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Leading from the Front

Contrary to popular myth, front-line managers want to effect change and want to commit to making it happen. Unfortunately, they feel helpless. Senior leaders risk losing their greatest advocates – the lynchpin players in transformation.

According to Proudfoot’s 2018 Triggering Transformation study, 87% of front-line leaders would like to be more involved in the process of change, and 72% are highly committed to making change happen. Barely half (55%) feel they have any influence in the change. Frustration ensues.

How can executives break through and harness the energy and talents of these front-line leaders?

As executives adapt to the impact of digitization across their value systems, savvy ones adopt complementary approaches:

  • Optimize outwards across the entire ecosystem, don’t simply look inwards.
  • Reach out for the best ideas, especially from front-line people and key partners (“crowdsource”).
  • Manage the ecosystem, especially at the interfaces between firms and groups; measure collaboration and intervene quickly as needed.
  • Develop talent through a real commitment to coaching and training – money and time, your time.
  • Promulgate broad, transparent, timely performance data.

Recommendations:

With widespread uncertainty and demanding customers, executives are experimenting with their management models. They must move quickly yet pivot nimbly in response to actual results. Front-line managers could be your best source of rapid feedback, and the energy behind your transformation. But you must lead.

Digital technology is changing fast. Its impact is disruptive and complex. A conservative approach using existing processes, technologies, controls, and structures may increase business risk and fail to improve performance. How do you make the right choices, today and tomorrow? Proudfoot recommends an option-based strategy:

  • Use scenario planning to map out possible future states for your firm and industry (“scenarios”). For each scenario have your team create a response plan and timeline – actions, investments, etc. Make sure your scenario teams include experienced front-line people in manufacturing, sales, service, and product & service design. Pay attention to:
    • Your customers’ experience – the processes, organization structures, ecosystem players and ultimately value propositions that will succeed.
    • Your change priorities – what would your team need to do “win” in this scenario.
  • Look outward to what other companies are doing. Look beyond your own industry. Abutting industries may be eyeing your markets. Totally different industries may still have lessons for you. Make visits. And don’t make these visits “senior executive boondoggles” – bring along teams including front-line people. Make sure these visits are working trips – clear agenda, expected information gathering, interviewees.
    • Visit startups to understand their vision and share the learnings inside your firm.
    • Attend conferences, especially cross-industry events, to broaden your perspective.
    • Meet with ecosystem partners to exchange ideas; often timely discussions can prevent duplicating investments or diverging standards.
  • Invest in your people, acquire talent where needed, invest in coaching and training aligned with your top-line growth and operational improvement aspirations.
  • Coordinate digital initiatives with other business priorities and initiatives explicitly; digital should not be a separate category. Be careful as we have found that most companies are overwhelmed by their sheer number of projects. Focus and execute will always beat “boil the ocean.”
  • Experiment – Work with local universities, conduct innovative crowdsourcing sessions throughout your organization, prototype different solutions to achieve scale and speed.

Conclusion:

Digital is disrupting business models, customer experiences, and operational capabilities across industries. Equally, it necessitates profound changes in your people. They need to learn new skills and change long-successful mindsets. Done right, these people can become wellsprings of ideas and energy.

What if you could engage the enthusiasm of front-line managers and team leaders to make change happen, and harness that enthusiasm to create the rapid, sustainable change you need? You can, and as leaders, it’s your role to lead.

What if you could utilize your most valuable resources in a more effective way?

With Proudfoot, you can.

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Article by John Harms, Managing Director, US. Proudfoot