development. In the more reflective practice of supervision, HR is finding that the quality of attention, of detailed exploration, of space and time to think, which characterise supervision, provide a developmental opportunity that is truly empowering. While coaching is useful in these contexts too, it is the wide-ranging processes of supervision that more fully cater for a range of themes common to the daily experience of HR.

Supervision develops skills in the following areas:

  1. communicating across many different departments
  2. handling high levels of expectation and responsibility
  3. working with senior players
  4. dealing with constant interruptions
  5. managing difficult or stressed colleagues
  6. handling conflict within and between departments.

These are some of the added complications, which can de-skill the HR person who also has to master a great deal of information and who has to respond quickly to new situations that arise in all organisations.

I have isolated five key areas where supervisors can be a powerful support to the HR Director and their team.

  1. Building excellent communication skills
  2. Resolving critical moments at work
  3. Developing personal and professional authority
  4. Supporting team dynamics
  5. Attending to preparation for meetings
  6. Managing difficult conversations and challenging colleagues

In all of these areas, it is the supervisor who offers an opportunity for a honest, clear conversation and who will bring skills and resources which enable the supervisee to be more aware and more competent. For example, the supervisee can explore all aspects of their own communication style without fear of judgement and with a view to learning how to work successfully with many types of colleague. They will learn more about how to remain calm and clear in the intensity of high-level meetings. The supervisor will also develop the HR practitioner’s capacity to function well in the midst of challenging conversations.

We all have critical moments at work! In small and large companies, there are many such moments in a given day - moments that may affect one or many departments simultaneously. HR personnel need to be able to withstand the surges of feeling and increased demands of these moments; supervision provides exactly that kind of skilled support, using tools from resilience training, mindfulness, managing strong emotions and applied neuroscience.

One of the areas where supervision powerfully develops supervisees, is that of an enabling strong, centred, clear thinking presence. It is so easy to lose composure and the capacity to think well under pressure! Classic supervision techniques and processes – see list below – are exactly what HR needs to be being steady and resilient as they deal with the diverse interests and demands that each day brings.

Supervision provides insight into interpersonal and team dynamics and over time, it enables a supervisee to negotiate the often tricky field of relationships common to any team. The supervisee will learn more about the role they habitually adopt in their team and will evaluate that role with the supervisor. This will open the way to choose differently, if necessary. Supervision can then support behavioural change that ensures that the supervisee can show up comfortable and competent in their team meetings.

One of the things that HR often dislikes is the high level meeting for which they need to be well prepared and bring huge amounts of information to the table.  And if that were not enough, meetings can often take a ‘left turn’ and there can be unexpected demands, which may leave the HR person on the back foot. These demands may come from a senior member of the company or from departments who may have conflicting interests. Supervision sessions can provide an excellent space in which to prepare fully for meetings and to consider possible outcomes – expected and unexpected. The supervisee can also develop more understanding and skill in handling pressure and in dealing with very senior personnel.

Supervisor skills

So what are the required skills, capacities of a supervisor who can work successfully in this context? This list which covers supervision training plus the personal and professional skills of a suitably qualified supervisor:

  • Significant training in supervision
  • Personal maturity, balance, humour
  • Knowledge of psychology of relationships and organisations
  • Capacity for understanding systems
  • Sensitivity to supervisees learning
  • Knowledge of the conditions for adult learning
  • Highest ethical and professional standards
  • Skills in reflective practice
  • Knowledge of negotiating processes
  • Advanced dialogue skills
  • Relational capacity

In conclusion, supervision is: ‘A co-created learning relationship that supports the Supervisee in their development, both personally and professionally, and seeks to support them in providing best practice to their client. Through the process of reflecting on their work in supervision, the Supervisee can review and develop their practice and re-energize themselves. It offers a forum to attend to their emotional and professional wellbeing and growth. Through the relationship and dialogue in this alliance, professionals can receive feedback, broaden their perspectives, generate new ideas and maintain standards of effective practice.” (Alison Hodge – Full Spectrum Supervision)

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