Building a Committed and Effective Workforce

Building a Committed and Effective Workforce at UNL by Strengthening the Skills of Supervisors and Managers

by Nancy F. Myers, Ph.D.

In today's competitive academic environment, one of the most critical issues facing UNL is the need to build employee commitment, resiliency and adaptability to change. As a work environment, we are focused on ways to create a culture of engagement and inclusiveness by enhancing the unique strengths, talents and contributions of our faculty and staff. Key to the success of the work culture are managers, supervisors and chairs with the knowledge, skills and abilities to develop and retain good employees.

Here are a few of the key competencies that characterize effective managers and supervisors (Wilkins, 2003):

Can the manager analyze problems and create solutions?

Whether a crisis situation or a routine issue facing the workplace, employees look to their supervisors for assistance in problem solving. To that end, employees want managers who do not allow difficult issues to overwhelm them, and who have the ability to break down problems into manageable tasks and activities, thus creating a solution. Without someone to look to in times of crisis, employees can feel abandoned and have little motivation to stay in their current job.

Can the manager adapt to changes in the workplace?

The work the university does has become increasingly complex and technical. It is essential that supervisors understand and embrace current state-of-the-art methodology and technology. Managers who can't accept new approaches when needed and who have a pessimistic attitude toward change, hurt not only their departments, but also the university as a whole. Embracing change means affirming the benefits of the change and supporting the work team with good communication, structure, vision and trust.

Does the manager have the ability to build and lead a team?

To develop and retain valuable employees, managers must create a positive work environment. Good teamwork means building trust, addressing conflict, achieving commitment, creating accountability and attending to collective results that define team success.

Does the manager encourage a collaborative work environment?

Hand-in-hand with building team spirit is the manager's ability to foster a collaborative work environment. Gone are the days when departments can operate in a silo. Supervisors today must be able to create positive group interactions and possess the ability to persuade as well as the willingness to be persuaded by others when necessary. That means the each member of the department is viewed as valuable.

Is the manager a good communicator?

Many managers reached their positions by knowing their job well. Unfortunately, many managers don't possess the ability to translate their knowledge, objective and the 'big picture' strategy of the university to their employees. This can create the 'mushroom' employee, or one who works in the dark without knowledge of how his or her role fits into the goals of the university. Employees want to understand what is expected of them, how to do their jobs, and the impact of their activities on the overall organization. Communication, however; is a two way street. A good manager incorporates active listening techniques with employees such as listening with undivided attention, maintaining an open mind, avoiding interruptions and encouraging respect.

Does the manager work to build the talent of others?

Many an employee has stories of managers that take credit for ideas or work others have created. This has a devastating impact on morale, and can keep employees who could provide innovative approaches from being discovered and utilized more fully. A strong manager will recognize the strengths of others and work to foster that employee's ongoing growth. This means that managers need confidence in their own abilities so that they can put the best interest of their employees and the university first.

Supervisors, managers and chairs are key to the success of the student, employee, department and university. Developing and enhancing the knowledge, skills and abilities of managers is an essential focus.


  • Gallup (2006). UNL's Employee Engagement Neighborhood Leader Action Guide
  • Lencioni, Patrick (2005). Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team
  • Wilkins, Erin (2003). Building a Committed and Effective Workforce Through Strengthening Skills of Frontline Managers. Aon Consulting Worldwide