A good boss is a good teacher

 

8212805

What's the value of a good boss? When the boss is a CEO, that question has been scrutinized. But the role of less exalted front-line supervisors — the folks who directly oversee teams of workers — has been overlooked.

Do supervisors vary in quality? How valuable is a good one? And what makes a good one good? These are questions that preoccupy people in their daily work lives, but haven't been the subject of much formal research.

That's why it's excellent that Kathryn Shaw and Edward Lazear of Stanford's Graduate School of Business recently teamed up with the University of Utah's Christopher Stanton to explore the subject in a working paper called "The Value of Bosses."

Their research comes from a study of a large company (it's kept anonymous as part of the terms under which it was conducted), but the results should be of interest to top-level managers at companies of all sizes. And, indeed, it's smaller firms that probably have the most to learn from this sort of study, since they lack the scale to conduct an analysis in-house.

Their answer is that, yes, good bosses are a good deal better than bad ones. Replacing a supervisor from the bottom 10 percent of the pool with one from the top 10 percent increases output about as much as adding a 10th worker to a nine-worker team.

That it's better to have a good manager than a poor one isn't very surprising. But the authors' two other findings are a bit more striking. The main impact effective supervisors have on their employees doesn't come from motivating or supervising them per se, it comes from teaching them better work methods. About two-thirds of the productivity boost from working under a good supervisor persists even after the worker switches bosses. That leads the authors to conclude that "teaching" — imparting better methods or skills — is the biggest part of effective supervision. The good boss effect does decay over time, however, so that after six months only about 18 percent of the boost remains.

The second finding is even more surprising: The most efficient structure is to assign the best workers to the best bosses rather than have the best bosses bring the weakest workers up to speed. "Maximizing the value of bosses requires that the better bosses be assigned to the better workers," they conclude, because workers increase their output so much when working with star supervisors.

Of course, any boss out there should use caution before applying lessons gleaned from one firm to their own business. But smaller operations that simply don't have the scale to repeat the large-scale data collection might want to take a leap of faith. Pay attention to your supervisors — and your own work in a supervisory role — as more than just a routine element of efficiency. Make sure your most promising workers are paired up with the best supervisors. And make it clear that teaching and learning are the essence of an effective boss/employee relationship. Good bosses don't just crack the whip or deliver a pep talk, they deliver concrete improvements in workers' ability to get the job done.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PPC Executive - Manchester City Centre

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency wo...

Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

£7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor