Front Line Managers – Often Neglected But Critical to Success
15 September 17
Front line managers are key to organisational success. They’re the ones that supervise people who provide services or make products. As line managers they have great influence over how these people feel about their jobs and how well they perform.
In some companies they manage 80% of the workforce. In the NHS, one group of front line managers (band 7s) supervise 50% of the NHS workforce. That’s 700,000 people in the NHS alone.
Scale that up to the whole of the UK and you find around 22 million people are supervised by front line managers.
Their reach is enormous.
Evidence backs the importance of front line managers. Many studies have shown the extent of their influence on attitudes and behaviours of staff and their performance.
For example, one typical study showed how:
“…attempts to improve the behaviour of team leaders in one of the case studies…had a marked impact on staff attitudes, behaviour and performance. This was achieved through behavioural selection, improved training, appraisal, career management, involvement and providing better support to team leaders.”
In a major Australian study on leadership, researchers found that:
“At the workplace level, leaders have a critical role in building and maintaining efficient operations to meet targets and improve performance. Frontline leadership matters most for employees, shaping the experience of work and creating a positive climate for innovation and performance.”
What’s more, one of the main reasons for the UK’s productivity problem is poor management. Hence, improving the quality of front line managements can help UK PLC as well you own company.
Their importance cannot be understated.
In spite of the evidence, they are a neglected cohort. It seems development of front line managers is low down on the list of priorities for many organisations. The Boston Consulting Group reckons only 20-30% of leadership development budgets in the UK public sector are spent on them.
Further, the Australian study referenced above shows only $1 in every $10 spent on leadership development goes to the front line.
Worryingly, and in spite of the evidence, many organisations prefer investment in top talent, senior leaders and executives ahead of the front line.
So, what should companies do differently?
Assess Leadership Quality
Firstly, they need to understand the quality of their leadership as a whole. Are leaders motivating their people, supporting their development, setting goals and monitoring achievement, at all levels?
Once the priorities for development are understood, then organisations should allocate resources accordingly. For many this will mean giving the bulk of resource to the front line.
More than Policies
Typically, development will consist of training programmes and, perhaps, coaching. Usually pitched at making the transition from worker to manager and applying policies and procedures.
However, the key to great front line leadership is as the same for all leadership. It’s about understanding that people are the route to improved performance. Get the best out your people and performance will flow.
Of course, making the transition and understanding company policies and procedures are important. But more important is to listen, support, develop and guide your people through the ups and downs of work.
The Manager’s Manager
In addition, while good training can work, there also needs to be on the job support and development. This is where the front line manager’s manager plays a crucial role. In the same way the front line manager needs to support their team, the same applies to the manager’s manager.
But there’s not an off the shelf solution to development. Each organisation will have it’s own priorities, values and behaviours that will need to be reflected. Nevertheless, the common themes of successfully leading people should flow through all programmes.
The lesson for all organisations is don’t neglect your front line managers. They are critical to the success of your company. With the right investment and development they could transform your performance.
Gallanach has extensive experience of designing and running leadership development programmes across all sectors. Contact us here to find out more.