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In The Face Of A Slowdown, Lead With Your Front-Line Managers

  

Layoffs, an uncertain stock market and soaring inflation and interest rates are signals that a recession could be looming. There's one thing many people don't talk about in the face of a slowdown: the people to focus on keeping.

First, you want to keep your customers, of course—keep them happy and returning or referring more business your way. To do that, your front-line workers will become critical. However, more critical than your front-line employees are your front-line managers; they're the ones supporting and pushing the organization forward. When looking to do more with less, invest in customer service managers so they can coach, inspire and train front-line employees.

With the slowdown's arrival, it's time to redirect your focus to the most important actors in your organization—your front-line managers.

Why Front-Line Managers Just Became Your Highest Point Of Leverage

Front-line managers are those who manage the folks on the front lines—your call center and customer service agents. They support employees—motivating, coaching, building morale and, in return, driving results for your company and customers. In trying times, they're also those delivering bad news such as layoffs or missed targets and frequently taking on bigger teams. Their ability to impact customer experience outcomes is outsized.

Because of where they stand in the organization, front-line managers carry a huge portion of the responsibility for your company's success—especially during a slowdown. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, front-line managers make up 50% to 60% of a company's management team and directly manage up to 80% of the workforce. That's why they're often key drivers of employee retention; they help front-line employees grow, improve and advance in their careers.

When fears of layoffs increase, managers become vital in keeping employees feeling motivated, secure and part of the team. They are frequently asked to manage bigger teams and ensure they are as productive as possible. Employee and customer retention is more critical than ever, and it's the front-line managers—those closest to employees and customers—who will carry you through; they just became your highest point of leverage in the organization. Invest in them and the tools they need to ensure your organization puts its best foot forward.

The Role Of Coaching And Accountability

The truth is, people are getting coached up or coached out, and it's a front-line manager's responsibility to coach their team—in whichever direction. Of course, managers want to help their reports succeed. However, if someone is ineffective, lowers morale or doesn't want to improve, it's up to managers to acknowledge that they are not serving the organization.

To be an effective coach, a manager must strike a balance. In fact, Harvard Business Review notes that employees feel more engaged with bosses who are both nice and tough (68%) versus those who are only tough (8.9%) or nice all the time (6.7%). It's on front-line managers to coach employees and grow their teams.

Moreover, the massive shift to remote or hybrid work has led employees to take on new levels of accountability. Managers have understood the necessary transition from "command-and-control" to "trust and verify" methods of managing, giving front-line employees more accountability for their success—making self-management paramount for front-line staff.

How do front-line managers fit into this newfound accountability and self-management and become the valuable coaches they can be? They set the example that employees follow. With more accountable managers, front-line employees learn to take responsibility for their work—creating a more resilient organization that leads from the front.

Becoming A Coach: The Transition To A Real-Time Data Strategy

One of the biggest blockers to front-line managers becoming coaches is that they're analyzing dashboards and spreadsheets instead of managing people. Especially during a time when engaging with the people is so critical to retaining them, senior leaders must open up their managers' time to focus on the human side of their work. This involves a shift toward a real-time data strategy for front-line teams, giving them the performance data they need so everyone knows how they're doing all of the time, not weeks later when their manager pulls reports.

With access to real-time data, managers can easily see who needs coaching and focus their efforts, resulting in more cases of coaching up than coaching out—ensuring they invest in and retain their best talent.

To make the transition to real-time data-led management, organizations need to prepare their teams for a cultural and process change by focusing on four key areas.

• Get managers on board. Acknowledge current capabilities are limited and explain the benefits of using a real-time data strategy, including more time to coach, empowering their team with insights and building trust that can drive performance objectively.

• Decide on the data that matters. Work with your front-line managers to identify the most important metrics to track while resisting the temptation to track too many. From my experience, I've found that successful teams focus on five key performance metrics.

• Create processes. Set expectations for managers on how best to leverage data in their coaching and one-on-ones. Let the front lines know how they can use data to manage up and get the help they need. The most successful teams check their progress daily.

• Prepare your teams for a new culture. The transparency of performance metrics can be scary for some, so be sure to focus on the positive changes—employees will be empowered and supported, there will be no surprises, and people can better manage their careers. Employees can see how they're doing at any given moment and take action to stay on their path. Employee productivity, happiness and attrition should improve, and customers can get better service.

Weathering The Storm With Your Front-Line Managers At The Helm

As you look to increase productivity and not headcount, invest in your front-line managers and watch them turn into great coaches for your entire front line.


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