Why Develop Front Line Managers: The Business Case

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We train managers too late. Way too late in fact. Research of over 17,000 global leaders, the average age of leaders attending their very first management training was 42…10 years after they began managing people! Clearly for some organisations, the investment rationale for developing front line managers hasn’t been compelling enough. In this article, we address the question ‘Why Develop Front Line Managers’ and build the business case for developing front line managers.

The Crucial Role of Front Line and Middle Managers

About 10-15% of roles in any organisation are management roles, according to the Office of National Statistics (UK). Senior Managers and Executives sit at the very top of the hierarchy, making up a tiny proportion of management roles. Team Leaders, Supervisors and Ops Managers make up the bulk of management roles. They directly manage up to 4 in 5 employees: over three quarters of the entire workforce. They are the beating heart of most organisations across the world.

This is very important because 70% of the variance in employee engagement is down *solely* to the line manager. By far the single biggest driver of staff performance is the humble front line manager. Many organisations are struggling to attract and retain staff; front line managers play a crucial role. People don’t leave organisations, they leave managers.

Learning ‘on the job’ is not much of a Strategy

Let’s deep dive into a sector to illustrate the point. The UK care sector is made up of c18,500 providers and has around 165,000 vacancies (10% of the workforce). The staff turnover rate is 30%. The NHS, with similar scale resourcing gaps, also have a huge retention challenge. The key reason for staff leaving? Inability to achieve work/life balance. Stress levels are 50% higher amongst frontline healthcare workers in the UK (Kings Fund). Across the board many front line staff are working unpaid additional hours. Supervisors and line managers often lack the resources, skills and support to deal with these systemic issues.

Why Develop Front Line Managers: The Business Case for SME’s? Small businesses perform better with better management practices. According to a 2020 report from the World Bank, “evidence from a wide range of countries shows that better management does matter for firm productivity and growth among small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and that, even among the self employed or firms with just a few employees, firms using better business practices are more profitable and grow faster over time”.

The reality is that across the UK we have lots of “accidental managers”. People doing their best without any structured support, guidance or fit for purpose development. According to the Chartered Institute of Management, a whopping 82% of managers have no formal training when they start managing people.

Are you letting down your future leaders: YouTube video

The Next Generation of Senior Leaders

Today’s front line managers are tomorrow’s senior managers. This simple fact can easily be overlooked with the pressures of today’s business and economic environment. The reality is that in all western countries, the population is ageing. This means that the number of economically active people is reducing, putting more pressure on the working population to support the rest of society. It is going to be increasingly hard to hire externally for management roles as the labour market becomes tighter. The way forward for organisations large and small is clear. You simply have to develop the management skills of your employees if you are to survive and thrive.

94% of employees said they would stay with their employer if it invested in their development

LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, 2019

Investing early in our leaders pays dividends. By investing in the development of employees at the front line, we’re giving these valuable staff members our commitment. This builds confidence, increases motivation and underpins engagement. Not only that, it helps to create a culture of continuous improvement, passion for learning and openness to change.

Common Barriers to Developing Front Line Leaders

Before jumping to solutions, there are some key challenges to overcome:

1. Poor Job Design. You can’t train your way out of a problem that you have designed yourself into. Don’t expect technical specialists to excel at management tasks if they are an ‘add on’ to their core role. Four hours per week allocated for ‘leading the department’ just doesn’t work. Not for the team, the organisation or the individual in post. Set managers up for success by giving them time and resources to lead. Or free them up to do what they do best by having a non-technical, dedicated management position.

2. Underestimating the Nature of the Transition. Stepping into a leadership role requires a “fundamental adjustment in skills, use of time and work values (mindset)” according to the authors of The Leadership Pipeline. It is not a piece of extra responsibility that can be done from the ‘side of the desk’. The transition from individual contributor to manager of others is one of the most difficult transitions any leader makes. Why? Often, new managers have to manage their former peers and team members. This makes it really hard to redefine relationships and set new boundaries, on top of learning new skills.

Developing Front Line Managers: My Leadership Strengths 5 Leadership Principles
My Leadership Strengths 5 Leadership Principles

3. Poorly Targeted Training Efforts: Busy leaders can’t afford the time for lengthy training courses. Too often training is passive, without the important relational elements so crucial for learning. New managers may pick up some theory, but lack opportunities to actually practice skills. Training participants often lack the confidence to apply their learning back at work. Ensure your leadership development meets our five principles (above): Accessible; Tailored; Social; Applied; Owned.

Why Develop Front Line Managers: The Business Case. Getting Started

If you want to get started developing your front line managers book a meeting with us today

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