77% of people surveyed by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services said that frontline managers are critical in helping organizations reach their goals.
Frontline managers are the glue that connects the employer and the employees. These are your real heroes as they are the ones who engage in real interactions with your customers and they are the ones who know how to exactly improve customer experience. Be it retail, banking, healthcare or any other sector, the frontline employees are the people driving your business. They are the ones who oversee and ensure smooth operations of various tasks, who assure that plans and policies are enforced and who solve and escalate issues on the ground to senior management. They are the ones who interact directly with customers and make sales happen. However, the level of practical knowledge that this lot has is mostly ignored while making critical business decisions. The level of empowerment among frontline is also low, as they only communicate decisions, but do not really make any. They also oversee that policies and ideas are implemented, but they are never the ones contributing to creating new ideas.
If frontline managers are so crucial to ensuring increased revenue and productivity, then why isn’t enough invested in them?
Here is a look at what statistics suggest when it comes to the frontline.
Low engagement levels
Bain and Company, in conjuction with Netsurvey, analyzed responses from 200000 employees across 40 companies in 60 countries and one of their rather disturbing findings was that employee engagement scores decline as one goes down the organizational chart. This is bad news as it means that highly engaged senior executives are likely to misinterpret or underestimate the engagement levels of their frontline managers.
Less investment in developing frontline
As per Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report conducted with Halogen Software had the following findings:
Only 12% of the people surveyed by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services said that their organization invests enough in the development of frontline managers.
More than 90% of respondents believed that frontline managers lack of leadership development negatively impacts employee engagement results.
78% of respondents cited their help in achieving a high level of customer satisfaction as the number 1 business prioroti achieved by having effective frontline managers.
The status of training
The investment in sales training of frontline managers is at an all time low. The quality and consistency of sales training also has not been very satisfactory.
A significant 40% of frontline employees in the HBR review believed that their frontline managers didn’t receive sufficient tools and training to develop into great leaders.
As per a survey conducted by McKinsey on the activities the frontline spends their time on, it was found that 30-60% of their time is spent on administrative work and meetings. It is only 10-40% of the time is devoted to actually coaching their teams. District managers devote as less as 10 minutes a day to coaching teams. Hence, there is no flexibility to allow for focus on other activities like mentoring and coaching, which are much more important in ensuring positive levels of engagement.
Limited interaction amongst one another can lead to an increased risk of low morale among employees, which can eventually cost a lot to companies. This gets worse in case of service companies as research indicates that there is a causal relationship between the attitude of the people who deal with customers directly and the perception of service quality by the customer. Workers on frontline teams have the highest influence on customer experience and their attitude and commitment can mean the difference between successful sales and lost opportunities.
What is the solution?
Empower your frontline
Create an environment that can result in flexibility and more involvement from a decision-making perspective. This can help your organization to make strong financial results. One of the best examples in this regard is IT company Rackspace, which has completely turned things around by allowing line managers to lead the change. In this system, supervisors hold candid dialogues with their teams. They also do regular feedback in the form of “pulse checks.”
At&T is another organization which has built a digital infrastructure that enables all employee suggestions to be submitted on one forum online. Employees can see the progress of each suggestion and log comments. There are also companies which have developed systems of upvotes or vote downs of the ideas suggested by their employees on various issues, with the best ones getting the attention of senior leadership team. Necessary action is taken on the same ground, which gives a tremendous sense of achievement to the staff. Such mechanisms allow the frontline team to be in charge, with the center providing all the support required.
Develop strong employee relations
This is becoming an increasingly important concern within organizations and forging communication bonds is not just the role of the HR team. One of the key characteristics of a good frontline manager, apart from ensuring smooth operations of day to day activities, is also to manage conflict within their team members, resolve problems and understand employee feelings and at the same time coach and motivate their employees to do better. These are the people employees turn to for constant feedback, guidance, lead a positive workplace culture and increase employee morale.
Develop your talent
Over the past years, organizations have led a relentless focus on profitability, which has made them fail to invest enough in developing their talent. Training frontline in leadership competencies is important for organizations. There should also be ways to exchange regular formal and informal feedback to support transparency, employee development and success. Regular assessments for self-awareness and communication can also help develop the skill sets of this invincible lot.
Before even beginning to enforce employee engagement strategies for your frontline managers, it might be a good idea to first understand their mindsets. Since the role of frontline managers are limited to ensuring that things run smoothly and they are not the actual decision makers, most of them see limits to how much they can accomplish. This might require an effort to help them understand how a change can only be for the better.
What these statistics and studies suggest is focus should still be on the trickle down approach, but by turning the funnel upside down. Organizations should focus on giving sales training for their front line managers, and empower them enough and this shall eventually start showing in bigger aspects that businesses are obsessed with, i.e. higher revenues, efficiency and the buzz word – better employee engagement trends.