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How to Empower Frontline Managers

Adeline de Oliveira
Smiling worker standing in a warehouse with an helmet under his arm

For leaders to radically change their approach to performance management, they must give managers the resources and training they need to meet the new demands for employee development and performance improvement. - Gallup, It's the Manager

According to the Harvard Business Review, frontline managers account for 50% to 60% of a company’s management ranks and directly supervise as much as 80% of the workforce.

Frontline managers play an essential role in an organization's success. They are the links between senior management and frontline employees, and their influence extends far beyond the simple steering of day-to-day tasks. That's why leaders must not only believe in them, but more importantly invest in their development.

In this article, we look at the importance of the frontline manager in many industries and companies. Learn how to equip and empower frontline managers to achieve optimal performance, engage human resources, transform the work environment, and contribute to your organization's success.

Key takeways:

  • Empowered managers have the autonomy and authority to make decisions, motivate their teams, and drive performance, leading to improved productivity and business outcomes.
  • Organizations should provide clear communication, establish trust, delegate authority, offer training and development opportunities, and foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement to empower frontline managers effectively.
  • The use of technology tools such as project management software, communication platforms, and performance tracking systems can streamline processes, enhance collaboration, and provide real-time data and insights, empowering managers to make informed decisions.
  • Empowered managers experience increased job satisfaction, improved employee engagement, reduced turnover, and better team performance. Moreover, empowering frontline managers creates a positive work environment, encourages innovation, and fosters a culture of accountability.
  • Providing regular feedback and performance evaluations helps frontline managers identify their strengths and areas for improvement. Constructive feedback and coaching enable managers to develop their skills, boost their confidence, and align their actions with organizational goals, leading to effective leadership and empowered decision-making.

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Why should you equip and empower frontline managers?

Leadership isn't about being in charge; it's about taking care of those in your charge. - Simon Sinek

In a Harvard Business Review study, 77% of leaders agreed that frontline managers play a critical role in achieving organizational goals. 

As leaders, you are vested in developing and effectively equipping frontline managers. By providing them with the appropriate resources, training, coaching, and tools, you ensure that your managers can lead their frontline teams to success.  

Here are a few reasons why you should rethink your management policy and put it to work for frontline managers:

List of the benefits of empowering frontline managers

Improved overall performance

Well-equipped frontline managers are better prepared to manage operational issues and improve performance.

As an example, at Proaction International, we have seen a 10-15% improvement in performance ‒ even 25% in some cases ‒ due to leadership coaching and the use of the UTrakk platform:

Frontline workers engagement

Empowered frontline managers = empowered frontline employees.

Employee morale and job satisfaction are crucial to keep your employees. A motivated and engaged frontline workforce is a loyal workforce. 

Well-equipped frontline managers can improve essential workers' quality of life and empower frontline employees by meeting their needs and creating a positive work environment. Doing so, they help retain the company's best talent, preventing labor shortage and reducing turnover.

According to a Workday study:

  • 79% of frontline workers who feel a sense of belonging have no intention of leaving their employer.
  • 80% of workers who say their manager understands and supports them regularly say they are happy in their job and have no intention of leaving.

Better internal communication

Frontline managers are important channels of communication between upper management and employees. They help to:

  • Relay information in an accurate and timely manner.
  • Convey the management's vision to employees.
  • Raise issues from the floor to management.

Adapting to change

Well-equipped frontline managers can better manage transitions, crises, and corporate transformations.

How to improve frontline management 

Billions of dollars are spent every year on manager development. Yet Gallup finds that only one in three managers agree that they have had the opportunity to learn and develop in the past year. - Gallup, It's the Manager

Managers, you have the power to optimize frontline management to make it a real competitive advantage for your organization!

Here are five actions you can take to equip your company’s frontline managers:

List of 5 ways companies can use to equip their frontline management

1. Invest in training and coaching 

Managing frontline employees is a challenging task. Investing in training and coaching is one of the best ways to help your frontline leaders adopt the best management behaviors every day. 

Training

Training frontline managers is essential to help them succeed in their role. There are several steps you can take to ensure you make the most of your training and coaching activities:

  • Take stock of training needs, i.e., the skills frontline managers need to excel in their role (leadership, time management, communication, conflict resolution, etc.).
  • Offer training programs tailored to each manager's individual needs.
  • Encourage ongoing training through long-term development programs and participation in workshops, seminars, and online courses.
  • Measure the impact of training by evaluating frontline managers' performance before and after the initiative. Use this data to adjust programs accordingly.

Coaching

Coaching is a significant asset that complements training and prepares your frontline leaders to tackle the complex challenges of their role. It offers personalized support to develop skills, achieve better performance, and create strong management practices. 

The impact of coaching on ROI is significant in many industries:

  • Heavy industry: 6:1
  • Logistics and procurement: 4:1
  • Manufacturing: 3.4:1

By making coaching a standard practice in your organization, you can create a culture of leadership development. Frontline managers can then become mentors and pass on the skills they have acquired by coaching their employees.

To make coaching effective:

  • Identify each manager's needs to personalize the coaching approach (skill assessment, employee feedback, one-on-one discussions, etc.).
  • Choose coaches with experience in frontline leadership development.  
  • Before starting coaching activities, establish clear, measurable objectives aligned with the manager's individual needs and the organization's overall goals.
  • Offer ongoing support by setting up regular coaching sessions (monthly or quarterly, as required). This way, frontline leaders can work on their skills gradually and make adjustments along the way.
  • Measure their progress using specific indicators based on the defined objectives to check that the coaching is effective.

5 statistics showing the benefits of executive coaching for leaders and companies

2. Implement Leader Standard Work (LSW)

Leader standard work is a set of structured routines and practices that managers of all levels perform on a recurring and consistent basis. 

Standardizing your frontline managers' day-to-day tasks and management practices will enable them to engage and empower teams, create a stable and productive workspace, and facilitate interactions between hierarchies in the company. 

It's an excellent way of creating a more coherent, solid, and effective leadership.

3. Facilitate communication and collaboration

Dialogue and collaboration must be fluid through all levels of the organization ‒ employees, frontline managers, and management:

  • Collaboration: Encourage sharing of information, ideas, experience, and best practices between departments.
  • Clarity: Be clear with your managers about what you expect of them (role, responsibilities) and their teams (objectives) so that everyone is aligned.
  • Active listening and nonviolent communication: Cultivate empathy, active listening, and nonviolent communication so managers and employees feel considered. Feel free to ask for their feedback via surveys or questionnaires.
  • Honest feedback: Giving constructive feedback is an excellent way to help frontline managers improve and solve their teams' issues. Regular feedback can be provided through anonymous surveys and one-on-one meetings.
  • Transparency: Encourage honest, open and transparent communication in conversations between you and your frontline managers, and between managers and employees. This builds trust through every level of the org chart and ensures alignment across the company.

4. Encourage autonomy

You need to be able to delegate, let your managers make decisions, and take total responsibility. It doesn't mean leaving them to fend for themselves but instead, giving them the space to play their part while providing them with the support and resources they need to achieve their goals:

  • Allow your frontline managers to be creative and find solutions, and to express their opinions even if you disagree.
  • Create trusted relationships with your managers. You need to be able to support and guide them when they need it.

According to Workplace, "80% of frontline workers believe the quality of their workplace technology will dictate their employee experience, and 52% said they would change jobs if they had access to better tools and technology."

  • Give your managers the tools they need to be effective and productive, including technologies tailored to frontline managers and frontline employees (planning software, data analysis software, collaboration and communication platforms, specific hardware, etc.). For example, Proaction International's UTrakk daily management system is designed to support managers in every aspect of their daily work.

WE COACH YOUR MANAGERS TO BECOME True Team LeadersDownload our brochure

5. Use visual management

Visual management is a powerful tool for both top and frontline managers. It involves using intuitive visual elements (dashboards, charts, diagrams, maps, etc.) to organize and communicate critical information in the workplace ‒ at a glance. It can be used for all kinds of information but is especially popular for displaying performance charts, objectives, and standard practices.

Visual management is useful for:

  • Sharing information
  • Making complex data and processes easier to understand
  • Defining and communicating work standards
  • Identifying and solving problems

Visual management is an effective way to empower frontline employees, streamline task assignment, optimize processes, reduce waste, and improve inventory management.

Here are typical examples of visual management:

Dashboards and KPIs

Key performance indicators can include financial metrics such as sales profit margins and operational metrics such as inventory turnover, customer satisfaction, etc. Dashboards provide an instant view of company performance.

The 5S method

This Japanese Lean Manufacturing approach aims to optimize the work environment, eliminate waste, focus on value-added tasks, and maximize productivity.

The 5S method includes 5 stages that follow one another: Removing (Seiri), Locating (Seiton), Sparkling (Seiso), Standardizing (Seiketsu), and Tracking (Shitsuke).

Markings

Used in the majority of manufacturing organizations, markings are applied in various ways to different surfaces (floors, walls, machines, etc.). 

For the frontline manager, these signals are a great help, as they facilitate the onboarding of new employees, keep the site clean, reduce accidents, and communicate critical information to their team (specific actions, location of an item, etc.).

Kanban

This visual signal or billboard is used to visualize who controls the flow of products in and out of the factory. The sign is placed in a visible area and indicates, with Kanban cards, when stock needs to be replenished.

Investing in your frontline leaders means investing in your company's success

If you give every member of your company's team a great manager ‒ a great coach ‒ who cares about their development and growth, you've succeeded in building an organization of unlimited potential. - Gallup, It's the Manager

Frontline managers form an indispensable bridge between strategic vision and operational implementation, between executive leaders and many frontline employees. They directly impact employee engagement and productivity, helping to create a positive and effective work environment. Their strength influences all levels of the organization and contributes to its long-term success. 

As leaders, equipping your frontline managers and investing in their development should be a priority. It will allow you to capitalize on your people’s skills and talents, creating a high-performing workforce. It will allow you to create a sustainable organizational culture, where strategic goals are aligned and employees are motivated to reach them.

This endeavor is much more than a resolution; it's a partnership between you and your frontline managers, a strong commitment to effectively solving challenges and ensuring continued growth.

FAQ on empowering frontline managers

Why is empowering frontline managers important for an organization?

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What are some best practices for empowering frontline managers?

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How can technology help in empowering frontline managers?

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How can regular feedback help in empowering frontline managers?

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What are the benefits of empowering frontline managers?

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Ready to transform your managers into performance management leaders?

At Proaction International, we offer support tailored to leaders’ specific needs. Our goal? Give your frontline managers the skills they need to perform, increase their teams’ productivity, and make your company successful.

Adeline de Oliveira

Adeline de Oliveira

Editorial manager and web editor since 2010, Adeline de Oliveira is passionate about communication and human behavior. At Proaction International, she writes on various topics such as leadership development and employee engagement.