Are You Maximizing the Potential of Your Frontline Managers?

Two things predictably define sightseeing trips to Germany:

  1. Lots of cathedrals, historical castles, and mouth-watering Sauerbraten and Wurst
  2. A long flight home to the United States

So when my parents returned from Germany recently, I prepared myself for listening to long tales about castle tours. Actually, the tours did sound like a lot of fun but of all their stories, the one about hungry passengers on the return flight most caught my attention – perhaps because it fit so neatly with my topic this week.

Here's the story. Less than halfway into the nine-hour flight, the attendants announced that they had run out of the lunches they were serving and about 40 passengers not yet served would have to go hungry.

The flight attendants apologized profusely and offered vouchers the unfed could use for food once the plane landed.

There were a few disgruntled passengers, of course, but most "went with the flow," satisfied by the attendants' quick apologies and action.

Strangely, the attendants found the lunches "where they never should have been" a little while later and served those without food.

But I digress.

As inconveniences go, this one was as minor as cold coffee. What's more, the frontline personnel knew what steps to take to make up for the annoying situation and took them quickly. In most respects, everyone sailed through the event with nary a scratch.

In contrast, imagine being on the front line at Dallas stadium in early February and having to tell 400 ticket holders that they couldn't sit in the seats they had paid big money for to watch the Super Bowl and — this is really inexcusable — not having a compensation at the ready.

Both situations underscore the skills and attributes frontline people need to successfully weather similar problems in your business:

Would your frontline staff and managers know what to do facing the 400 stunned and disgruntled fans at Dallas stadium? How would they have handled the forty hungry passengers?

Customer-focused companies have frontline employees who are trained and skilled at fixing knotty problems. And having a problem fixed can make or break a customer for life.

Much of the responsibility for getting a frontline staff adept at handling crisis situations and making customers happy or at least satisfied falls to the frontline manager.

To uncover a team's abilities, these managers must spend a significant amount of time —

  1. Helping its members understand the company's direction and its implication for them, and
  2. Coaching for performance

Why then do so many frontline managers spend their time on more ordinary and less consequential (as far as the big picture goes) tasks?

Look at these statistics from McKinsey Quarterly, the business journal of McKinsey & Company:

According to McKinsey, across industries, frontline managers spend as little as 10 percent of their time actually managing frontline employees — by coaching them directly, for example. Rather, they spend 30 to 60 percent of their time on administrative work and meetings, and 10 to 50 percent on non-managerial tasks such as traveling, participating in training, taking breaks, conducting special projects, or engaging in direct customer service or sales themselves.

Which is too bad. Here's the thing: For good and bad, frontline management impacts a company's bottom line.

A front line too focused on executing assigned tasks, for example, leaves no time to find ways to increase production or improve quality on the line. Worse, a task-focused front line leaves no time for looking at the big picture.

And for service companies like the airline my parents took from Germany, the impact is worse, according to researchers. They consistently link the attitudes and behaviors of customer-facing employees with the customer's perception of service quality.

In other words, a customer equates a poor attitude on the part of an employee with poor quality work at the company.

Now here's the good news in all of this: When frontline managers become true leaders, companies see remarkable performance. As a result, morale improves, sales and quality increase, and production rises.

Can you see why the best companies help their frontline managers become leaders?

How are your frontline managers doing? Are they true leaders or are they bogged down by administrative work, attending meetings or doing sales activities themselves?

And what about you? Have you helped them be as efficient as possible? Have you helped them become true leaders?

Tips: Six Keys to Tapping the Potential of Your Frontline Managers

Not everyone is cut out to be a manager. Nor does everyone want to be a manager.

In fact, nearly 60 percent of frontline managers under perform during their first two years in their positions, and more than 50 percent would rather not manage people at all, according to Profiles International.

Thus, in filling this role, you need to identify the rare individual who wants the job and then have a clear plan for developing him.

Here are six actions you can use to help your frontline managers become the best they can be:

  1. Use assessments to identify employees who demonstrate the behaviors and interests that will make them successful managers.
  2. Help your managers develop a clear understanding of the results they need to achieve and how they expect to achieve them. This will help them align their people and activities with the outcomes important to your organization. It also creates a foundation for discussing resources, priorities and timing. A clear understanding of expectations helps put everyone "on the same page." In addition, work with your managers to set reasonable milestones and goals they can use to gauge their success.
  3. Use a valid assessment process to help your managers understand the people they manage. Managers who understand their peoples' skills, behaviors and interests can build on these strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. This understanding also helps managers communicate better with their employees and zero in on each employee's most critical developmental needs.
  4. Use the same assessment process to help managers understand themselves and how they impact their people. Further, add feedback from their supervisors, peers and subordinates to help illuminate where they need to develop or change.
  5. Develop your managers' fundamental coaching skills. Don't assume that they already know how or when to coach even if they are experienced in their jobs. Coaching requires training and continuous improvement in order to achieve and sustain a high level of effectiveness.
  6. Minimize administrative work to give managers more time to develop their people. Think carefully about the administrative tasks you assign your frontline managers. In addition —
    • Provide administrative support and invest in tools that will help them with non-managerial tasks
    • Make information easy to get so they aren't spending time aggregating and formatting spreadsheets
    • Minimize formal meeting times and interruptions that are administrative in nature

Your Solution Toolbox: Two Tools for Identifying Managers

Measuring What Matters

If not everyone is cut out to be a manager or wants to be a manager, how do you find employees who do? And once you find them, how do you get the most from them?

Let me offer a couple of suggestions:

The ProfileXT® assessment is a superior tool for measuring how well an individual fits specific jobs in your organization and offers many reports to assist with hiring, coaching and training your managers.

Profiles' Managerial Fit, a special report using data from ProfileXT®, measures critical aspects of compatibility between managers and their employees. This report offers an in-depth look at an employee's approach to learning, and six critical dimensions of compatibility with her manager: self-assurance, conformity, optimism, decisiveness, self-reliance and objectivity.

Managers use this information for adapting their styles in order to get the most from each employee, improve communication, reduce employee turnover, and increase engagement, satisfaction and productivity.

If you wish to identify the right people for your managerial positions and develop them to their full potential, call me today at 952-322-3330 or send an email to

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Call me, too, if you are looking for professional assistance with your personnel questions. We'll help you learn how to:

Let’s Talk! We offer a no obligation consultation to informally assess your current policies, procedures, and practices. This may help determine what’s missing in your current programs to meet the above recommendations. Call 952-322-3330 or send an email to

Finally check out MG assessments on the Web at

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