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HR Leadership Column

Maximizing the Value of Frontline Leaders

With their proximity to the largest part of the workforce, frontline supervisors can have a huge impact on how well employees are working toward achieving the organization's business strategy and goals.

Monday, October 1, 2012
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Recently, I had a long phone conversation with a young professional who had just been put into a managerial role. She's a very smart, organized woman, who took on her first supervisory role when her manager left and she was asked to fill in until a replacement was found. Shortly thereafter, she was simply named manager.

Typical for a tough economy, she wasn't permitted to back fill for her prior position. A new manager in a unit she felt was understaffed, she was completely confounded by the behavior of one of her direct reports and was looking for valuable input.

I think that anyone with supervisory experience remembers that first, difficult employee-relations issue you had to deal with.

It's when you first realize that all employees don't view their responsibilities as an employee in the same way you do. You learn that, sometimes, employees reporting to you have a very different view as to what it means to be an engaged, productive and contributing worker.

And it's when you truly understand -- in a very personal way -- that being a manager isn't just about a higher pay grade, greater visibility within an organization or managing a budget. It means spending time dealing with employee-relations issues, where no two are the same and they're rarely fun.

So how can HR executives maximize the value that frontline supervisors can contribute to a business? 

After all, frontline supervisors are closest to the largest part of the workforce, and they can have a huge impact on how well employees are working toward achieving the organization's business strategy and goals.

A recently released research report from the Institute for Corporate Productivity provides new insights -- and data -- HR executives should take note of. I4cp surveyed almost 300 HR and management professionals and asked questions designed to gain a better understanding of just how involved frontline managers were in their organizations' talent-management efforts.

 

The research found that high-performing organizations -- those with the greatest growth in revenue, market share, customer satisfaction and profitability -- were twice as likely as low market performers to involve frontline managers in the design, development and execution of talent-management strategies. In other words, involving frontline managers in all aspects of talent management was highly correlated to better market performance.

Additionally, high-performing companies were three times more likely to say that their frontline leaders were highly or very highly involved in leadership development. They were almost twice as likely as lower performers to say their frontline managers were highly or very highly involved in career/employee and high-potential development.

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Not surprisingly -- considering how stretched most organizations are these days -- the survey also found that there were significant gaps between what the respondents believed frontline managers should be doing and what they are doing. While the survey includes a list of more than 30 activities where a gap exists, the activities with the largest gap included more frequent monitoring of employees' development plans, providing one-on-one coaching and mentoring, ensuring through audits that training had the desired outcomes, providing rotational or cross-training assignments, and providing appropriate development experiences for high-potential employees.

For HR executives, there is a real business case that can be made for investing time and energy in helping frontline managers and supervisors to close these gaps, through training, support and ensuring managers are held accountable for these activities. By involving them more broadly in the organization's talent-management efforts, HR will not only help create a high-performance organization, but will also help supervisors be more successful in their roles.

As for the new manager who called me, she's too new to her position to have had a chance to be involved in any aspect of corporate talent management beyond her immediate performance-management challenge.

And, after listening to everything she had done to help the employee be successful -- but to no avail -- I told her she was just about to learn a lesson that all managers learn at some point: You can't save them all.

Susan R. Meisinger, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, is an author, speaker and consultant on human resource management. She is on the board of directors of the National Academy of Human Resources.

 

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