A weak leadership on the front lines is one of the big reasons why organizations struggle. Reflecting on the state of frontline leadership, a study of 300 HR managers revealed that 56% of respondents “rated the lack of interpersonal skills as the number one reason for leadership failure.” The same study found that organizations are doing an average job of developing their frontline leaders, and their development is mostly short-sighted. In July 2016, Human Capital Management in collaboration with Skillsoft conducted a study on 252 organizations, and it was found that leadership development initiatives often focus on mid- and executive-level leaders while ignoring the developmental needs of first-time, front-line managers.
Organizations often wait for long to train their manager -the average age of a supervisor is 33 years old, but most leaders don’t participate in leadership training until they are 42. Afore-mentioned studies present the challenge areas around frontline leadership development; despite their significance in ensuring organizational success, their development is mostly overlooked.
To rectify such leadership limitations, it is imperative that organizations pay attention to frontline leadership and formalize new ways of frontline development; Investing and supporting new, front-line managers drives better-performing managers, and employee engagement as study reveals that 70% of the variance in employee engagement is driven by the manager-employee dynamic.
Leadership development initiatives often focus on mid- and executive-level leaders while ignoring the developmental needs of first-time, front-line managers
Let’s look at some of the ways by which frontline development can be made more systematized and rigorous to suit the needs of frontline managers.
Structured Onboarding Program: Structured onboarding program for both internal and external first-time managers will help them transition into their role smoothly. Supervisors can be of great help; a supervisor must spend a significant amount of time on, grooming them for larger responsibilities. Supervisors should help new managers set clear expectations around their role and responsibilities. They should take on the role of a coach or mentor and help them in removing barriers. Supervisors should also make new managers aware of the overarching organizational goal and strategy and link their performance areas to keep them aligned. It is recommended that they give regular feedback to the new managers to help keep them on track. HR professionals can also help by checking-in with new managers to see how they are progressing in their roles.
Focus on varied skills: Soft skills such as integrity, communication, and adaptability are more important than technical skills for front-line managers. Often front-line managers are promoted because of strong performance in an individual contributor role, but technical skills although important, aren’t the top most skills once the person begins to lead others. Therefore, increased focus should be on developing soft skills among new managers. Various e-learning platforms are available which can facilitate self-paced learning.
A varied training approach for front-line managers requires many hours of commitment. A study conducted by HCI and Skillsoft found that one-third of the sampled organizations invest more than 30 hours of training in a new manager.
Include blended-learning approaches: Front-line manager development stresses more on classroom and technology-based learning over peer and experiential learning. To further accelerate the development initiatives and make it more effective, it is necessary to include less passive methods such as stretch assignments, job rotations, and action learning projects wherein new managers can get hands-on experience of the real-world challenges associated with the role.
Focus on individualized learning and development: Often robust assessments reveal a lot about individuals’ strengths and development areas. These assessments often throw data around ‘collective needs of the group.’ For instance, an entire group of frontline leaders may need development on ‘communication skills’ however only a few managers would need development to chisel their planning skills. However, it is often the case that most of the training programs are conducted to cover for a group need than an individual need. This leads to partial development.
Provide support to a robust development plan: It is crucial to have a robust development plan ready for the new managers which address their individual strengths and development areas. The development plan should also focus on how new managers allocate their time to various activities. For example, across industries, frontline managers spend 30 to 60 percent of their time on administrative work and meetings, and 10 to 50 percent on non-managerial tasks (traveling, participating in training, taking breaks, conducting special projects, or undertaking direct customer service or sales themselves). They spend only 10 to 40 percent managing frontline employees by, for example, coaching them directly
Frontline managers are the backbone of any organization. Without them being strong, organizations cannot ensure sustained success. Once frontline managers are identified, it is critically important to develop them by using a structured approach. To begin with, organizations can start early by keeping an eye on high potential individual contributors and simultaneously crafting a highly structured program to develop them, to make them ready for future.
Mostly, development opportunities are offered reactively, when new managers face challenge or failures- and it is not the right way of developing them. In such cases, development initiatives are perceived as some corrective measures which are given to fix some flaw present in managers. On the contrary, development initiatives which are proactively rolled out to bolster the strength of new-managers and to prepare them for challenges- are truly appreciated by the managers, and then they look forward to participate in such initiatives and give their best.