Supervision Models & Theories

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Managers employ different supervision models and theories to maximize the productivity and efficiency of their work teams. No single theory or model is inherently better than another; contingency theory states that the best management model for a particular workforce depends on a range of situational variables. Experienced managers understand a range of management methodologies and know how to identify the most appropriate theories to apply in any given situation.

Theory Y

Theory Y, set forth by 20th-century author Douglas McGregor, encompasses the premise that employees naturally love to work, finding inherent satisfaction in their careers. The focus of supervision under Theory Y is the managers' role as facilitators and teachers. Theory Y managers believe that all they have to do is provide a pleasant, healthy, engaging work environment and employees will be highly motivated from within.

Theory X

Theory X, also composed by McGregor, is the polar opposite of Theory Y. Theory X puts forth the premise that people, by nature, dislike working and only do it because they have to. Theory X managers place more of an emphasis on motivating and monitoring employees. The basic premise of Theory X supervision is that employees will slack off whenever they can and try to get away with anything they can. Therefore, it is the manager's responsibility to keep employees productive and in line with company policies.

Management by Objectives

Management guru Peter Drucker composed the management by objectives (MBO) approach to supervision. The underlying theory behind MBO is that employees are much more motivated to achieve company objectives when they have a hand in crafting the objectives. Leaders using an MBO framework involve employees in decisions that affect their jobs as much as possible, rather than simply dictating new tasks, policies and operational procedures in a top-down manner.

Employee evaluations are one aspect of human resources management that can particularly benefit from MBO. When an employee has a hand in setting and evaluating his own performance goals, he will be more likely to achieve those goals.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is an organizational behavior theory that is highly relevant to supervisors. Maslow theorized that everyone has five distinct levels of personal needs, and that each layer of needs cannot be fulfilled until the previous layer is satisfied. The first layer in Maslow's hierarchy is physical needs, such as food and water. One level higher are safety needs, such as insurance and job security. Next are social needs, such as family and friends, then self-esteem needs, such as dignity and reputation. The final level of need, only attainable after all others are secure, is self-actualization, which encompasses such things as personal achievement and identity.

Supervisors familiar with Maslow understand that employees cannot focus outwardly on customers until each level of their needs is met. Addressing each layer of needs for your staff can free them to worry about your customers' needs rather than their own.