On-the-job Performance

A brief(ish) guide to the pillars of frontline enablement

Posted on: November 7, 2023Updated on: April 16, 2024By: Paige Magarrey

We’re all-in on supporting frontline workers, but what does it look like on a day-to-day basis? Enter frontline enablement. The simplest way to define frontline enablement is the tools, resources and support frontlines need to get things done. It’s about ensuring workers have exactly what they need, in the flow of work, to do the right things, at the right moments, to meet business objectives. 

Retail store associates frontline enablement

The functions of frontline enablement fall into three core pillars. The driving force of the most effective frontline enablement is learning—giving people the capability to execute their roles. Meanwhile, the communications pillar ensures your people are reachable, informed and connected to HQ, no matter the scale. And operational support is all about putting that training and information to use. 

If you’re ready to go deep into the world of frontline enablement, may we draw your attention to our recent guide, Everything you need to know about frontline enablement. But if you just want a taste, let’s briefly explore each pillar of frontline enablement, including what it is, what it looks like on the frontline and how organizations can measure it against their business goals.

Enablement pillar #1: Learning

To get things done, frontlines need to know how to do it. This is the most critical component of frontline enablement; without it, nothing gets done. Workers need to be trained on the processes, protocols and products that drive business outcomes. They need to be able to access information in real-time to support customer queries or specific task completion. And, they need to be able to access upskilling and cross-skilling resources to prepare them for new roles (and enable organizations to stay agile and responsive to staffing changes). And, they need to remember all of it. For all this to happen on the frontline, learning needs to look different than it would for traditional desked workforces. It needs to be accessed easily at the moment of need, in the flow of work, from the devices they’re already using. But more than that, it needs to be readily at hand and consumed quickly.

While corporate or deskbound workers can take time to complete corporate training, frontline workers cannot step away from their department to complete a 45-minute training session in the back room. And even if they could, they’ll forget it within a month (thanks, forgetting curve). So frontline organizations need to approach training differently, with a focus on bite-sized modules that tie seamlessly into the other enablement pillars to constantly reinforce and tie back to daily tasks and company-wide objectives. Unfortunately, when that frontline approach to learning isn’t in place, productivity and engagement suffer. Research shows that while 38% of frontline workers say adequate training and upskilling is a top driver of success and happiness at work, 29% don’t have access to it. And, perhaps even more worrisome, 33% of workers don’t feel that their organization invests in their personal development and growth.

What learning looks like on the frontline

Modern frontline learning is all about getting the right information at the right moment. This can look very different from organization to organization. In a grocery store, for example, associates might do daily microlearning before they start their shift. They might also have access to on-demand resources throughout their day so they can look up critical information in the moment of need (like how often the bananas need to be rotated). Skill-testing questions could reinforce vital information, while self-directed learning paths help develop crucial skills for associates looking to further their career into another department, or a managerial role. While digital tools are critical to meet the required speed and ease of frontline learning, it doesn’t replace hands-on training. But a shift in approach is needed to avoid the inconsistencies and inefficiencies that can occur at scale.

Examples of modern frontline learning tactics

  • On-the-job training Learning how to do a job while in the role, through hands-on learning and instruction
  • Microlearning Training delivered in short, focused bites that fit naturally into the everyday workflow
  • Reinforcement Exposure and retrieval practices that ensure knowledge is retained and ready to apply
  • Compliance training Training that ensures employees conform to mandatory rules, specifications and regulations
  • Coaching One-on-one management of an employee to help them achieve performance objectives
  • Self-directed training Upskilling and development paths guided by the learners themselves

Measuring success 

Measuring the success—and impact—of learning is a critical step in an effective enablement campaign. Employee training metrics like adoption, participation and learning path completion rates allow leaders to identify what’s being learned and retained, and where knowledge gaps and training red flags are emerging. Armed with that information, programs can be iterated quickly and at scale. 

But success isn’t just about adoption and knowledge metrics. These traditional learning measurements are taken at a single point in time and offer limited value in terms of volume, depth and dimension. The true success of learning is how it ties back to business results. To see how knowledge and participation influence broader organizational KPIs, like revenue, workplace safety and turnover, organizations need a more sophisticated approach. This means collecting data and, with the right technology and tools in place, finding those direct links between usage and business outcomes. And when those links are found, replicating them.

Enablement pillar #2: Communication

To get things done, frontlines also need to know why they’re doing it. In other words, they need to know what’s going on: what’s happening at corporate, what other teams are doing, what can they expect. They also need to be able to share and collaborate: what’s working at their location, what customers are saying, what makes a process easier or more efficient. This two-way communication is pivotal to an enabled frontline, but currently, it’s trending in the wrong direction. Our recent research found that only 39% of workers feel heard at work—a staggering drop from 59% the previous year. 

The communication component of frontline enablement is about the ability to reliably reach every single employee, in multiple languages, no matter the scale of the organization. Never had the communication element of frontline enablement been more important than during the pandemic, when organizations needed to be able to talk to their staff in real-time, sharing last-minute guidelines or legal changes. But even beyond that specific timeframe, communication is and always will be about connections: connecting frontline teams to corporate and dispersed locations and regions to each other. When that connection is strong, it’s easy for workers to understand why they’re coming to work each day.

What communication looks like on the frontline

Frontline communication encompasses many of the touchpoints that enable a dispersed workforce. It could be the corporate office sharing a company-wide announcement about a new product line. It could be locations or workers getting recognized for going above and beyond promoting a new loyalty program. It could be a transparent discussion of the brand’s vision or mission, or a major change in management. 

But aside from the standard top-down missives, frontline communication can also look more community-focused: workers sharing ideas on how to prepare a merchandise display or what products are selling the best at cash, staff sharing shifts or even different locations or regions finding ways to connect and engage with each other, which can be difficult in dispersed frontline organizations.

Examples of modern frontline communication tactics

  • Broadcasts Company-wide or regional team announcements sharing news or broader updates
  • Nudges Reminders about relevant topics, such as product or company information
  • Pulse checks Brief survey questions designed to take a quick “pulse” of sentiment or engagement
  • Social forum Feedback and discussion forums focused on specific topics or questions
  • Knowledge base Centralized repository or hub of information, job aids and other resources
  • Peer chat Messaging channels that connect dispersed teams and locations to share ideas and best practices

Measuring success 

Similar to learning enablement tactics, measuring communication efforts involves tracking core metrics, but also tying them back to business outcomes. Reachable rate is a pivotal metric for tracking communication effectiveness because it tells you how much of your workforce you can, well, reach within a reasonable amount of time. From there, measuring open and read rates, and other engagement metrics, tell you how effective and valuable the information you’re sharing with your people actually is. Like with many employee metrics, some of these numbers are easy to capture and some are not. Having an enablement solution in place will make it much easier to track them. 

Again, the next step is having the right technology and tools in place to measure these metrics against key business KPIs to see not just how readable your communications are—but how effectively they enable your team to succeed.

Enablement pillar #3: Operational support

As part of a task-oriented workforce, frontline employees need clear direction around the actions required on a daily, weekly and monthly basis: standard operating procedures, safety protocols, you name it. In other words, they want to know exactly what’s expected of them. The operational component of a frontline enablement strategy is all about clear and concise processes and directives that keep staff focused on the jobs that are critical to success. Frontline workers don’t have time to run back to a whiteboard or track down a manager with a clipboard; managers don’t have time to manually assign tasks and verify what’s getting done. It needs to be standardized, automated and in one place.

What operational support looks like on the frontline

The operational functions of a frontline organization differ wildly depending on its industry, size and scope—but there are some common denominators when we start to explore what operational support looks like on the frontline. It could be a manager completing a store walk checklist. It could be a worker reviewing and following the SOP for opening a till or closing a store, or a pre-shift team huddle. It could also be protocols around workplace safety, or emergency response. Operational support is all about enabling organizations to put all their training and engagement to use, every day.

Examples of modern frontline operational support tactics

  • Task assignment Corporate- or manager-assigned tasks directed to individual workers, teams or regions
  • Task verification The ability to manually or automatically approve the completion of tasks at scale, often with photo evidence
  • Inspection checklists Location-based audits or reviews of operational flows, compliance or processes
  • Behavior observations Individual or team audits of particular behaviors or processes

Measuring success 

With the right technology in place, measuring operational consistency and execution can be simple: what’s the task completion rate? How often are tasks verified as correct? Are inspection checklists showing any problem areas? That’s one of the biggest values of moving operational support from the clipboard to the digital space; it makes monitoring at scale simple and easy so that organizations can stay agile and reactive around key events and major launches. 

One word of warning: when measuring the success of operational support at scale, look for trends, not one-off mistakes. If a location sets up a merchandising table wrong, that’s an easy fix the manager can address. If an entire region makes the same mistake, you have a trend—and your training, communication or task assignments might be to blame.

Bringing the pillars of enablement together

Frontline learning, communication and operational support can function separately—in many organizations that’s exactly the norm. But it’s not enablement. It’s when these three pillars are used strategically to empower and support your people against business goals that things really get exciting. The pillars of frontline enablement aren’t stages; you don’t complete one before starting on the next. Instead, these three components work together holistically to give workforces what they need, in the format and approach that makes sense for the way frontlines work. This is called an enablement campaign.

Want more? Get a step-by-step walkthrough of an enablement campaign in Everything you need to know about frontline enablement.  

Paige Magarrey

Paige Magarrey is a writer, editor and content marketer obsessed with telling epic and informative stories about the frontline experience.