Imagine this scenario: Josh, one of the top-performing employees in a key division of your company, gets promoted to his first management role. Josh is excited by the trust you’ve put in him, not to mention the pay increase and opportunity to oversee a team. But he’s also nervous because he’s never managed employees before. The company provides him with some training sessions, including a quick “welcome to management” meeting and a few online modules, which he’s supposed to pull up when he has specific questions. The trouble is, most of the modules seem disconnected from his real work. They’re based on abstract concepts with little or no connection to the daily challenges he faces.
Within a few weeks, Josh is flailing. Quality ratings in the unit are dropping, and his team is behind on a key project. Still uncomfortable in his new role, Josh reverts to what he knows best: he steps in to fix the problems and rescue the project, hoping that the people on his team will see what he did and learn from the experience. But on the next big project, the same thing happens—and then it happens again. Rather than leading his people, Josh continually has to bail them out. He’s buried under new administrative responsibilities and pressure to hit his numbers, and his team isn’t getting any better. In just a few months, he’s gone from outstanding employee to terrible frontline manager.
Companies spend a tremendous amount of time and money on leadership development for their executives. But they often fall short when it comes to developing their frontline managers, a larger group that can likewise have a significant impact on a company’s performance. These are the people who are one or two layers above frontline employees. They are new to management—in their first or second role overseeing teams—but they run core activities in the company and directly affect customer interactions. They are the primary face of leadership for the majority of the workforce. As a result, they have a tremendous impact on productivity, employee engagement, attrition, and customer satisfaction. Moreover, frontline managers serve as a talent pipeline for senior leadership roles in the company.
Effective development of frontline managers requires a new approach. Rather than offering broad-based, conceptual training, companies need to identify specific priorities for these leaders; in addition, they need to offer real-world tools and solutions that can be incorporated into managers’ daily and weekly routines, and they need to reinforce the approach through broad organizational support. For companies that get this right, the reward will be more confident frontline leaders, more productive teams, more satisfied customers, a more agile organization, and a huge boost in financial performance for the company overall.