Training the Frontline

Hiring the right managers for the frontline is a key to success.

By Alexandra Walsh

A common phrase you sometimes hear is: “Employees leave a manager, not a company.” Business owners in 2019 can’t afford to overlook one of their biggest tools in building a company that retains its best workers: frontline managers.

Frontline managers are the glue of a business, responsible for many critical day-to-day operations. They’re often an organization’s largest population of leaders.

They’re the ones overseeing a company’s individual contributors, and may be first-time managers, often newly promoted into their first leadership role. Or they’re functional leaders who don’t have any formal direct reports but are responsible for the work of others by way of influence.

Frontline managers have their hands full. In addition to their own workload, they’re responsible for managing teams, keeping them motivated and on task, all potentially with an eye toward career development.

Most frontline managers, however, feel they haven’t been given the right amount of training to do their job, much less do it well. Recent studies show between 40% and as high as 59% of managers report having no training at all. And 44% feel overwhelmed at work.

By training frontline managers more effectively, you can help reduce turnover. In fact, a Gallup poll concluded that every year disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy $370 billion. And the primary driver of that lost productivity? Poor supervision.

Companies face big challenges when trying to make these managers for the frontline more effective. And the price of an ineffective manager can be high and pervasive.

Effects of Poor Supervision

A survey on what contributes to “bad days at work” showed five factors as the top reasons for employees having a bad day:

  • “A lack of help and support from my boss” (40%)
  • “Negative co-workers” (39%)
  • “Lack of praise or recognition for the work I do” (37%)
  • “Uncertainty about the workplace’s vision or strategy” (37%)
  • “Business or high workload” (36%)

All five factors are almost entirely a function of the effectiveness—or ineffectiveness—of the immediate manager.

Poor supervision has far-reaching, dramatic effects on an organization. Research demonstrates that supervisors have a direct impact on the workplace in quite significant ways:

  • Rates of employee retention and turnover
  • Employee morale when jobs remain open and turnover rates are high
  • Hidden costs associated with poor hiring and high turnover (lost opportunities, training, recruitment, and selection expenses)
  • Loss of productivity due to high turnover, low morale, low levels of employee engagement
  • Reduced levels of customer satisfaction and increased levels of customer churn
  • Decreased revenue as employees who sell or produce goods are demotivated
  • Inflated expenses (overtime, investigating employee complaints, waste)
  • Reduced profitability due to inflated expenses and decreased top-line revenue
  • Impaired employer brand, resulting in need to increase hiring and retention efforts in a competitive job market
  • Low emotional commitment by employees, detracting from company’s ability to achieve goals.

And with the ever-flattening digital world, frontline managers now have greater responsibility than ever before. Since some of these frontline managers may go on to upper-management jobs, it’s little wonder that 50% of all managers in organizations are rated as ineffective.

Types of Training

Research has found that in order to succeed, frontline managers need to possess six key skills:

  1. Self-awareness: Managers who remain aware of their strengths and preferences and who understand their own weaknesses, quirks, and needs are better equipped to make day-to-day decisions and interact effectively with others who have different personalities.
  2. Learning agility: Seeking out diverse experiences, quickly applying lessons learned to new challenges, and being able to integrate experiences and adapt to the environment allows managers to swiftly recognize, analyze, and address new problems.
  3. Communication skills: Skilled managers can listen, speak, and write clearly and consistently, communicating for maximum impact with people at all levels in the organization including team members, superiors, peers, and others. It’s especially important to effectively communicate goals and expectations.
  4. Political savvy: Relating well to people, developing strong working relationships with managers and superiors, and navigating organizational politics to achieve goals is a key competency for managers.
  5. Motivating others: The most successful managers are able to inspire commitment, recognize and reward others’ contributions, and guide the completing of work, especially when goals are unclear. This may include motivating others to exceed expectations or put in extra effort—without monetary incentives.
  6. Influencing outcomes: Skillful managers are able to accomplish goals by affecting the actions, decisions, and thinking of others, persuading them to cooperate and get things done to achieve desired outcomes.

The first step in deciding the best training for your frontline supervisor is to find out where the issues lie and conduct a training needs analysis.

Creating a survey calling for anonymous answers from all employees is a great start. Employees feel more secure and less likely to be retaliated against when the survey is anonymous. By asking employees where they feel management is lacking, you get a better picture of areas where training might be beneficial.

Methods of Training

There are several avenues for establishing a training program. For example, if the company is smaller, it probably won’t have a learning and development professional on staff, so outsourcing videos, consultants, and online courses are a good option.

There are many games and apps that can be used too. Consider having multiple options for managers to learn from and evaluate the progress of each training. If people aren’t engaged in what they’re being taught, chances are they aren’t learning. When setting up a training plan, be aware of the content. Is it relevant to a business need?

Frontline managers need continuous training, not a one-time class. A person retains information by repetition. Ask for continuous feedback from both the managers receiving the training and the employees of the managers, to make sure the trainings are effective. The better a manager is trained, the better job he or she will do, and the higher the bottom line will be for the company.

Typically, the top seven areas for manager training are:

  • Leadership development: Holding effective meetings, expanding their capacity to perform leadership
  • Communication: Business writing, resolving conflict, and negotiating
  • Harassment prevention: Addressing both sexual and non-sexual harassment
  • Organization: Managing time, knowing how to delegate, managing projects
  • Diversity: Examining biases, seeing all views and laws associated with diversity
  • Performance management: Building strong teams, conducting employee performance reviews, setting goals
  • Customer service: Without happy customers, you don’t have a business.

Measuring Success

Because frontline managers directly affect employees and customers, measuring customer satisfaction and employee engagement is revealing. You can also measure employee retention because many employees who leave cite their managers as the reason. “Employees leave a manager, not a company.”

To measure the success of a supervisory training program, use employee opinion surveys in which a third of the questions pertain to each respondent’s immediate supervisor.

Frontline manager training is not only about ensuring satisfied employees and customers now, but also for many years to come.

DACUM Codes
To help meet your professional needs, this column covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers, pump installers, and geothermal contractors. DO refers to the drilling chart, PI refers to the pumps chart, and GO represents the geothermal chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the column. This column covers: DOL-1, 2, 3, 4, 10; GOJ-1, 2, 3, 4, 10. More information on DACUM and the charts are available at www.NGWA.org/Certification and click on “Certification Exams.”

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.