Three Ways To Increase The Effectiveness Of Your Frontline Leader Development Programs
Developing effective frontline leaders is an important task that needs to be achieved as effective and efficiently as possible. Given that frontline leaders make up 60% of your organisation’s leaders and directly supervise as much as 80% of your workforce, it is essential that you have a well thought out plan for developing the people who hold these vital roles. It should be the level where you spend the most time, money and effort as it creates the most measurable results.
You only have to read any of the research on employee engagement by Gallup and others to know that the number once factor in employee performance is their direct relationship with their team leader. In other words – People don’t leave companies, they leave leaders.
Frontline leaders are the people who ‘get their hands dirty’, dealing with the day-to-day activities that cause your business to grow or wither and die. So if developing the skills of frontline leaders is this important, why is it also the cause of frustration for many Learning and Development professionals?
Unfortunately many organisations waste a lot of time, money and effort on development programs because they put all their focus on the design and delivery of the program and not enough attention on three vital steps that can make or break the outcome. Without these steps, even the most comprehensive and well designed initiative will struggle to take root and thrive.
Before you embark on your next frontline leader development program, you should do some work on the following three areas to ensure you increase your chances of maximising your return on investment:
1. Develop a positive perception of leaders in your culture
One of the first challenges in the success of a frontline leader development program is finding willing participants.
No matter how experienced you are as a facilitator, working with people who don’t want to be involved is hard and unpleasant.
Just because someone appears to have the potential to lead doesn’t mean they have the desire. Often that is because of the negative perceptions in many organisations around the role of the leader. These beliefs can include:
- Working longer hours for not much more money
- Spending all your time in unproductive meetings or doing reports
- Having to ‘boss’ people about and tell them what to do
- When things go wrong you get the blame
- Delivering bad news and correcting poor performers
Why would a team member want to become a team leader if this is how they will be perceived? There doesn’t seem to be many interesting or enjoyable aspects of the job based on this list. Sadly, this is how leaders are viewed in many organisations.
If you want to find out if your leaders are perceived in the same way, you could be brave and try the simple word association test. Ask people to tell you what words come to mind when you say “team leader” or whatever title it is you use. The responses might surprise you and the negative ones will often be based on misinformation or lack of knowledge, which means they are easily corrected.
Once you understand what the negative perceptions are, you can start planting the seeds of more positive associations. Find ways to highlight the upsides of being a leader such as:
- Development opportunities from working on projects
- Chance to get your ideas heard
- Learning from more senior, experienced people
- Spreading the word about the achievements of your team
- Satisfaction of seeing team members learn and grow
This can be done in a number of ways using your existing internal communication systems. One popular method for communicating this kind of message that is used to great effect is the case study. Interview some successful leaders in your organisation and get them to tell their story in words that resonant with your target audience. The results can be included on your intranet as a pdf document or even a video.
2. Get the support of senior leaders
Suggesting you get the support of senior leaders seems like an obvious step. However, it’s not about the usual strategy of getting senior leader approval to allocate budget to a program based on an expected return on investment that can be measured in terms of bottom line impact or the business benefits of meeting compliance requirements. It’s about getting a more practical and hands on show of support. Frontline leaders are the people who get their hands dirty in the organisation and they value action over talk. The kind of support they want to see from their senior leaders goes much further than the odd mention at a staff briefing or them sending pro forma emails to encourage their involvement.
To start with, your senior leaders need to start talking to everyone and anyone about the benefits of the program.
However, they can’t just be the person who stands by and watches someone else do the work, they also need to be prepared to dig in and help out. This means getting involved in the actual program by reading the materials, delivering sessions and being a mentor.
This type of support can have a significant, positive impact on a program when senior leaders are asked to come along and give short presentations or be interviewed on a topic followed by questions and answers from participants.
Each senior leader can mentor two participants throughout the five month program. This involvement can give both parties a better understanding of each other, helping to create a much closer working relationships. It also demonstrated to participants that senior people not only knew what was going on but were prepared to share their experiences.
One of the reasons this model works is that it appeals to younger participants who make up a large part of the frontline leader demographic. The Gen Ys, or Millennials as they are sometimes called, are big on collaborative learning. They like having access to people of all ages and experiences as part of a learning journey rather than being subjected to one off learning events.
If your senior leaders are not prepared to give of their time and expertise to help the frontline leaders start on their journey to potentially becoming the senior leaders of the future, then you need to work on changing that culture before you embark on any leader development programs.
3. Create a leadership team that supports new leaders
The term ‘leader development’ has been used in this article rather than ‘leadership development’. Being a leader is about the personal skills required to lead a team, whilst leadership is concerned with the social skills essential to being part of a high functioning team of leaders.
Without a proper leadership team, as opposed to a group of leaders, any new leaders you appoint will find the going tough. A new leader needs to know they have support, that there are other people like them they can turn to for advice or just to vent about their frustrations.
If your leaders aren’t operating as a team they can seriously impede the ability of new leaders to implement the ideas they will receive in your development program.
A good leadership team is supportive, encouraging and role models the right behaviours. It also has a clear set of leadership values that all members operate by. This is something that your new leaders need to be introduced to.
If you don’t have one then I suggest you work on this before starting your next frontline leader program.
Making in happen
If you are responsible for leadership development in your organisation, it would be remiss of you not to consider the benefits of the work that needs to happen before the learning program. Of course each of the three factors discussed above will take time to implement but it will be worth the wait. A good start is to improve the cultural perception of leaders, as it will have a flow on effect to the other two.
If you observe these three factors and combine them with an effective development program, you will see the fruits of your labour well rewarded!
By Karen Schmidt
Published with permission from the International Institute of Directors and Managers (IIDM) – www.iidmglobal.com
Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.
“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”