PART 1:

Instead of administration work and meetings, they should focus on coaching their employees and on constantly improving quality.

Front-line managers are found in almost every company.  These managers are particularly important in industries with distributed networks. The following industries’ infrastructure, travel and logistics, manufacturing, healthcare and retailing (including food service and retail banking) – make up more than half of the global economy.  Their area managers, factory managers and line supervisors direct as much as two-thirds of the workforce and are responsible for the part of the company that defines the Customer experience.

In most companies the front-line manager’s role is to keep an eye on things, enforce plans and policies, report operational results, and quickly refer issues or problems.  In other words, a front-line manager is meant to communicate decisions, not make them; to ensure compliance with policies, not to use judgment or discretion (and certainly not to oversee the implementation of improvements), not to contribute ideas or even implement improvements (workers do that).

I believe this system makes companies less productive and front-line managers lose their self-worth.  Research bears out the fact that companies that have successfully empowered their front-line managers have shown extra flexibility and productivity and generated strong financial returns.

 

How Do We Change This?

The answer is a shift to front-line managers who have the time – and the ability – to address the unique circumstances of their particular departments; to foresee trouble and stem it before it begins.  To encourage team-members to seek out opportunities for self-improvement.

Across industries, front-line managers spend 30 to 60 percent of their time on administrative work and meetings, and 10 to 50 percent on non-managerial tasks.  They spend only 10 to 40 percent actually managing front-line employees by,  for example, coaching them directly.

These shortcomings are rooted in the early days of industrialisation.  Work was broken down into highly specialised, repetitive, and easily observed tasks.  Employees didn’t necessarily know anything about the overall job which they were merely a part of.  Supervisors (usually people good at the work itself) were employed to enforce detailed standards and practices.  Many manufacturing companies still use this approach, because it can deliver high-quality results on the front-line, at least in the short term.  In the service industry, the same approach has taken hold in order to provide all Customers in all locations with a consistent experience.

The effects of poor frontline management may be particularly damaging at service companies, where researchers have consistently detected a relationship between the attitudes of Customer-facing team members, on the one hand, and the Customer’s perceptions of service quality, on the other.  In service industries, research has found that three factors drive performance : the work climate, the ways teams get together and things are done; and the engagement, commitment, and satisfaction of employees.  Leadership in particular, the quality of supervision and the nature of the relationship between supervisors and their teams – is crucial to performance in each of these areas.  Clearly, the typical work patterns and attitudes of front-line managers are not conducive to good results.

 

Part 2 of this article will cover how the time 
can be better spent for greater productivity 
and financial returns.