Frontline Managers: Equipping and enabling them – Practices from Great Place to Work-Certified™ companies

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This article is the second in our series spotlighting the workplace experience of frontline managers. In our first article, Frontline Managers: Are they in your blind spot?, we identified three key experience gaps between senior executives and frontline managers. Otherwise known as the sandwich group, their workplace experience tends to be the weakest – sandwiched between senior leaders and staff, they juggle between achieving targets amidst resource constraints, operational issues, and people matters; and struggle with a very different workplace experience from what top management perceives. 

Frontline managers play a critical role at the workplace and have been called the true engines of business1. Yet few companies have targeted programs and practices to support and enable these frontline managers to lead their teams effectively and thrive at the workplace, beyond providing generic training options that are offered to everyone regardless of their role.

Companies in our Great Place to Work-Certified™ community consciously enable positive employee experiences by shaping the culture of the workplace. They value diversity and inclusion, and are intentional about creating great places to work For All™. In this article, we share how these great workplaces help frontline managers acquire the critical knowledge and skills to cope with the unique scenarios and challenges they face, role model core values, build trust with their teams and thrive at the workplace.

1. Great workplaces intentionally develop people manager capability and support their transition into the new role

Transitioning from an individual contributor role to a frontline manager role does not come naturally to everyone. On top of performing their day-to-day functional tasks, there is now the added responsibility of overseeing performance and taking care of others in the team. This expanded scope can be a daunting and challenging area for new managers, and many struggle with their new role. Providing training to build leadership capability and support their transition into the new role is critical to set them up for success.

  • AbbVie believes that it is the organization’s duty to prepare individuals to take on leadership roles, and equip them with behavioral skills and insights in keeping with the AbbVie culture to build high-impact, high-performing teams. Its New Leaders Assimilation program is designed for new managers or those taking on a new role due to promotion, hiring, or short-term assignments. It supports employees and stakeholders working with the new leader, helps resolve interpersonal or work-style challenges affecting performance, and fosters a strong, trust-based culture by providing teams with a safe, facilitated environment for constructive dialogue.
  • New leaders at Dow Chemical undergo comprehensive and structured training to help them succeed. This People Leader Essentials program focuses on the topics People Leaders need to know in their first 8 weeks of people leadership, and includes helpful resources for different scenarios leaders may face in the first days of leadership. It continues to invest in leadership development by conducting a Leadership Effectiveness Survey and aggregating constructive feedback from direct reports, to create individual development plans to enhance their ability to align, inspire, engage and develop their teams.
  • Micron Singapore’s culture of promoting from within ensures all leaders understand how the Micron values drive the business. It provides a variety of programs to support the leadership development. Some of these programs include the Micron Leadership Accelerated Program that helps future leaders, new people leaders and new leaders of leaders develop the skills required to guide its people and direct the business, as well as the Core Management Program and Leadership Circuit, which offer short classes to help strengthen leaders at any stage of their careers.

2. Great workplaces provide targeted information and resources to guide the implementation of HR/people practices

It is easy to tell managers that they are required to be fair and inclusive, be aware of their own biases, change their leadership style to manage remote teams, demonstrate care and handle mental health issues faced by their teams. It is quite another thing to expect them to possess all the knowledge, competencies and aptitudes to translate these instructions into practice. Offering targeted training and providing information, tools and resources is essential to enabling people managers to support the successful implementation of HR/people processes and programs in alignment with desired outcomes.

  • Boston Scientific offers a series of development programs for different stages of an employee’s career. One such program aimed at cultivating greater inclusion is the People Leader Experience, where newly hired/newly promoted people leaders are provided access to assessments and topics to identify unconscious biases and develop inclusive leadership behaviors. Leaders also complete an Inclusive Behaviors Inventory to help them access and discover their personal inclusivity strengths and blind spots, based on five areas of inclusion – learning about bias, building key skills, working across boundaries, becoming a champion and getting results.

  • When the Covid pandemic hit, Cadence understood the critical role of people managers in keeping its One-Team spirit strong and in demonstrating care for their teams. It strove to support them as they, in turn, supported their teams, by providing a comprehensive range of tools and resources to aid them. This included comprehensive manager trainings, learning pathways, and toolkits specifically on remote leadership during crisis. It also provided people managers with training on how to empathize with employees and help them prioritize a healthy work-life balance.

  • As awareness about the importance of maintaining positive mental health became even more essential to employee well-being, HP Singapore invited its people managers to support colleagues facing mental health challenges. It partnered with the Singapore Emergency Responder Academy to conduct First Aid in Mental Health training, to equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to do this. People managers who successfully completed course requirements received a Certificate of Attendance in First Aid in Mental Health, accredited by ACC Institute of Human Services.

3. Great workplaces create platforms and networks to provide on-going support, share knowledge, and brainstorm on solutions to common challenges

Frontline managers are the first port of call when their staff have questions or personal requests, face disagreements with their co-workers, or encounter challenges which have a negative impact on their performance. And they are often expected to know the answers and be able to deal with the variety of operational and personal issues within their teams. Unfortunately, frontline managers do not always experience the same support and coaching that they are expected to provide, and many find themselves ‘winging it’ to deal with issues on a case-by-case basis. Great Place to Work-Certified™ companies recognize the need to provide on-going support, build communities and establish platforms for knowledge sharing and peer coaching. These real-time channels go a long way in helping frontline managers deal with the day-to-day operational and people challenges and succeed in their role.

  • BitTitan organizes a monthly Managers Connect meeting where managers network and take turns to host and share best practices. The Connect ensures alignment on changes and messages communicated, to ensure consistency in the information cascade to their respective teams. It also enables all managers to have a cross-functional view of other teams, thus facilitating collective accountability on how to overcome common leadership challenges, and support managers in guiding and mentoring their teams.

  • Addressing unconscious bias and strengthening inclusion at the workplace are some of the key focus areas at Tata Communications. The Hidden Mind program is one of the efforts to enable discussions and self-reflection regarding stereotypes and unconscious biases through a digitized learning journey. This includes an activity comprising stereotypical scenarios/people manager dilemmas and ways to overcome them. It also offers a dedicated section on its internal social media engine for people managers, to introduce the concept of Inclusive Leadership via videos and facilitate discussions among them.

  • At Signify Singapore, all people managers across ASEAN are invited to participate in peer coaching sessions to facilitate reflection, sharing and discussion. At one of its recent sessions which introduced the Stacey Matrix, participants were split into smaller break-out groups across countries/functions. Each manager shared a challenge they were facing managing their team, and other participants provided “FeedForward” to inspire new perspectives on how to approach leadership differently.

As companies now transition into a post-pandemic workplace, the role that frontline managers play has again evolved. Companies that proactively build people manager capability and support them as they ease their teams into a new normal at work will see a better outcome than those who leave them to fall into the blind spot. This will also result in a smaller gap in their workplace experience when compared with senior executives.

This is the second part in our series on Frontline Managers. Read our first blog on Frontline Managers: Are they in your blind spot?  

Keen to learn how your frontline managers are experiencing your workplace?

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Evelyn Kwek

Evelyn is the Managing Director for Great Place to Work®️ in ASEAN and ANZ. Heading the expansion of Great Place to Work®️ offices in ASEAN, Evelyn is convinced that just as the region is growing exponentially on the economic front, the work of building great workplaces FOR ALL™ must go in tandem with economic growth.

A proud mother of 3, Evelyn takes parenting very seriously – she is strict yet giving, result-focused yet generous. Together with husband Roland, they relish exploring new cultures and beautiful places of the world, usually on leisurely self-drive holidays, before the days of Covid.

Pamela Sng

Pamela is our Senior Consultant and Research Lead for Great Place to Work® ASEAN and ANZ. She has over two decades of consulting and policy experience helping organizations in their journey to become fair and progressive employers. She believes that every organization has the potential to be a great workplace, and works with data to distil insights and develop resources to help them. When she’s not burrowing down the rabbit hole of numbers and words, she’s probably immersed in a new K-drama or catching up with friends over a virtual drinks session.

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