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  • Writer's pictureTjaart Minnaar

Effective first-line Leadership - your bridge to boosting business performance

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Businesses invest substantially in people, processes and systems to define their destination and develop the roadmap to get there. While sound business philosophies and plans are vital, effective strategy execution on the front-line is where the difference is made.

Not only do first-line leaders engage directly with customers and key external stakeholders, they also manage up to 80% of the workforce. They, therefore, play a critical role in aligning employees’ efforts with the company’s vision and values and inspiring and mobilising their people around common goals.

To do this, first-line leaders must be equipped with a deep appreciation of the company’s purpose and be able to communicate and collaborate with their teams and others within the organisation to achieve this purpose. This is particularly important during challenging and disruptive times.

Despite the important role they play, first-line leaders are often the least experienced and most neglected tier of leadership. In fact, it is estimated that less than a third of leadership development efforts are focused on first-line leaders and only 10% feel equipped for their role. This is because they are often promoted due to their technical expertise and individual ability to deliver but are ill-equipped to lead others and develop the behaviours needed to build a long-term, thriving culture.

Simply put, when first-line leaders are ineffective, your organisational culture, workforce productivity, cost quality and customer service suffer.

Challenging times on the front lines

In response to the rapidly changing environment, businesses are increasingly reliant on leadership to align the operational, people and digital resources the organisation needs to succeed.

The stark reality, however, is that 2021 marks the biggest leadership capability gap in a decade – amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing increasing operational pressure and constant change, an overwhelming number of first-line leaders are struggling to lead effectively.

Where are the biggest gaps?

In terms of current supervisory training practices, a big part of the challenge is the disconnect between the concepts and principles learnt in the “classroom” and integrating these into the workplace. To be successful in the current and future environment, first-line leaders need to bridge these urgent skills gaps and make the mental, behavioural and competency-based shifts required to lead change and achieve results through others.

Our approach to bridging these gaps:

  1. Create a leadership and management standard for the role; Define a perfect ‘Day In the Life Of’ (DILO) standard for the role of your first-line leader. This involves identifying their daily operational actions as well as the knowledge, skills and tools required to do the job.

  2. Perform competency assessments; Assess the competency levels of first-line leaders against the DILO standard, using psychometrics or on the job observation. This identifies where the gaps are and what needs to be done to bridge them, laying the foundation for individual learning objectives and development plans.

  3. Champion a blended learning approach; Leadership development should move quickly out of the classroom and into day-to-day work, where first-line leaders can learn from each other and their managers. Build a learning journey around your blueprint for the ‘perfect day’, one that blends hard (operational) and soft (people) skills. This creates a balance between operations and people and ensures an exact understanding of role effectiveness.

  4. Provide on-the-job coaching; The biggest behavioural and performance shifts often take place on the floor. Coaching first-line leaders against the DILO standard ensures that the principles are internalised and integrated into their daily routines. This on the floor application is key to improving their execution of daily tasks, helping with the adoption of tools and growing accountability.

  5. Up-skill line managers as coaches: The role of a first-line leader’s manager, as a mentor and coach, is vital to their development and to sustainability. All too often training happens in isolation with line managers barely aware of the programme components and outcomes. Making line active partners in the process by equipping them with the skills to support their leaders, is key to the success of any front-line intervention.

  6. Measure and improve; Throughout the journey improvement in competencies, role execution and performance outcomes are monitored. Improvement assignments are used to target specific growth areas and ensure the practical application of learning. These projects are invaluable, and the improvement results often yield more value than the cost of the training. After the post-assessments, there is a handover to line management to continue the development process through ongoing coaching.

Ready to take the next step?

For more on how to bridge the gap in your first-line leadership and develop the right kinds of competencies to unleash people performance – talk to us.

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About the author: Tjaart Minnaar, CEO and Leadership Development expert at 2Collaborate

Tjaart has spent 35 years in business and consulting conceptualising, designing and implementing solutions to improve business and individual performance. The success has been highlighted by several of his clients winning Deloitte’s Best Company To Work For Survey, overall or in their industry categories.

Get to know more about Tjaart on LinkedIn


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