Front line management plays a key role in the success of an organization. It can be competitive differentiator when companies are able to harness their management talent for their greater good. Consider the following on the importance of front line management:
For 80% to 90% of the employees in an organization – their direct manager is the umbilical cord that ties them to the company. This is where most of the employees interact on the daily basis, learn strategic direction and get the latest scoop happening in the business. This is where employees have personal and in most cases trusting relationship. This is where employees debate/discuss strategies; tactics get formed/morphed; individual employee formulate their opinion(s); speculate what will happen next and the outcome; individuals either get in general agreement or start to dug their heel and resist. This is where true organizational juices flow…and combined organization chemistry gets experienced. This is where strategies succeed or miss the desired mark. This is where companies are either able to bring the meaningful change successfully or miss the boat. In a nut shell – front line management is what makes a company vibrant, healthy and successful.
So managers on the front line has a demanding job. It is hard as they are several layers removed and at times may not have all the necessary information or visibility around key decisions. In large organization there is usually cynicism to begin with – particularly when an organization is experiencing change. Managers are typically left with the tough job to interpret/implement strategies and engage organization to make things successful. This is especially hard as organization gets larger; distributed and employees working remotely. So what should a front line manager do when things are fast changing and ambiguous? Or when there are strategies that you haven’t bought in yet and has direct impact to you/your team? There are more grey scale regardless with no clear black and white choices exist. So how do you communicate when emotions run high?
One of my mentor early on drilled in my head that communication is what’s received. It is not what’s sent. You may be thinking you are doing a great job communicating/sharing but it won’t do good until people have absorbed the message; understood what it mean to them and its impact in their daily life. More often it takes the multiple effort to communicate the same thing in multiple way for message to sink in before people start to buy in. This is especially true when things are fast changing in an organization that is operating under the pressure to perform high and everyone is expected to do more with less.
While the job of a manager remain tough – here are few thoughts on what a front line manager can do to help make things easier:
First and foremost acknowledge the responsibility that comes with the management role. It is a humbling responsibility and come with its own expectation. Being a manager is not an entitlement. It comes with great responsibility to lead your people. I strongly suggest to invest in yourself and learn/read about best management practices. Subscribe and read HBR or other prominent columns dedicated to management. Find a peer group or mentor where you can discuss situations to understand how others have handled similar scenarios. Here is a point of view on being a responsible manager.
Always seek to understand the big picture. During one of my regular Q&A session with my extended management team I was reminded that “Knowing” a strategy does not mean we “Understand” the strategy. My sincere ask to folks in management: you owe it to yourself and your team to “Understand” the strategy. Half the battle is in showing up and engage your respective leaders; ask questions and use every forum available to you to understand the strategy.
It also help to know what is happening in your competitive landscape. Read your industry, competition and market place trends. At times it help put things in perspective on why a business is acting the way it is. Usually you are not alone and market pressure impact competition just the same. It helps understand the business pressure that leaders are dealing with whether it is about growing top line or managing bottom line; understand technology/product rationalization/changes needed; understand cross sell or up sell need; seeking improving the level of productivity; seeking kind of skills/experience need for the future; stretching $ to gain improved operational execution; etc.
Learn to differentiate between Strategy and Tactics. Most often people struggle with the tactics and not the strategy. Tactics has direct impact on people day job. While good tactics make strategies successful – conversely bad tactics make good strategies seem bad. And good organization is where tactics change/morph that is necessary for an organization to embrace and make a strategy successful. There is lot more freedom than management team may believe on their impact in arriving at appropriate tactics. Front line managers can help arrive/morph tactics based on the culture of the organization and what can work with employees in a company. Also feel free to change tactic that is not working. e.g. Building an agile organization is an example of the strategy. How an organization achieve it is about tactics.
Once you understand the strategy – Own and make the strategy your own. Ask the question – do you believe in the strategy? Once you believe in the strategy – it will help you participate in arriving at the tactics necessary for the strategy to succeed. This also help you fill in the blank when things are ambiguous and not everything is crystal clear. It will help you deal with grey matter.
Proactively engage your team and communicate strategy with credibility. Use communication style that works for you – written, verbal, personal, large team setting, etc. Share strategy as if it is your own and why it is important for the business. Share both side of the coin. Call out the challenges as you emphasize the strengths around why the strategy makes sense for a business to take. It is better calling out what to do to mitigate challenges (as they become tactics) for successful outcome.
Repeat, Repeat and Repeat the message. Constantly communicate in appropriate setting depending on where team stand on the strategy and every individual perspective on things.
People are not afraid of strategy. People are afraid of the changes they usually bring. And not all changes result in everything positive for every one involved. At times changes are hard. Show empathy when sharing change as individuals struggle to grasp and understand the reasoning associated with the change. No need to be just marching to the orders or pushing things down. Corporate world is not tuned to the level of discipline expected in an Army. Frankly orders and mandates takes the fun away of working in an innovative work environment anyway.
Lastly, watch what you say when in private. This is where I see most people struggle. This is where either we help an individual get over their concern and understand organization strategy better or we leave them with more cynicism. This is where we help build credibility that is needed for an individual to understand and overcome their own inhibition. Now this do not mean managers are expected to remain formal all the time or hide under their corporate cloak. Being personal and relating to people is what makes us human and build relationship. Everyone has their own way to remain personal and still share the message we believe in.