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The Dangers of Neglecting Your Frontline Managers

by Amy Patterson
on January 18, 2018

You’ve finally promoted a top-performing individual contributor to a management role. They’ve proven their competency in accomplishing their performance goals in the past, and you want to make sure they stick around, so you determine that leading a team is the next logical step in their career. You might place them in a couple internal management training sessions, or send them to a week-long development program, before releasing them into the wild to tackle their new role. You then trust your fledgling manager to perform just as well, if not better, than they did in their individual contributor role, inspiring wild success and coaching their teams to victory. What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, most organizations don’t do enough to prepare frontline managers for the demands of their roles. A survey from HBR found that just 12% of more than 600 senior leaders said their organization currently invests enough in equipping their frontline managers, even though 77% believed frontline managers were vital to an organization’s overall success. The truth is, most frontline managers aren’t getting the training, access to data, development opportunities, and feedback they need to effectively lead teams. This is particularly dangerous for organizations who rely on frontline managers to translate high-level business strategy into executable tactics that achieve critical goals. Organizations expect their workers to do more, be more responsive to customers, produce more, cross-sell, and create solutions to problems. Their managers are responsible for making that happen, removing roadblocks, and ensuring teams perform better year over year, and taking responsibility if it all doesn’t fall perfectly into place. If managers aren’t getting the tools and support they need, it won’t take long for the whole system to go off the rails.

To make a frontline manager’s work even more challenging, they’re are also responsible for mitigating employee turnover, which is not only costly for businesses, but also has a large impact on overall company morale. Countless articles stress the importance of personable, relatable, and inspiring frontline leaders (like People Leave Managers, Not Companies from Forbes, or Why People Really Quit Their Jobs from HBR), but few propose concrete solutions to help managers magically morph into the kind of boss people will enjoy working for. Frontline leaders are expected to be effective communicators, problem solvers, team builders, and motivators. They’re expected to help employees develop and align their skills with internal opportunities that are a fit for their strengths and passions. The reality is, many managers lack the time, motivation, access to resources, or natural inclination to improve the way they engage and develop employees, which results in unnecessary turnover and less productive teams.

Managers need just as much, if not more, access to resources, training, and  development opportunities as frontline employees or executives. HBR’s survey found that “Managers are not offered robust enough training and development programs to meet the rising job demands. Leadership development for this level tends to be ad hoc, sporadic, or too brief to adequately cover all the responsibilities that are within their purview.” Without a plan to improve the way managers are trained and supported, organizations will continue to struggle to retain and engage employees, close more business, and achieve their long-term goals in an increasingly competitive talent market.

It’s time for more companies to rethink the way they enable their managers to coach, motivate, engage, and enable their teams to succeed. Executives and senior staff can start by equipping frontline leaders with relevant insights around important milestones, team achievements, real-time feedback, and personality insights to help them better understand and motivate employees. HR teams can provide ways for managers to find the right people to add to their teams by creating accessible ways to find talent within the organization based on location, skills, education, personality, or strengths. Talent development leaders could offer managers reminders to check in with people at critical points in their employee journeys to understand how they can continue to support employees’ development and growth, bridging the gap for managers who don’t have the bandwidth to deeply understand employees’ daily tasks or unique motivations. By creating a combination of proactive reminders, prescriptive engagement best practices, and better access to data around the unique strengths and interests of their employees, leaders can enable frontline managers to better support and engage their teams, and in turn, drive success for their organization.

Structural is helping organizations equip leaders and employees at every level of an organization for success. To learn more about our Employee Success Platform, check out our 2-minute overview of Structural, or get in touch with our team for a custom demo.

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