How to prepare managers & supervisors to excel in their positions, and how it can impact on the organization

Executives are coached. Senior leaders are mentored. Middle managers are developed. Often, this is the level where organizational development stops, leaving frontline managers to fend for themselves. It makes little sense to ignore the development needs of frontline managers because they are the “managers of execution.” Strategies are not successfully implemented and goals are not met unless frontline supervisors or managers make it happen. They are the people who are supervising the largest group of employees. They are also often hired or promoted into their roles because they have shown expertise in meeting job responsibilities and not because they have proven leadership qualities.

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Many frontline leaders, managers or supervisors are not fully prepared to excel in their positions

There are numerous statistics available that all point in one direction: Many frontline managers or supervisors are not fully prepared to excel in their positions, and it has a direct impact on the organization’s ability to meet goals. 

  • Gallup research found that only 1-out-of-4 employees strongly agree their manager is able to provide meaningful feedback that helps them perform better.
  • The Center for Creative Leadership found that 60 percent of frontline leaders said they were never given leadership training.
  • MITSloan Management Review research found large gaps in perception between frontline supervisors and middle managers, and C-suite executives concerning strategic alignment, with the top leaders rating the company higher in every area compared to middle managers and frontline supervisors. Only 13 percent of frontline managers could list the company’s top three priorities. Strategic alignment factors include things like whether organizational priorities support strategy, goals are jointly developed with the boss, high level managers explain team and company-wide goals, and so on.
  • BearingPoint.Institute found that frontline managers spend about 16 percent of their time actively coaching, assisting, guiding and supporting their staff when they should be spending at least 60 percent of their time.

60 percent of frontline leaders said they were never given leadership training.

60% of frontline leaders said they were never given leadership training

There are many other statistics supporting the truth of the matter that most frontline managers are given minimal development. The end result is frustration and daily struggling to succeed. Often, managers on the frontline end up doing the work others are paid to do. Peter Drucker summed up the role of a manager quite nicely when he wrote, “A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge.” Notice the deliberate use of the word “knowledge” rather than tasks.

organizational action heroes on the frontline executing strategies and meeting goals

Frontline managers are critical to developing an engaged workforce, executing strategies and meeting organizational goals. They are assigned the role of “action hero” in the business, responsible for making things happen through leadership. Times change. In the baby boomer era of hierarchical command-and-control management, frontline supervisors mostly dealt with carrying out instructions and very specific job duties. Today, organizations are flatter and need agile, flexible and adaptable frontline managers.

What is the best way to create strong leadership

The best way to create a strong leadership front is to offer development opportunities that are:

  1. Relevant to the realities of the workplace, and
  2. Delivered in an engaging manner

The reality of the workforce today

What is the reality of the workforce today? It is:

  • Multigenerational ” millennials find themselves supervising people across four generations which are baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z
  • Diverse ” the typical workforce is diverse in many ways, including based on gender, culture, race, ethnicity and disability
  • Reliant on technology ” millennials are the first generation to grow up with technology and expect its availability for everything ” performing work, rapidly accessing information, collaborating and learning
  • Remote as well as on location ” many businesses have employees and contracted workers who work remotely, making team building more challenging
  • Collaborative ” flatter organizations need a collaborative workforce with teams that respect diverse perspectives
  • Autonomous ” the younger generations of employees want the freedom to demonstrate their capabilities through innovative approaches
  • Constantly changing ” the rate of change today is phenomenal, creating opportunities as well as challenges

Clearly, this kind of workforce needs frontline supervisors who are innovative, technology-centered, excellent communicators who are comfortable giving feedback and communicating in person as well as through technology, able to manage remote teams, collaborative and able to think holistically.

The needs of the frontline managers today are much different than the needs of frontline managers in siloed organizations.

Though millennials are driving changing perspectives about the role of frontline managers, all managers of every generation now have similar development needs. This is not a “millennial thing.” It is a “frontline leadership thing.”

Developing frontline managers as Leaders

With an understanding of the importance of developing frontline managers, the next step is delivering relevant development opportunities. PowerPoint presentations with limited information, and workshops where speakers drone on while attendees think about the work not getting done, are not effective. Frontline leaders need development opportunities that reflect their real world.

What frontline managers want in leadership development

Various research projects indicate that all generations of frontline managers want development that is:

  • Personalized Development ” Assessing each frontline leader to determine strengths and weaknesses is the first step towards personalizing development. Assessments, like skills assessments and personality tests, can identify employee characteristics like communication style, personality type, approaches to problem solving, career aspirations and leadership style. Then offer development options that have relevance to the areas needing improvement, connecting the knowledge to the job.
  • On demand Leadership Development‘ A fact of life is that people today expect to have convenient access to information 24-7, and that goes for leadership development. Frontline leaders are not interested in leaving their jobs to travel somewhere to learn something they could have learned quickly at work, at home or even via a mobile phone while sitting in a coffee shop on Saturday. In the age of technology and instant access to information on the internet, development programs need to be available at anytime and anywhere.
  • Development Programs that are Ongoing and Current ” It is important to keep development programs current. Change is the constant today, and learning programs need regular updating. One-and-done workshops or outdated development programs are more likely to disengage people, increasing turnover rates
  • Development that Provides Variety ” Though development is not meant to be entertainment, it is a fact of life today that people want to be entertained. There are a number of options available for presenting information, like videos, customized training programs, gamification and real problem solving opportunities. Experiential learning is a great way to connect the development to the job, and regular assessments can measure progress.
  • Development that Offers External Information Sources ” One of the best ways to ensure frontline leaders develop a broad perspective is to give them access to information from experts, thought leaders, industry leaders and other resources. 
  • Specific Development for the Real-World ” While some broad-based training on general management principles is good, most of the development should focus on providing real-world tools and learning that can be incorporated into daily work. There must be a connection between the learning and the job. This is where assessments play an important role. Assessments provide direction in defining development priorities to address for specific positions.

Changing Development Priorities for Frontline Leaders

Frontline leaders are responsible for having the greatest impact on an organization, so it is surprising they remain the last development priority. Placing people into these positions without providing adequate support has a direct impact on workforce engagement, productivity, employee job satisfaction, ability to meet corporate goals and success of strategy execution. Many companies decide they cannot afford to offer sophisticated development opportunities to lower level managers. The truth is they cannot afford to not develop the people who drive sustainable business success.

What do you think? Leave a comment, and make sure you check out the rest of our series on Succession Planning!