I’m a frontline employee.
Let me explain. I entered the workforce as a traditionally-defined frontline employee—a movie theater concession cashier. Then, I was promoted and quickly became the “employees’ manager.” You know, the manager everyone goes to when they have issues. The one who will make an exception for you but who will also hold you accountable if you overstep. As my career progressed and I moved from job to job and company to company, my status as the “employees’ champion” followed me.
I reflect on these experiences quite often. Actually, if we meet via webcam when I’m working from home, you can spot mementos from my past roles on the shelves behind me. Many of these items were gifted to me by team members, and they are some of my most prized possessions. They symbolize both how critical frontline employees are to our organizations, as well as the importance of supporting these employees so they can do their best work.
While I may not manage a team anymore, I’m still a champion for frontline employees. I know how hard their jobs are. I know how long their shifts feel. I know what they have to deal with every day. Most importantly, I know just how critical frontline employees are when trying to deliver best-in-class experiences. However, I also know how often they are under-supported, under-valued, or downright ignored.
Many organizations talk about how important their frontline employees are as the “face of their business.” But when it comes to supporting this group, they fall dramatically short. To better understand the state of frontline employee in the workplace today, my team partnered with Ipsos to create a research report that will be released this week. But we didn’t talk to HR, L&D, or management. We reached out to frontline employees from several industries, including retail, contact centers, sales, and manufacturing. Here’s a quick glimpse into our findings:
? One-third of frontline employees do not receive any formal training.
? 81% believe that improved training will help them feel more engaged and happy.
? 90% want the ability to access information anytime and anywhere as part of their work.
? 79% believe more frequent learning opportunities would help them feel more engaged at work.
Frontline employees want help, and they deserve it. Don’t get me wrong … I’m not saying L&D doesn’t try. Even with the best intentions, the frontline is still very difficult to reach, especially in a large enterprise. They are a large, diverse, distributed group. They work irregular, hectic schedules, and they are very difficult to remove from the operation for any form of traditional training. L&D only has so much time and so many resources. This is why frontline employees get generic, one-size-fits-none training (or nothing) while home office employees have access to an array of robust learning programs. At least I hope these are the reasons. Frankly, there are also plenty of companies that I suspect just don’t want to be bothered with supporting their frontline. They’re content to just hire new people when the current team burns out.
L&D cannot change the lot of frontline employees by itself. It’s ultimately a company culture issue. What L&D can do is get things moving in the right direction. By rethinking frontline enablement within the context of the modern workplace, you can provide a meaningful bump in support and set the stage for bigger improvements down the line. Here are three practical steps you can take RIGHT NOW to improve your frontline support.
1. Help them find the answers
Training comes and goes but performance support is forever. I think Bob Mosher has something like that tattooed across his back (Hi, Bob! ??). Remember, 90% of frontline employees spoke to the importance of accessing information on-demand. That’s because the most frustrating part of frontline work is not the lack of training. It’s the inability to find that one piece of information you need to do the job right.
In real life, the answer is never in a binder that you can’t find. And asking the person next to you is the gateway to inconsistency. Improving frontline execution starts with closing this shared knowledge gap. L&D is in a great position to work with partners like communications, operations, and marketing to make sure employees have a place to go when questions come up (aka performance support). Personally, I have a rule on this subject: I will not create training unless the same information can be accessed on-demand by employees later.
2. Take advantage of free moments
Your business isn’t going to slow down—ever. So you’re frontline employees aren’t going to suddenly have extra time for training. Rather than trying to get them to come to you, you have to go to them and design training that fits into their day-to-day. While performance support can cover most topics, right-sized learning solutions—whether they be videos, modules or reinforcement activities—can address critical need-to-know information that cannot be easily learned on the job. Every employee has five minutes in their day. It’s up to L&D to figure out how to best utilize these free moments to deliver a value-add learning experience.
3. Provide better manager support
If you want learning to be an important part of the frontline employee experience, it has to be an important part of the frontline manager experience first. Like their employees, managers are often left to sink or swim on the job. They were top performers, so now they’re running the operation—but without any formal training or support. By improving manager training, L&D can not only establish the value of continuous learning but also help improve managers’ coaching skills, which are a critical part of the employee learning experience.
The majority of frontline employees want more support. But L&D still has to chase people down to complete their required training. Therefore, the problem is not that people don’t want to learn. It’s that we are not providing experiences that meet their needs. We have to rethink how we provide support that fits into the reality of being a frontline employee. We have to get closer to the people doing the work. For example, one of the smartest things I did while with Disney was to regularly get back into costume and work frontline shifts after I transitioned into management. It kept me grounded and informed how I made decisions.
The working world is changing. Organizations can no longer rely on products or processes for differentiation. Instead, they must compete based on experience, and frontline employees remain a critical part of their ability to execute. But to keep up, they need help. We must be a champion for the frontline. This is why I’m in L&D. This is why I joined Axonify. And this is why I’m proud to call myself a frontline employee.