A recent McKinsey Global Survey found that "organizations are no more successful at overhauling their performance and organizational health than they were ten years ago. A particular blind spot seems to be the failure to involve front line employees and their managers in the effort."
Front line engagement is critical to a robust company culture. Our front lines are often responsible for the execution of mission critical tasks. They often have more customer contact than any other employees in our companies. Most of us know that front line performance can make or break our companies. If that is the case, why is it so difficult to truly engage our front lines?
Here are a few ideas on how to take your front lines with you:
1. We work for our front lines. Let's face it: many executives and managers assume they are better than their front lines by virtue of their titles, education, or resume. This "pecking order" mentality is certain to create an unhealthy wedge between managers and their employees. We must promote a servant-leader mindset. Our mission as managers and leaders is to empower, grow and support our front lines.
2. Put away the discipline form. When something goes wrong, many organizations revert automatically to progressive discipline. This robotic process must stop. It breeds fear, mistrust, and resentment. When an employee makes an innocent mistake, adopt a coaching process instead. We are human. Humans make mistakes. When an innocent mistake is made, let's use it as an opportunity to coach the employee and identify any contributing systemic factors.
3. Recognize that the manager-employee relationship is sacred. I really dislike forced expressions of appreciation. They mask the need for a healthy day-to-day relationship. One day per year, companies send a birthday card to the employee. For the remaining 364 days, he or she is treated as an anonymous worker. Our time is much better spent training our front-line managers on how to truly lead front line employees. It's about getting to know our employees as human beings first, and as employees second. Consider that front line managers often come from a front-line position. The front-line manager may be technically excellent, but do they know how to manage? Let’s spend resources teaching people what it means to manage. In the end, if the manager-employee relationship is broken, you can’t fix it. You can intervene. You can mediate a situation. You are only delaying the inevitable if the employee and manager cannot develop their own relationship.
4. Bring your front lines inside. In my logistics company, Jetco Delivery, we created a drivers' committee. This was the single most transformative action we have taken. Far from a "coffee and doughnuts" feel-good session, our drivers' committee is involved in all fundamental decisions affecting our front line employees. Our front lines know they are represented and have a clearly defined (and safe) avenue to share concerns and ideas.
The McKinsey study above confirms what most of us know. Unhealthy alienation often exists between our front lines and the rest of our organizations. The good news is that you can fix this. It is a deliberate and strategic decision. It will take time, trust and transparency. It will not cost a lot of money. By making the decision to take your front lines with you, it is your opportunity to create a better functioning internal organization which will deliver superior results to your customers.