Frontline training matters. Here’s why.

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”
Vince Lombardi, American football player, coach, and NFL executive

The greatest coaches (the Vince Lombardis of the world) would agree: If you want to have a winning team, you have to coach every player—from your all-star starters to your third-string benchwarmers. 

This is true in any sport. It’s also true in business. You shouldn’t train some staff and not others. 

Corporate vs. frontline employees

And yet, all too often, that’s exactly what happens. Corporate employees (who work traditional 9-5 desk jobs) get formally onboarded and receive the subsequent training and professional development they need to excel at their jobs. But their frontline counterparts don’t get the same opportunity to keep developing. (Despite L&D’s best efforts.)

So…why does this matter?

Well, there are 2.7 billion frontline employees worldwide, and they make up roughly 80% of the global workforce. Despite being the largest demographic, they typically receive the least amount of training. 

The fumble

To be fair, it’s much easier to train corporate employees. They have regular schedules, work in the same office, and have easy access to internal communications on their smartphones and computers. 

Frontline employees, on the other hand, are typically spread out across locations, work irregular hours, don’t have easy access to corporate computers or devices and are hard to pull from the places they work for training. Because they’re so hard to reach, more often than not they’re underserved and overlooked. And that’s where many organizations drop the ball. 

As the ones making and selling your products, supporting your services and interacting with your customers, they’re in critical, often highly visible roles. In many cases, they’re the face of your company. And your company is constantly changing—everything from manufacturing processes to products to customer expectations. The things that aren’t evolving at the same pace are the skills and behaviors of your frontline. 

And the second your frontline starts to fall behind, so does your business.

The turnover

Many people believe, because the turnover rates in these frontline roles are high, there’s no point in investing much in these employees. After all, they’re just going to leave.  

Let me be clear. I don’t agree with this logic. At all. But, there is a tiny shred of truth to it. Frontline employees do leave at a higher rate than their corporate counterparts. 

Thanks to increasing wages, low unemployment and record demand, frontline workers have more options. So, if they’re unhappy in their current job, it’s relatively easy for them to find a new one. As a result, churn is at an all-time high. And churn is expensive. On average, it costs around $3,000 to replace a $10/hour employee. Multiply that across your entire frontline workforce, and suddenly you’ve got a multi-million-dollar problem on your hands.

But, when you dig into why employees leave, it becomes obvious that high churn doesn’t have to be business as usual. In fact, there are many things you can do to mitigate the risk of churn. 

We know the main reason people quit is for better opportunities, not a higher salary (74% vs 44%). This is great news for L&D leaders because, while pull factors (like higher pay) may be out of your control, push factors (like lack of communication, training and development) are completely within it. 

When employees don’t have line of sight into the high-level business goals, the training they need to do their jobs or the opportunity to grow (personally and/or professionally), they become disengaged and leave. Can you blame them? It’s kind of hard to get excited for what feels like a dead-end job.

Tackling frontline training

L&D leaders are in a unique position. They operate in one of the few functions that can profoundly impact the frontline as well as the bottom line. The best way to do this is to give these underserved employees the training and tools they need to perform and feel more excited and engaged. 

Here’s how you can make that happen:

  • Communicate: When frontline employees don’t have an email address or easy, regular access to corporate communications, they can feel out of the loop. Between Wi-Fi, intranets, and smartphones, there’s really no reason why organizations shouldn’t be able to bridge the communications gap. When you establish open lines of communication, it’s easier to get everyone on the same page and keep them up to date.
  • Align: Being so far removed from corporate can often leave employees feeling siloed, isolated, and detached from the bigger picture. When you align your frontline, they feel connected to their team and understand what you’re trying to accomplish. They also see why their role matters and how their success contributes to the bigger picture.
  • Train: As long as an employee is with your company, they should always be learning. Providing strong onboarding followed by ongoing training helps frontline employees feel supported and invested in from day one. It also ensures they’re equipped with the knowledge and confidence they need to do the right things on the frontlines every day.

The best team wins

In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” 

Nowhere is this truer than in the competitive world of business. It takes an amazing team to compete. It takes the best team to win. And the best teams have one thing in common: effective coaches. 

Effective coaches recognize that every player has an important role to play. So they work to develop the unique skills each individual must master so that the team can succeed. They realize that there’s always room for improvement in the pursuit of excellence. So they practice. And they translate that practice into results. 

The same goes for effective L&D leaders. They see the value of each employee—whether they’re corporate or frontline. They provide them with customized training they need to excel in their individual roles so the business can thrive. They understand that, as the business evolves, so too must the frontline. So they provide continuous learning. 

The best leaders, the Vince Lombardis of L&D, take it a step further. They translate frontline learning into bottom-line results and training into the company MVP. And so can you.

Not sure how to get started? Why not take a page out of Rebecca Sinclair’s playbook. See how she’s transformed frontline learning for some of the world’s best-known brands, like Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks, South Eastern Grocers (SEG) and American Tire Distributors (ATD).

Carol isn’t your typical leader. She’s driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge, but she’s also a doors-open, come-see-me-anytime kind of executive. Carol doesn’t just talk the talk—she definitely walks the walk. You can read more from her on Training Industry Magazine, ATD, CLO and as a regular contributor for Fortune.

Looking for more information? We’d love to talk.