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Scared Supervisors & Stroppy Staff


Hi Everyone,

I have been working for an insanely fast paced large retailer now for 3 weeks, and one of my main focuses is on Supervisor training.  Having talked to most of them, one of the main challenges they face is some very scary team members.  To a reasonable request such as 'Please can you cover another section today', they will get general stroppiness and attitude back.  It is commonplace for this sort of situation to be then raised as a grievance against the supervior for picking on them/ discrimination/ bullying/ harrasment. 

I am aware that a lot of these things are company cultural, and steps are in place from HR to stamp this sort of behaviour out.  I am faced however with some Superviors that are scared of their staff, and their line managers  genuinely have so much else to do they can be of minimal support. 

Any tips on how I can support the Superviors to get the courage to deal with these people who are running riot would be appreciated.  They are becoming increasingly demoralised, and I would like to do what I can to help.  Obviously this situation has been allowed to go on for far too long, but I can't change that!

It is also worth pointing out I have a budget of zero, and can only run one hour sessions!

Thank you so much,


4 Responses

  1. Whose behaviour……?

    Hi Nikki, on the basis of the details you’ve given, there is a strong possibility that the behaviour of the staff is symptomatic of the culture of the organisation.   More ‘stick’ rather than ‘carrot’ may keep the lid on things, but there must be more to this than meets the eye …. at least in your particular branch.   Hour long sessions with zero budget doesn’t sound promising either.   For what it’s worth, if an hour is all you’ve got, I’d be tempted to do more listening than talking, in the early stages, in order to find out what the hell’s been going on for months, even years.  And I may also be tempted to start with the staff rather than the supervisors.   It sounds like communications have broken down pretty much completely … terribly negative.    


    No doubt HR will do their bit, but in my experience, the cause of this sort of behaviour is actually other ‘behaviours’ higher up the food chain.    I don’t know who the retailer is, but I hope it’s nowhere near me!!

    If you can send me any other details, I might be able to help (even with zero budget!) – it doesn’t sound like paradise for you either ……. don’t get caught in the crossfire!  



  2. seems to be the flavour of the moment…

    I can empathise as we have worked recently with 2 high street food retailers against a scarily similar brief. (I’m sure they would be happy to talk to you directly if you are not in direct competition with them).

    Firstly, we were lucky that any development was following on the tails of a corporate initiative to step up performance in response to the current climate – so there was a platform we could use. We found that the Supervisors needed (and desperately wanted) clear direction on what to do and simple tools to help them do it well; especially where behaviour had gone unchallenged for some period of time. In many instances, the Supervisors were keyholders rather than true managers and so had never been encouraged to grasp the idea of management.

    Our focus was on creating materials for the Supervisors to use locally with their teams/individuals to generate discussion around company/customer expectations of performance, current performance levels and to begin to reach agreement on key areas to focus on. The types of tools included card games with ficticious team members/customers profiled on them, challenge cards to use at the counter to motivate team members to try something different, structured team-briefs/huddles to focus the team and to reach a shared agreement, etc. These activities have tended to lead to a focus on the team and how the ‘behaviour’ of one team member scars the whole team (our research found that teams often knew immediately which team members were displaying unacceptable behaviour, but hadn’t thought about how that reflected on them and what they could do about it). Crucially, we also spent time with, and developed guidelines for, the Area Manager population to help them understand what support they could provide for the Supervisors and to develop some local ownership of the activity/results (they were just as appreciative for the simple ideas to use on their visits to stores).

    I’m going on a bit now, but the point is that we have been able to work with these ‘insanely fast-paced large retailers’ to produce simple materials, very quickly, for the Supervisors to use in 1 hour sessions (up to 6 sessions with 1 retailer)… and they have worked! One client has been so convinced they’ve rolled the materials out globally and are even entering them for a National Training Award this year (yes that makes us very proud but that’s not my point).

    Please don’t think this is a pitch for you to give us the work, but I do think you can be encouraged by fact that others retailers have been faced with a similar challenge and have been able to make a difference. Let me know if you would like me to facilitate an introduction to them ([email protected])

    Good luck!


  3. Batari’s Box

    Hi Nikki

    Anne’s answer is very comprehensive and offers valuable advice with a great message of ‘it can be done’. I won’t therefore repeat it.

    If it would be helpful to have a model to demonstrate to your supervisors and employees of the impact of attitude and behaviour then Batari’s Box is excellent. It is clear that your employees attitude and behaviour is scaring and and intimidating the supervisors and this in turn is affecting their attitude and behaviour, resulting in a never ending cycle. Whilst this may be cultural, as we are all responsible for choosing our attitude*, your supervisors can decide to do something different.

    I have used this model alot and it is very powerful. You can also then discuss methods of breaking the cycle described by Batari’s Box. I can see this working really well with some of the techniques Anne talks about. If you input Batari’s Box on a search engine it will bring up good results, alternatively get in touch with me and I’ll send you some information and some ways to break the cycle. Batari’s Box could be covered in an hour’s session with some ideas generation by the supervisors and employees if you train them as well on ways to break the cycle.

    *The marvellous ‘Fish’ book may also be a good read with regards to ‘choosing your attitude’ if its not a book you or your supervisors are familiar with.

    I wish you every success with this.




  4. This is a management issue not a training one


    This is not a training or HR  issue, it is a management one. The reason why these employees give the supervisors a hard time is because they know they can. They know they will get away with it, they know the supervisors will not be supported and they know more senior managers are frightened of them. The branch manager is at fault here as he/she is tolerating this situation. There is absolutely no point in giving these supervisors any training if the branch manager is not going to support them. Speak to the branch manager, if the manager takes a ‘passive’ approach to the situation tactfully take it up with the area manager. If the area manager shows no interest then just give the supervisors moral support, it will be a waste of time giving them anything else.
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