how-to guide for staff supervision with Rita Sever

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Supervision is one of those things in our sector that we kind of fall into. Usually, we're promoted into a position where we have to manage people without ever really being given the tools to do so effectively. It is often overlooked in our sector but the quality of supervision is important because it affects productivity, morale, work quality, team interaction, conflict, and the overall culture of the organization.

In today’s episode, Rita Sever, an expert in human resources, organizational psychology, and nonprofit systems, talks about how to lead, manage people, and create a culture that is aligned with our organization’s anti-oppression work and values.

Myths that Rita wants us to walk away from:

  • Nonprofit workers don’t need supervision. Nonprofit organizations are full of kind, caring, and committed people, but that doesn't mean they don't need to be supervised. Even when people are extremely high functioning, they need a supervisor's tender touch and a culture that will encourage them along the way and help them succeed.

  • Power and privilege don’t exist in nonprofit supervision. Power and privilege have an impact on supervisory relationships. To work from an anti-oppression perspective, supervisors must be prepared for self-awareness – knowing their own background, norms, and hidden rules, and bringing that awareness to real conversations about how it affects their supervision, relationships, and treatment of others.

Rita’s JOIN framework on giving feedback as a supervisor

  • J - Join your supervisees before you give them feedback. You want to make sure you remember you're on the same side. So the join might be, “I know we've got a hundred deadlines facing us”, or “I know we both care about our mission”.

  • O - Observation and objective statement of what actually happened. For example, “the report was late”, or “you walked away when that client walked in.”

  • I - Impact. What was the impact of that objective observation? How did it impact the person, the team, the work?

  • N - What needs to be different. And that can be simply, let's talk more about how you could have handled that interaction.

Favorite Quotes from Today’s Episode

“I think the pitfall is that we are doing so much or so committed to our missions that we sort of take it for granted that everything will work out in terms of people because people are there to support the mission. So we just trust that it's all going to work, but even when people are extremely high functioning, they need that tender touch of a supervisor and a culture that is going to encourage them along the way and help them be successful.”

“It really does start with the preparation and ongoing preparation, not just for that particular conversation, but the preparation of self-awareness. Who am I? How do I show up? What do I think of as expected and, not just for the job, but like what my norms are, what are my hidden rules and then bringing that awareness to the conversation and having some real conversations about how is my supervision working, is there anything I need to do different, looking again, that am I treating people differently?”

Resources from this Episode

Leading for Justice: Supervision, HR and Culture

The Good Partnership


Cindy W.: Supervision is one of those things in our sector that we fall into. Usually, we're promoted into a position where we have to manage people without ever really given the tools to do so effectively. Later on that, the complications, challenges, and opportunities of doing work within social justice-based organizations or organizations committed to anti-oppression work, and then it can become a lot harder and more challenging just to understand our own privilege and how we, how that shows up in our supervision of others. This is something that I've thought a lot about, I know many of you have as well, and so I've invited a guest today for the podcast to talk about just that.

Welcome. My name is Cindy Wagman, and I am your host of the small non-profit podcast, where we bring you practical down-to-earth advice on how to do more in your small nonprofit. You are going to change the world and we are here to help.

So today's guest, Rita Sever is an HR expert, but I love her story. She started as an admin assistant and again, fell into the role of HR, really found her calling there. She grew up the youngest of six kids in a low-income family, and she often had the experience of feeling unseen and unheard. Rita became very focused on hearing and seeing others as individuals and within the groups that we live and work in. This led her to recognize the uneven playing field that we call equal, which led her to work in the nonprofit sector. Rita works with individuals, teams, leaders, and organizations to improve the culture and practice of supervision, thereby helping the organization to be more effective.