Building successful new frontline leaders is a partnership between the people in their new management role and those who put them there. It takes recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of both parties and working together to improve them.
Despite everyone’s best intentions, new frontline managers and supervisors can be set up to fail right from their first hour on the job. So whether you’ve brought in an outside hire or promoted a talented individual up through your ranks, setting up a new frontline leader with the right tools, training, and techniques for success is critical.
First, let’s take a moment to examine some of the upper management behaviors that can lead to failure. Of course, this isn’t a complete list of everything that can lead to a frontline manager falling short. But in our experience, getting inside hundreds of companies, these are a handful of the top issues that impair new leaders and impact performance.
1. Poorly Communicated or Unrealistic Expectations
Having no bar, a constantly moving bar, or a bar set too high can discourage new managers and cause them to disengage from the business and ultimately leave. It’s that simple. It’s human nature to want to succeed at what we do. We want to contribute and feel that satisfaction and success in our lives.
But when the expectations of upper management on the workforce are poorly formed or unclear, it can lead to widespread disengagement, low morale, and high turnover. This issue is especially real for new frontline managers.
It can take several months or more for a new frontline manager to settle into their new role and start being effective. Ensure you set realistic performance expectations and that your new managers clearly understand them.
Try using the S.M.A.R.T. goals process. It’s proven effective and can produce very clear expectations. And be ready to reinforce those expectations through check-in meetings, training, coaching, and mentoring.
2. Ineffective or Non-existent Leadership Training
Unprepared. When we work with new frontline managers, we get this response quite a bit. These are typically great people, willing to learn, hard workers, loyal, and dedicated to the business’s success. They just lack training.
They may need to be better communicators, know how to handle conflict better, make better decisions, or whatever. But often, they know they need to improve, but the company has no training to help them learn and master new skills. This issue is especially true of the so-called soft skills.
Training and developing your new leaders are essential to your company’s value. It’s not only to hit the daily performance KPIs. It’s for your business’s long-term scalability, sustainability, and competitive advantage. Talented people want to come to work for, and stay with, companies that train them up to be successful and advance professionally and personally.
3. Not Listening to the New Manager’s Insights and Concerns
You’ve hired or promoted a new manager. They’ve taken to their role and are digging in and uncovering issues that are harming productivity and performance. Then they try to communicate those issues with upper management, and the wheels come off. And, too often, they are ignored.
Dropping good people into critical positions in your organization and not listening to them when they bring up issues impacting performance can be a company culture killer. Instead, make the time to check in with your frontline leaders (especially your new ones!), listen to their insights and concerns, and support them in making changes and creating solutions.
4. Scheduling Too Many Unproductive Meetings
Taking up valuable and productive work time with unnecessary meetings has been a meme for decades. And yet, it still happens. So, if you’re sitting in an upper management office and want to know what’s happening, get out onto the shop floor and talk to your frontline leaders.
If you must schedule a meeting, be sure to clearly communicate the purpose and objective, distribute an agenda, be concise, allow time for questions, and be open to responses.
As a mid, upper-level, or executive manager, respect the time of your direct reports, especially your frontline leaders. Getting them back to work as quickly as possible with a clear and brief meeting should always be the game plan.
5. Responsibility and Accountability Without Authority
Nothing can lead to swifter burnout for new managers than being heaped with new responsibilities with no real authority to effect any change. This conundrum can be true at whatever level of management you operate within.
If you expect a new frontline shift supervisor to improve the yield numbers on their line, but they have no real authority to make any changes, expect failure.
This no-win situation can present itself frequently with individuals you’ve promoted from within. Your responsibility is to communicate the new level of authority your new manager has in their role throughout your organization and help them build on it. As you do, be careful not to undermine their new authority, especially with their direct reports. Instead, let them lead and support them in it.
6. Lacking An Advancement Plan
Structure your organization to advance and better your people. Younger people coming into the workforce are pretty much demanding it. Your new frontline leadership needs to see their role as a gateway to upward mobility in your company. If you want people to commit to your organization long-term, they need to know that you have a long-term plan for their success.
Building your business by building the success of the individuals that make up your business is essential to long-term sustainability and scalability. If your frontline leaders see a barrier between their level and further growth in the company, it can impact their motivation and longevity with the company.
Now Let’s Look at the Typical Pitfalls a New Frontline Manager May Fall into That Can Contribute to Their Failure
1. Not Asking Questions
This problem is a big one. You’ve been promoted or brought in from the outside and think you need to have all the answers on day one. You don’t. Be willing to ask questions. A willingness to question and uncover what you may not know or understand is vital to your success as a new manager.
Asking questions makes you a more empathetic leader and builds trust with your workforce.
2. Not Asking for Help
If you’re new to your role as a manager and find yourself in over your head, it’s essential that you ask for help. Although upper management should be checking in with you, especially in your new role, it’s critical that you reach out when you need help.
Uncovering areas where you may need support, training, or coaching will help you and the organization succeed. So, be the first to put your hand up and ask for assistance when needed. The worst way for upper management to find out that you need help is after there’s a problem.
3. Jumping in to Perform Tasks Instead of Managing
You may have been hired or promoted into your new management position because you performed the job well that you’re now responsible for managing. For example, you may have been a hard-working line operator who has been promoted to a shift supervisor. So, what do you do when one of your new direct reports performs poorly at your old job?
In this case, typically, because of non-existent training, you jump in and do their job for them. We see this often when we’re out on the shop floor during our discovery process. Unfortunately, this helps no one.
The person performing poorly at their job learns nothing, and you take on the responsibility that is not yours. You’re better off stepping back for a moment, documenting the issue, and creating and implementing a trainable solution.
If it’s an emergency, and you’re the only one that can step in, make sure it’s the last time. Or you’ve just become the go-to whenever the problem arises again. You may think you’re doing a great job when you may be given poor performance feedback for not doing the job for which you were hired.
4. Getting Caught Up in Daily Firefighting
If your operation runs without a well-formed Management Operating System, chaos may be the daily routine. It would be best if you made the time to back away from that disorder and not get caught up in it. Remember, the company probably hired you in your new role to fix it.
Take the time to evaluate the issue objectively. Make sure to uncover any root causes, not just the symptoms. Then, create a simple action plan to create change and act on it. Finally, bring your findings to upper management and seek guidance. Your objective observations are critical for decision-making.
Remaining immersed in the chaos and continuing a daily firefighting culture is costly, ultimately unsustainable, and can put the overall health of the company at risk
5. Falling Back on Old Habits
In your new leadership role, you must be constantly vigilant about not falling back into old habits, routines, and poor practices. Improving yourself and your skillset is critical to your growth and the company’s success.
Be honest with your manager about any old habits you have that may undo your success. Help them keep you accountable for working to improve them. Seek out mentors and coaches that will also hold you accountable.
This above-board way to learn and grow in your new role will be evident to those that hired or promoted you and can lead to your long-term success in the organization.
6. Underdeveloped Leadership Skills
Underdeveloped leadership skills like effective communication, problem-solving, decision making, and more may not be on you to solve. Still, you must recognize your shortcomings and push for proper training.
Recognizing any areas that may need improvement is critical to success as a manager. Asking for training and support to improve is also on us. If you know you struggle to have tough conversations about performance with your direct reports, reach out to your managers for training.
7. Failing to Act on the Leadership Authority You’re Given
Don’t shy away from making tough decisions and actually leading. That’s why your company put you in that position in the first place. But, if you don’t use the authority you’ve been given productively and positively, most likely, you’ll lose it over time.
And, if you have no power to effect change, it’s time to have a heart-to-heart with your manager. You should not accept a position where you have all the responsibility but none of the authority. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Building successful new frontline leaders is a partnership between the people in their new management role and those who put them there. It takes recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of both parties and working together to improve them. It’s a symbiotic relationship built to grow the entire organization around the success of each new frontline leader.
Making frontline leadership and development a priority in your company can combat the burnout that leads to high turnover and lost productivity, help attract and retain top talent, and build a company culture designed for peak performance. Ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to set your new frontline leaders up for success?
The POWERS Difference
POWERS is a management consulting firm using our proven Culture Performance Management™ methodology to connect the dots between optimized company culture and desired operational performance outcomes. Frontline leadership training and development is a crucial area of focus for our business.
Our team has helped executive leadership across many industries build up their frontline leaders to achieve rapid and sustained performance improvement, lowered costs, increased competitive advantage, greater value, and a stronger bottom line.
To put our experienced team and proven track record to work for you, schedule an initial discovery and analysis by calling +1 678-971-4711, or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.