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January 9, 2023 | 5 Mins Read

Is a Focus on the Frontline Causing Your Talent Strategy to Fall Short?

January 9, 2023 | 5 Mins Read

Is a Focus on the Frontline Causing Your Talent Strategy to Fall Short?

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Attracting, attaining, and retaining talent has been one of (if not the) top challenges for service organizations for a couple of years running and there’s no end in sight. The talent problem isn’t a simple one to solve and I think organizations have accepted that it isn’t an issue that will blow over or be addressed with a few simple tweaks, but a significant shift that requires far more creativity and far broader change. 

What I wonder is if the current focus is inhibiting some of the success companies could see in achieving better success in not only their talent acquisition but also talent retention goals. We’ve thus far focused the conversations – and actions – quite heavily on the frontline workforce, and within that mostly on the quest for new talent. While continuing to look for new sources of talent (and further evolving a company’s ability to farm ability into experience rather than expecting to find experienced new hires) is important, I believe our focus on finding new frontline workers is too narrow to adequately address the talent problem we have. 

There are a few reasons why. First, the challenge to find talent is compounded by the significant change that most service organizations are in the midst of in terms of what their service offerings are and how service is delivered. As such, the role of the frontline is evolving in parallel with the company’s need to find more workers – it’s a moving target in some ways. Second, focusing only on talent acquisition, even when successful, is like putting a band-aid on the bigger problem. If you can bring new people in, great – but then what happens? We need to put better attention on understanding what employees want and evaluating the reality of the employee experience so that we can make changes that will allow both the new hires and existing employees to be fulfilled and want to stay. 

Are Your Managers Engaged, Enthusiastic, and Effective?

These factors should call attention to how important managers our in your talent strategy. Are they capable? Do they feel engaged and invested? Are they able to articulate your company’s vision and strategy to the frontline in a way that conveys enthusiasm and inspires motivation? Or are they confused on where the company is headed? Are they frustrated? Are they part of the “old guard” that thinks a focus on company culture and employee experience is silly? When you start asking these questions, you can begin to envision how critically important management is in whether you are able to deliver what’s needed to today’s talent. 

In this HBR article by Erica Keswin, To Retain Your Best Employees, Focus on Your Best Managers, we’re reminded that employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. The author illustrates the importance of a focus on managers, saying, “Managers are really having a moment. Between the Great Resignation, a lingering pandemic, employees demanding flexibility, skyrocketing mental health challenges, a looming recession, and general uncertainty, more and more employees are turning to their direct supervisors for direction and support.” 

She goes on to point out, though, that ample focus on the management level is a missing link in many organizations. “Unfortunately, managers aren’t always prepared to meet their moment because they’re woefully under-trained and overworked while tasked with leading their teams during heightened turbulence. In fact, new research by Future Forum found a record 43% of managers say they’re burned out — the highest of any job level,” Keswin writes. The article suggests three ways to invest in the development of your managers that are worth a read, but I’d like to make my own suggestions as well. 

  • Measure manager performance. It’s important to find ways to gain an objective view of the impact your current managers are having and to understand the reality that you cannot measure success simply on their ability to meet financial KPIs. While these measures can provide some of the picture, a way to gather input from the frontline on the effectiveness of their managers is important in overall assessment. When BD invested in eNPS, the company gleaned incredibly valuable insight that helped address issues and make changes that significantly improved employee engagement. 
  • Be willing to have the hard conversations. If you are truly committed to improving company culture and employee experience, you must be willing to content with leaders in place that aren’t helping achieve those objectives. Sometimes there are managers who have some great qualities, but as leaders are not capable of promoting a positive working environment and adeptly uplifting and supporting others. Allowing these leaders to stay in place because it is a tough situation to handle only harms culture, causes employees impacted by this leader’s negative qualities to become frustrated and even leave, and sets a bad example for what you are willing to tolerate. 
  • Accept that tenure doesn’t indicate ability. Many organizations promote employees to manager positions based on their success as an individual contributor or their time in a role. However, tenure alone doesn’t indicate leadership ability. You can take this into consideration, but you should also be ensuring you are taking steps to validate competence. And don’t forget interest! You want managers who feel called to lead and find fulfillment in doing so, not managers who are taking a role simply because they see it as the only way to grow their paycheck. It’s important to seek the desire, but also to invest in the development. Investment in manager education, training, and continuing development is far too low and this needs to change. 
  • Ask for feedback. It’s so important to learn how your managers feel about your company, their roles, and your leadership! If there isn’t open communication or they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, they can have frustrations or desires that they bottle up and let build into leaving the company or, maybe worse, becoming a negative energy to everyone around them. If you recognize the importance of your managers, you need to be willing to understand their wants, goals, and feedback and put actions in place to help them feel appreciated, supported, and empowered. 
  • Prioritize 1-1 communication. There are many ways to ask for feedback from managers and employees, but when it comes to your employees at all levels feeling the company is invested in their success, it’s important to invest in 1-1 communication to really build relationships and human centricity. Managers should have this outlet, and they should provide it for their direct reports. This is an important part of getting to know employees as people, making them feel they are important to you and to the company, and understanding their goals so that you can retain talent over a long period of time by giving them the opportunities they want to evolve, grow, and progress in their careers. 

What would you add to the list? Does your organization do a good job of focusing on managers or not? I’d love to hear from you and share your insights.