Are your managers driving or diminishing frontline employee performance?

Frontline managers are the most important people in workplace performance. More important than the training team. More important than the subject matter experts. More important than the employees themselves. Managers have an undeniable influence on the day-to-day workings of your business. This includes how employees go about improving (or not improving) their performance.

For better or for worse, managers have significant control over the employee experience. They control access to resources, how time is spent and which tasks are given the highest priority. But it’s their ability to communicate and hold people accountable to performance expectations that really makes the difference. The C-suite may dictate performance goals, but it’s a manager’s job to make them a reality for the frontline staff. Managers translate business targets into everyday job behaviors. This point of translation is a make-or-break moment for your business.

A retail associate and manager in a store

Clarify Knowledge and Behavior Expectations

Business goals are often communicated in vague terms. Reach X sales volume. Achieve Y customer satisfaction scores. Reduce safety incidents to Z percentage. This leaves most of the HOW – the steps needed to hit these goals – open to interpretation. And where there’s downstream interpretation, especially at the scale of a large company, there are inconsistencies and missed opportunities.

To be effective coaches, managers need more than just the end goal. They require a consistent understanding of the knowledge and behaviors employees are expected to demonstrate on the job. While you may identify this information as part of training design, you must also communicate it directly to managers so they can reinforce the same expectations. This will help mitigate situations in which managers are prone to “ad-libbing” their own processes to achieve desired goals in ways that potentially add risk or disengage employees.

Engagement matters. Big time. Want to know how your efforts are stacking up? Take the quiz to find out if you’re effectively engaging your frontline.

 

Improve Coaching through Actionable Data

KPI data tends to only tell the end of the performance story: did an employee hit their goal or not? But it doesn’t explain WHY they fell short. Traditional training data, such as course completions and test scores, doesn’t help managers fill in these gaps. To provide accurate and timely feedback, managers need more detailed, actionable data on which to base their coaching conversations. Otherwise, they are left to make assumptions or share generic feedback with their entire teams.

To get to the WHYs behind performance challenges, managers need access to more robust data sources. This should include not only an employee’s business results, but also the changes in their knowledge, on-the-job behaviors and other data points that may act as leading indicators of performance. Modern approaches to workplace learning, such as microlearning, provide greater opportunities to collect this type of data on a continuous basis. And artificial intelligence can now provide managers with actionable recommendations so they don’t have to spend their limited time digging into huge amounts of complex data themselves.

Provide Continuous Learning Opportunities

As I mentioned earlier, doing the job and managing people who do the job are two very different roles. However, a considerable number of managers are elevated to their positions with little or no formal training. New managers often have to wait until the next scheduled program to receive their introduction training. In the meantime, they just have to figure it out as they go, a situation that can quickly diminish frontline performance.

A range of new tactics and technologies are being applied to transform frontline training to help employees keep up with the always-changing nature of modern business. The same concepts should be applied to provide continuous support for managers, even before they formally step in their roles. A modern learning framework can provide managers with an ecosystem of learning opportunities, including on-demand resources, performance support and targeted reinforcement. Not every traditional management training program should be replaced. But they have to evolve with the environment in which managers operate.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is working to shift his organization’s mindset from a know-it-all to a learn-it-all culture. Likewise, executives in every industry have come to the realization that, to win in modern business, you have to learn the fastest as an organization. When it comes to the frontline employees and the critical role they play in your business, you need more than a great learning strategy to drive their performance. In the end, employees can only be as successful as the managers who support them. What better way to get their buy-in on a new approach to frontline training than to show them how it can help them too?

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JD is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. His practical approach integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results. For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company.

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