Frontline Managers form the Leadership periphery of the organization and are always called upon to lead teams to success. Their designations vary and may include area managers, store managers, site supervisors, line-leaders, departmental heads, etc. Whatever the title or designation may be, Frontline Managers direct almost two-thirds of the workforce responsible for production, sales and customer experience in organizations across many industries.
A study by McKinsey & Company says a Frontline Manager must spend a significant amount of time on two activities: helping the team understand the company’s direction and its implications for team members and coaching for performance. Ironically, the study goes on to show that Frontline Managers spend 30 to 60 percent of their time on administrative work and meetings, and 10 to 50 percent on non-managerial tasks such as traveling, participating in training, conducting special projects, surveys or undertaking direct customer service or sales themselves. Only 10 to 40 percent of work-time is spent working with team-members.
What is alarming though is that out of this time, Frontline Managers are spending as little as 4 to 10 percent on actually coaching and developing their teams and the rest on transactional firefighting. This ratio likely has dramatic ramifications for the operating environment and employee morale leading to a host of other inefficiencies.
It’s no surprise then that Frontline Managers feel they are stuck somewhere in the middle – neither are they at the entry level, nor do they see themselves as a part of Leadership. Basically, they are told to keep getting work done through their teams and are often assigned projects or assignments that make little sense to them.
Sample this – “Hey Mark, why don’t you join the Paperless Office Project? We could really use your help in drafting the proposal; and your inputs are always welcome.” Ring a bell?
Organizations therefore need to be clear on where they want to see their Frontline Mangers some years down the line. What can they look forward to in their career development and progression? The common and critical mistake organizations often make is to leave it to chance for some of these Managers to ‘shine through’ and get ahead.
In order to help your Frontline Managers contribute more effectively, I suggest your organization look at these 5 key practices:
1. Hold them accountable for their team’s development – Set expectations from Frontline Managers that go beyond numbers and targets. Ask them to develop their team-members progressively and visibly. If, as an organization you care about just the numbers, your Frontline Managers will too!
2. Don’t let them feel like just another cog in the wheel – If they start feeling that way, how do you think they’ll make their team-members feel? Show them how they fit into the organizational puzzle, how they complete it, and they are likely to do the same with their team.
3. Invest in their development – Never forget that Frontline Managers will be the future Leaders of the organization (unless you actually want them to be glorified paper-pushers). Don’t take their existence for granted. Invest in their development so that they are ready for their next challenge as and when it comes.
4. Don’t put them on random improvement projects – You may be running a number of improvement projects on the side and want Frontline managers to contribute. However, don’t assume that your Frontline Mangers will be free and ready to take up anything that comes their way. Make sure they are put on projects with a reasonable business case.
5. Empower them to evolve into decision makers – Granted that Frontline Managers are responsible for execution and delivery of key projects, you still need to empower them to take decisions in their span of control. Micromanaging their decision-making will end up disengaging them in the long run.