Effective supervision: what we shall forever be remembered for.

Tom Kamaliki | 29th June 2020

Effective supervision: what we shall forever be remembered for.

Effective supervision: what we shall forever be remembered for.

Tom Kamaliki | 29th June 2020


I have been reflecting on this subject for a while now and I stumbled upon a simple definition that left me with a broad smile;  ‘A process where one worker is given the responsibility by an organization to work with another worker (or other workers) in order to meet certain organizational, professional and personal objectives.’


As the smile was slowly fading away, I remembered Michael Armstrong in most of his various volumes of Handbooks of Human Resources Management where he puts it clear that ‘employees do not run away from employers but they do run away from supervisors)’. I first came across this in 1997 as a pioneer Post-Graduate HR student in Kenya at the Institute of Human Resources Management-Kenya, by then the famous IPM-Kenya.  I did not quite comprehend what Armstrong meant until after a few years when we got a new HR head who really made most of our lives very unbearable. I've never forgotten thi one time she literally threw a file back at me simply because she could not understand what I had done.  I ducked the file you'd think I was Manchester City’s number one goalkeeper. Waking up to go to work and knowing I was going to meet this same supervisor was hell.  Her transfer came and glory to God.  The Savior I had been longing for just came in. May your soul rest in peace Mr. Mwaliki.

I learnt a lot from this old man who, despite many job groups away,  could come down from his ‘ivory’ seat, sit with me at his coffee table and take me through what it meant to move me to the next level. During lunchtime, he could call me by my middle name ‘Ukiru’ let us go for lunch. I can vividly remember him crossing Harambee Avenue in Nairobi while holding my hand, and in a few minutes, we are at what used to be the famous and the only popular joint, Osewe’s Fish restaurant.  Later, I got my first promotion owing to the leadership of this old man, which immediately earned me a transfer to a prestigious ministry.   

My celebration at the new posting was short-lived. My former frustrating supervisor was also posted here. My God! We just picked up from where we left. Not only me but across the board. Always looking for mistakes. By this time, I had grown in HR and the PS and other heads of department had come to appreciate my contribution. This was evident when the PS appointed me in writing to a Task Force comprising of only Heads of Department, to represent the ministry’s HR department in developing the Ministry’s 5-year Strategic Plan, leaving out this frustrating Head of HR  and yet I was number three in command. Why do I say this? As supervisors, we frustrate the people below us instead of showing them the way until we miss on great opportunities that our juniors end up grabbing. What an awkward and shameful position we put ourselves in? The senior management knows the talent in our juniors even if we keep on frustrating them.  I have turned down a couple of recommendations from supervisors who wanted staff under them to be terminated because I knew they were cases of mere frustrations as confirmed by the investigations I conducted.

I do not wish to remind us of the qualities of an effective supervisor because we know them. What disturbs me is why we do not put them in practice. I am proud to have mentored my subordinates, some who have openly confirmed on my LinkedIn profile. At one point, I sat under two mentors seconded by the World Bank from Brisbane, Australia who really pumped a lot in me; the knowledge that has helped me grow in my HR life. 

Simple tips that I learned from these two:  Paul & Dr (Ph.D.) Lade Oloyede:

  • Provide a supportive hand to our juniors and appreciate that we are all at different levels on the learning curve
  • Educate staff under us on how their roles fit in the organization’s vision, mission, and values
  • Have constant meetings, not for rebuking, but rather to understand how you can be of help
  • Strive to understand when our staff is burning-out and give them time-off that we are not necessarily going to deduct from their leave days.
  • Be concerned about our subordinate’s personal development plans rather than being obsessed with results all the time. We keep on demanding for results, but we care less about their skills development. At one point I came up with a policy on Staff Educational Assistance where the organization approved $1000 per staff per year to support those employees already pursuing long term educational courses relevant to the organization’s needs. People enrolled for masters and post-graduate Diploma courses, a strategy that inculcated a workplace learning culture as well as being a good retention strategy. I know most organizations do not have strong financial muscles, but we can do something with our little resources.

The writer is an HR Generalist at Director Level with Consulting skills with having over 10 years in Senior Management.

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