In Australia the profile of frontline managers is rather interesting.
The 2016 Study of Australian Leadership (SAL) Report tells us that the current cohort of Australian frontline managers are characterised by virtual gender equality, youth (in comparison to senior executives – no surprises there), and excellent qualifications, with 30% holding undergraduate degrees, 33% vocational qualifications, and 10% Masters degrees. Of concern is that 90% come from homes where only English is spoken, speaking to a huge gap in cultural/ethnic diversity.
In many industries it is the frontline managers who have direct influence and authority over 70-80% of the workforce.
Frontline managers directly influence employee engagement
Curiously, frontline managers are largely neglected in leadership research. Yet frontline managers have a huge influence as leaders, with a direct impact on employee engagement and voice, learning culture perceptions, innovation climate perceptions, employee trust in leaders and organisational commitment.
The research tells us that one of the main reasons given for a decision to leave a company is ‘the manager’. In many industries it is the frontline managers who have direct influence and authority over 70-80% of the workforce. Put these two facts together and you get a resounding rationale for more attention to frontline leadership!
A distinct leadership role
Frontline managers have a distinct leadership role that is quite different to that of middle and senior managers. They act as intermediaries between workers and rest of the organisation. In many cases the employee’s only contact with the organisation, frontline managers profoundly influence the latter’s perceptions of culture, senior leadership and organisational ethics. They are responsible for implementing strategy, and for ensuring effective feedback loops from the frontline upwards. At the same time they take responsibility for looking after the day-to-day needs of employees.
Has frontline leadership has been ignored?
It’s estimated that $390 Billion is spent on frontline manager training globally per annum – so we can’t say it has been ignored. It’s just that because of the sheer volume, logistics and economics of developing thousands of people, companies just go into mass training mode, into the ‘one and done’ approach. And attached to this mindset is the concern about ‘taking managers away from the workplace for training’.
We need to do frontline leadership development differently
Given the critical interface of frontline managers with workers, the most important task of leadership development is to support them to manage and lead effectively. Our company is adopting a different paradigm for developing frontline leadership in real time; it’s a ‘just in time’ and not ‘just in case’ mindset on leadership development. Rather than get people on training days to develop skills that they might use in the future, this innovative approach generates curb-side solutions to issues that are unfolding right now. And why we developed Coachlive!
An increasing amount of research is showing that a coaching approach is far more beneficial than the traditional ‘sheep dip’ one-off training program. Armed with this research, we developed Coachlive: a coaching intervention that is individualised, tailored and context-specific. It’s about application, not just knowledge transfer, and is less about training days and more about short meetings and trying things out on the job.
Getting the economics right
The challenges with coaching large numbers of people are the scale and the economics. We want to provide the same interface and individual attention as for coaching senior leadership. So we had to come up with a different model. CoachLive utilises technology and online support while maintaining that individual focus: this is high-tech and high-touch.
High-tech and high-touch
We believe we can deliver all the benefits of coaching to these frontline managers for the same or less $ as the training programs they have had in the past, but with far greater sustained application in the workplace and ROI to the organisation.
Is our approach working?
We are currently deploying Coachlive with a number of clients, with an average 30-50 frontline managers involved. Results have already been extremely encouraging, with high levels of engagement and sustained implementation of leadership behaviours. It’s a very exciting time.