Supporting the Front Line of Business

The latest bulletin from McKinsey & Co (October 2019) highlights the importance of front line managers being trained, equipped and supported.  It reminds us that “In the Industrial Revolution’s heyday, frontline managers supervised operations, enforced standards and procedures, reported operational results, and escalated complex problems to higher levels. Leadership (as opposed to supervision) wasn’t required—or even, very often, wanted. This managerial model was suited to the mass manufacture of standard products in standard ways, and it prevailed in many service industries too.”

The bulletin goes on to say that “In today’s advanced economies, front line managers should be more than cogs in the system; empowering them can improve a company’s overall productivity, agility, and profitability. The key is to help front line managers become true leaders, with the time, the skills, and the desire to help workers understand the company’s direction and its implications for themselves, and to coach them individually.”

Communicating with the front line

As with armies engaged in battle, the generals must ensure that the front line officers understand the strategy and the tactics which they are expected to follow.  Thorough training and preparation are vital to their ability to maintain discipline and concentration in hostile conditions.  The business front line is no different.  Sharing, explaining and practicing the policies, procedures and systems which must be implemented must be a priority.  How that information is communicated affects outcomes in the marketplace.

Too much reliance is placed, especially in the digital age, on mass distribution of information via email and other media.  The “personalisation” of messages creates the illusion of direct and effective contact, but the reality is different.  Diktats from above are seldom welcomed, especially when the chance to ask questions or hear directly from top-level decision-makers and strategists may be rare or non-existent.

The full article from McKinsey contains many examples of how the roles of front line leaders have become critical.  “In service industries, research has found that three factors drive performance: the work climate; the ways teams act together and things are done; and the engagement, commitment, and satisfaction of employees. Leadership—in particular, the quality of supervision and the nature of the relationships between supervisors and their teams—is crucial to performance in each of these areas.”

Contrary to this evidence, the article also reports: “To unlock a team’s abilities, a manager at any level 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. Little of either occurs on the front line today. 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 (travelling, participating in training, taking breaks, conducting special projects, or undertaking direct customer service or sales themselves). They spend only 10 to 40 percent actually managing frontline employees by, for example, coaching them directly.”

Leadership and direction

There can no doubting the value of effective internal communication, as well as consultation with external business partners.  Delivering excellent customer service, innovating and creating new technology, products and applications all depend on harnessing the goodwill and energy of the workforce. 

The launch and presentation of new ideas, methods and solutions is an exciting opportunity to engage with all the people who have it in their power to deliver the results and exceed the organisation’s targets for development and sustainable success. 

We have seen the inspiration, enthusiasm and ambition that live events can evoke.  Meetings, conferences, hospitality events, product launches and business presentations are all important investments.  Professional planning and management are essential for maximising the return and delivering the desired results.

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