People leave managers, not companies. Numerous studies also validate the premise that managers are critical to keeping employees happy and productive. In my view they are also the most overlooked group in an organization (when it comes to developing talents) – in particular, frontline managers.
Importance of frontline managers
It’s a no brainer that when it comes to translating a company’s strategy into results, there’s no denying the importance of the frontline manager. Studies indicate that close to 65% of an organization’s workforce is managed on a daily basis by frontline managers.
Managers on the front line are critical to sustaining quality, service, innovation, and financial performance” – Harvard professor Linda Hill
Bottom-line impact of frontline managers
- They account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units (Gallup)
- When companies increase their number of talented managers, they achieve, on average, 147% higher earnings per share than their competition.
- A survey by DDI concluded that one in four organizations reported a dip in profit due to frontline manager failure.
Key Challenges faced by frontline managers
- The transition from being an individual contributor where one is responsible for one’s own performance, to managing the performance of others is a huge challenge.
- A frontline manager is often required to manage the work of his/her erstwhile peers – a shift that is difficult and without preparation, results in costly mistakes for the organization as well as the individual.
- Most of the time, frontline managers operate as cogs in a system, with limited flexibility in decision making and little room for creativity.
- In most companies, people who have excelled as individual contributors are straight away moved up and given managerial responsibilities for which they have very little or no training at all (according to a survey, 26% of first-time managers felt they were not ready to lead others to begin with, and almost 60% said they never received any training when they transitioned into their first leadership role).
- Once the manager settles into the role, the burden of the business-as-usual takes over and there is no time or inclination to focus on identifying and developing necessary managerial skills.
The first step in the journey is the assessment of an individual’s capabilities and behavioural dispositions to understand strengths and gaps. This is to be followed by focussed training, development and mentoring. Since development is an iterative process, regular reviews and periodic re-calibration is also required to check for relevance to the current business context.
Good companies understand that assessment, training and development of frontline managers is a sound investment for the future and spend time, energy and resources in ensuring that frontline managers are well equipped to excel in their roles.
I was at the NHRD monthly meet last week in Chennai, India and we had a very interesting session. The session was titled ‘Managing High Performance & Leadership – Learnings from a sporting context’. The speaker was Dhananjai (known popularly as DJ) who was the Performance Analyst of the Indian cricket team till 2014 and now offers his expertise to Mumbai Indians in the IPL. The session was very enjoyable, one because it was full of anecdotes about our favourite cricketers and second (and more importantly), because of the similarities between facilitating the performance of Sportsmen and how we as HR professionals facilitate employee performance in organizations.
I am highlighting a few of the key takeaways and look forward to hearing all your views and perspectives:
- Performance monitoring as an ongoing activity – Technology has become an integral part of sports today and one of the key aspects of its impact has been in monitoring performance and offering insights for improvement. It was fascinating to know that Analysts record things like Intensity of players in a practise session, sleep patterns, diet, technique and so on.
- Personalising the inputs given – Players come from different walks of life, bring with them their own values/belief systems, skill sets, personality preferences and learning styles. Giving them feedback and inputs on their games requires ‘personalising’ it to a very large extent.
- Offering simple yet valuable/actionable insights – With the amount of data that is being collected about every aspect of an individual’s game, opposition, weather, playing conditions, strengths/weaknesses, we can imagine the complexity and rigour of data analytics that is required to actually offer practical and meaningful insights and inputs to each individual player. What’s great to know is that, we have advanced to a level of analytics where players/teams do get inputs which have helped turn games and win from virtually impossible situations. A simple example to illustrate this is that advanced systems can predict when a bowler bowls a slower ball (say 3rd or 4th ball of very over) which helps the batsman prepare and play accordingly.
- Focusing on Strengths – ‘You are what you are because of your strengths’, so analysts understand a player’s strengths and help them leverage it to their and the team’s advantage.
- Positive reinforcement – How we give feedback can make or break a person’s confidence. A negative feedback (area of improvement) is always preceded by positive reinforcement of things that went well or a reminder of an individual’s potential.
- Simulations play a key in role in identifying potential and in development of a player – Simulating the environment that a player is going to encounter is a key aspect of selection and preparation. We have read/heard of famous examples of how Sachin practices facing a leg spinner bowling out of the rough on the leg side to counter the genius of Shane Warne. Another Sachin example is how he believes in being in complete match gear while practicing since it would help with ‘muscle memory’.
- Arresting ‘default’ behaviours – There was an interesting point about how we as Indians are better at reacting (example of how we have always fought wars where we react to a provocation and how that pushes us to give it our best). We hear of how champion teams have this incredible ability to win from improbable situations and our Indian team was famous for losing the advantage after being in winning situations. The point here is about knowing how we do things normally, and in being able to adapt to changing situations to be effective and successful.
I think the linkages between how performance of Sportsmen are managed/enhanced and how HR does this (or should do this) in a larger, organizational setting is clear. HR as a Performance Facilitator is about being in the background (like the Performance Analyst), but playing a very important role in helping an organization realize the true value of its human capital.
‘Managing the millennials’ is a topic that is being discussed in every boardroom. There is certain hawkishness in the way we approach the topic. According to me, understanding them and how they think is the first step to creating the workplace of the future. Here’s my take on a millennial’s world view and preferred work style.
- Live and love technology – Technology is here to stay and you have to embrace it…just to stay relevant.
- Share & Collaborate – Use social networks to share what you know/learn quickly so that may others can benefit.
- Work is an activity, not a place – ‘Office atmosphere’ is over-rated and traveling to work is passé
- Follow your heart – Figure out what you want to do and do it.
- Enjoy a variety of experiences – Variety is the spice of life. Try different things, learn from those experiences.
- Get to the point! – Be clear, direct and bold
- Work and life are intertwined – Move seamlessly from work to play, mix the two and enjoy them both. Learn to multi-task
- Learn and adapt quickly– Conditions change too fast to learn one skill and spend years developing it in the workplace.
- Meritocracy is the new seniority – Experience is valuable if it adds value in today’s context
- Live for today– Future is too far and unpredictable, live the life you want…today
- Take risks – Taking the safe path is a sign of mediocrity
- Simplify…gamify – Shift from complicating simple things to simplifying and gamifying complicated things
- Here and now – Instant feedback, Instant recognition and Instant rewards
- Challenge/Question everything – Question all basic assumptions… Have data…will accept!
- Information is the new currency – Information should be fast, easily accessible, free and virtually limitless.
- Informality – Cool, casual and chillaxed learning and work atmosphere
As much as we cherish and value the ‘traditional way’ of doing things, we certainly need to acknowledge and learn from the generation that has made ‘disruption’ a way of life! So project ‘managing the millennials’ should also include a module on ‘what we can learn from the millennials ’.