Walking the Walk: making front-line managers successful

Dwight D Eisenhower is quoted as saying ‘The sergeant is the army’. In the same way, our front-line managers are what make our organisations tick. They ensure that work gets done, standards are maintained, customer needs are satisfied, throughput is maintained and all this is completed efficiently by content, motivated staff.

Intuitively we know the importance of their role yet, despite this, a capability gap exists at front-line management level in most organisations – test this with any experienced line manager and they will verify it.

The rise of the accidental manager

A significant proportion of front-line managers get the role because they were good engineers, call-centre agents or field technicians. One moment they are one of the team; the next they are expected to be an enlightened manager, but they are ill-prepared to perform the role as they are rarely given the support they need when they start their supervisory journeys.

At best, managers may be offered ‘sheep dip’ management training; more often than not they will learn on-the-job from their (potentially equally ill-equipped) peers. Talent management analyst Josh Bersin notes, ‘Most supervisors and front-line managers learned how to manage from another manager. If a strong development program is not in place, people are “learning how to lead” by chance.’ The result is a lack of competence to perform the role they now find themselves in – managing their former colleagues. This causes employees to underperform as they are led by managers who mirror the performance and behavioural norms of those around them.

So how can this be developed?

Focus on the management competencies that really matter

The starting point for developing effective front-line managers is to understand the competencies today’s organisations require for the role, and how these can be developed. In our experience, the below image highlights competencies that front-line managers are required to have.

Detailed analysis tells us that for front-line managers, a subset of performance-focused competencies have a higher impact on tangible improvement – notably performance management, results focus, planning and active management.

Driving performance through active management

If the front-line manager’s new skills can be established as part of their normal behaviour, the results can be profound, both for the managers involved and on the effectiveness of their teams. As shown in the image below, managers move away from passive towards active management, where the majority of their time can be spent planning, coaching, guiding, assisting and supporting their staff in order to optimise the team’s effectiveness.

We believe front-line managers should be spending at least 60% of their time actively managing. The norm is 30% or less which directly impacts the effectiveness of their teams. By increasing the levels of active management performed by front-line managers from less than 30% to over 60%, the lost or hidden capacity that currently exists within their teams can be released and used effectively. The results can be dramatic – BearingPoint has seen performance improvements of between 10% and 30% across an organisation. This improvement can be realised through a blended learning programme combining competency assessment, management development and a sustained period of individual coaching and support.

Both in the short and long term, the challenge faced by front-line managers and the opportunity it provides to realise a stepped, recurring improvement in performance should not be ignored.

Read BearingPoint’s full report: Walking the walk: making front-line managers successful

*The Year of Disruption follows on from our very successful Years of Digital (shortlisted for an Association Excellence Award), Growth and Diversity. For more information, please visit the Year of Disruption specific hub.