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Six Keys to Unlocking the Potential of Frontline Managers

These changing times present many challenges for business, particularly for frontline managers whose people will be responsible for implementing the change. Pressure to perform is high, as are emotions. Everyone is expected to do more with less.

The effects of poor frontline management may be particularly damaging at companies where there is often a causal relationship between the attitudes and behaviors of customer?]facing employees on the one hand, and customer perception of service quality on the other. Research has found that three factors drive performance: the work climate; the ways teams act together and the ways that things are done; and the engagement, commitment and satisfaction of employees. Leadership—particularly the quality of supervision and the nature of the relationships between supervisors and their teams—is crucial to performance in each of these areas.

There are six keys to unlocking the potential of frontline managers:

  1. Identify employees with the capability and interest to be good managers. You need to identify these rare individuals and then have a clear plan for developing them. Sadly, according to our research, two out of three organizations lack a process for doing this. Use assessments to identify employees who demonstrate the behaviors and interests that will make them successful managers. Help managers understand the core behaviors, capabilities and preferences of the people they manage so that they can adapt their communication and management styles to get the most from their people.
  2. Help managers develop the mindset that they will be more successful if the people they manage succeed. This helps managers become invested in the success of each individual.
  3. Help your managers clarify their teams’ goals and roles. Management is all about people, and this requires a high degree of self?]awareness. Managers should go through the same assessment process as their employees in order to understand how their innate behaviors, interests and skills either complement or hinder their personal interactions. It is also extremely valuable for managers to receive feedback from multiple constituents, including their supervisors, peers and subordinates, to illuminate developmental needs, misalignments and other issues that may be difficult to communicate openly under challenging circumstances.
  4. Help your managers understand themselves and how they impact their people. Don’t assume your managers know how or when to coach. Help your manager understand his leadership style and motivation. Many of us have a number of key leadership qualities, but we still need feedback so that we can build on our strengths and fortify our weaknesses. In some cases where it is clear that a manager really isn’t ready to lead, you will require a process to help identify other career options that are better suited to his style and abilities. Develop the fundamental coaching skills of your managers, and develop a culture of coaching.
  5. Managers often aren’t truly coaching the front line. Help your manager understand his leadership style and motivation. Many of us have a number of key leadership qualities, but we still need feedback so that we can build on our strengths and fortify our weaknesses. In some cases where it is clear that a manager really isn’t ready to lead, the discovery process can help identify other career options that are better suited to his style and abilities. Develop the fundamental coaching skills of your managers, and develop a culture of coaching.
  6. Minimize administrative work to give managers more time to develop people. Think very carefully about the administrative tasks you assign to your frontline managers and be sure that it adds sufficient value. Consider capturing fewer but more essential indicators. Make the information easy to get so that they aren’t spending a whole lot of time aggregating and formatting spreadsheets and making presentation decks look pretty. Provide administrative support, and invest in tools or make the exercise so simple it can be completed in a very short period of time. Then, minimize formal meeting times and interruptions that are administrative in nature.

It’s time for many organizations to rethink the fundamental role of a manager. Are yours too focused on doing tasks, at the expense of being leaders and developers of others?

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