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Four reasons to develop your frontline leaders

People in their first management role must become strategic leaders or risk negatively impacting on the business

Frontline leaders, those in their first people management role, are responsible for 80% of the workforce and make up more than half of management. They're the last stop for communicating strategy to teams and the lynchpin to employee engagement and success. This makes them the main driver of business results.

Yet through our work with global organisations, we have found that companies spend the least on developing their frontline leaders. More than half (58%) move into first-time management roles without knowing how to transition from being a 'doer' into a strategic leader of people, which can have four key consequences for a business:

Breeds 'bad boss' syndrome

Failing to invest in the people skills of junior managers breeds a culture of bad leadership, which is costing companies £39 billion a year according to Investors in People. Managers sink or swim their way through the leadership ranks, taking bad management habits with them and imposing them on other aspiring leaders.

This pipeline of poor managers is neither good for productivity nor staff retention, which is also not great for companies battling against an evolving skills shortage.

Investing early in the skills of your front-runners – as well as your hopefuls – creates a flow of leaders who know how to delegate effectively, support correctly, and get the best from their people. This in turn creates staff ownership, enhances employee growth and encourages staff to want to stay.

Influences productivity

Without the proper training it's hard for a new manager to think strategically. Our findings show that 80% of frontline leaders focus on low value 'individual-contributor' or 'technical' tasks rather than people-driven activity that pushes great results through their team. Even converting a fraction of this wasted expenditure into high-value activities generates a big return; for example, if 100 people reinvested five hours a week or 26,000 hours a year, this is 12.5 full-time employees driving better results for the business.

Affects climate and motivation

The climate of an organisation or team is measured by how someone feels about their workplace and is proven to influence a person's motivation and engagement, and therefore their productivity. Almost three-quarters (70%) of a climate is shaped by how a manager behaves. Building a positive and productive workplace is aided by effective coaching techniques. Yet we have found that most frontline leaders don't know how to coach.

Even though employees who get regular and informal feedback perform nearly 40% better than those that don't, a lot of managers still only coach reactively (such as for a new joiner or underperformer) and see it as a formal and complex process. Yet coaching should be proactive and incentivised as part of a daily management routine. It should be a positive management intervention with pre-defined objectives and a focus to elevate performance.

Affects levels of accountability

Leaders who are accountable have higher achieving teams. They build a climate of trust that improves engagement and motivation. Despite this, more than half the managers we interviewed fail to take responsibility for their behaviour, and 65% do not even share information so their teams are clear on their individual responsibilities and objectives. This comes back to teaching leaders to move away from thinking as an individual – accountable only to themselves – and more towards behaving as a leader that takes responsibility for the results of others.

David Robertson is EMEA executive consultant at global leadership development company The Forum Corporation