The Front-Line Connection: leveraging the front-line in execution excellence
By Eric Johnson
The front-line of many organizations is often the first segment of interaction of the company to its customers. In a past post, we have discussed the importance of customer care. In this post, we discuss empowering employees to make the decisions that align with the organization while increasing their own satisfaction with their roles and ability to achieve their career objectives.
To do this, a considered approach consists of the following:
1. Develop a robust human resources program with the goal of understanding employee incentives
2. Create a cross-training / rotational program to expand employee skillsets
3. Create clear association of expected norms, promotional activities and other guidelines that most closely align to organizational goals
The front-line employees are the life-blood of every organization and the human resources organization should be tasked with developing the decision-making ability of these resources. Indeed, having a dedicated component of HR to front-line employees tasked with their development can enforce the importance of this essential group and further their development into higher ranks, while seeding the next generation with the required information to enable smooth continuity of business operations. This HR group should be tasked with the strategic latitude to think outside the box and be prepared to make mistakes – as long as those mistakes can be built upon in furthering the development of the front line.
Your front-line employees are a vital resource that should be treated as an asset for opportunity in increasing seamless decision-making. Developing their potential should be paramount for any manager.
Next, a cross-training program can be a potential gold-mine in extracting the interests of employees to better drive engagement in their roles or potential others. Employees that feel as if they have greater control over their work are much more likely to exhibit positive engagement than others who are not. Having control over one’s career can increase that engagement 10-fold as it inherently indicates a commitment from the organization to its employees. Cross-training not only allows for greater redundancy, but also can reinvigorate employees in bringing new ideas to the table and improving processes and solving problems.
Lastly, by thoroughly considering the organizational mission statement, strategic goals, and operational capabilities (and also potential), the organization can empower its employees to make better decisions and more decisions, by clearly articulating the guardrails for independent thought. This is not to say the organization should try to limit decision-making, but rather establish the boundaries by which decisions are made. Elements such as outlining general guidelines on specific processes on an assembly line or designating a range of discount rates for a sales organization are examples of this. They both empower employees to make decisions with greater confidence while additionally allowing employees to take risks when needed and to proactively solve problems. However, the mistake should not be made for employees to solve every problem. Often times front-line employees provide temporary resolutions to problems, but a robust lean/quality group is more fit to develop long lasting and sustainable solutions. Front-line employees play a critical role in this – they are the knowledge source of both problems and solutions.
For example, a client once mentioned that he felt that his front-line employees could be more productive, but he was not sure how to develop this increased potential. We worked with his HR team to develop a core competency program, cross-training program, and key performance indicators to monitor success. A parallel mentorship and knowledge-sharing platform was developed to promote a social aspect of the learning. And the results were expectedly good – errors and returned goods dropped sharply while employee satisfaction went up 47%. But the best indicators were anecdotal – a prime example of this was a comment by an employee “I actually like getting up for work now”. Employees that enjoy their time at work are much more willing to feel a part of the organization – and understand their impact on its success.