November 30, 2022

3 Proven Tactics to Empower Frontline Managers

As HR and people leaders, we know how important it is to make the workplace environment more positive and sustainable. One of the best ways to do that is to invest directly in developing frontline managers. Frontline managers are at the center of all organizations, and they’re key to how an organization runs.

Frontline managers make up about 60% of a company’s leadership. And staggeringly, they directly supervise as much as 80% of the workforce. As the pandemic demonstrated, frontline managers greatly impact industries where employees are unlikely to work remotely, such as manufacturing, hospitality and leisure, retail, healthcare, food service, grocery stores, and transportation.

The last few years have proven even more stressful for frontline managers, as they’ve had to navigate stability and support for their own teams while managing schedules, responsibilities, employee turnover, and their own personal stresses. It’s imperative for executive leadership and HR to place continued focus on supporting frontline leaders during this critical time, especially as we see more changes in the world of work.

Here are three ways to empower frontline managers to improve employee engagement and contribute to an organization’s overall success.

It’s imperative for executive leadership and HR to place continued focus on supporting frontline leaders during this critical time, especially as we see more changes in the world of work.


1. Provide frontline leadership with the right tools and support to carry out strong HR policies.

Organizations often spend significant resources on empowering and developing leaders at the executive and senior levels, and much less focus on frontline managers. However, frontline managers have an incredible impact on the performance and engagement of the organization.

HR and frontline managers have a unique relationship in organizations, and both have high expectations of each other. HR delivery services is rapidly changing and there continues to be more responsibilities and administrative tasks for frontline managers, leaving little time to develop their own teams. It’s imperative to provide them with the support needed to carry out strong HR policies and resources that impact the overall employee experience and customer satisfaction.

Frontline managers spend time talking to customers while attending to internal operations but are mostly the ones directly responsible for the workforce. Providing frontline leadership with the right tools, such as flexible shift swapping, helps to empower overall organizational engagement and meet business objectives. Shift swapping helps frontline staff take control of their schedules, which can provide more time for managers to actually manage and empower their teams. After all, many frontline employees are already navigating many life and family responsibilities, such as finding reliable transportation, navigating long commutes, and securing childcare.

2. Offer adaptable learning and development trainings for leaders.

One of the most common misconceptions organizations have of frontline managers is that they come into leadership roles understanding people management and HR policies. However, 40% of frontline managers are in their first year of leadership. Many frontline leaders are also promoted based on technical competence but sometimes lack training in people management.

As HR and learning and development leaders, we must be mindful of the situational leadership trainings we create, such as how to have difficult conversations, coach effectively, or effectively onboard employees. Regardless of the training program, we create for frontline managers, we must remember the opportunity of access. Not all frontline leaders can leave the line and sit in long hours of traditional classroom-style trainings, so cross-training and education that’s incorporated into their daily lives are very impactful.

Often during my time developing frontline managers, I’ve had to consider accessible and adaptable training delivery methods to better serve our staff who had little-to-no computer access at work. They’re usually busy serving customers, handling a situation on the line, or sorting conflicts. Organizations should hold multiple on-site trainings during work hours and ensure they’re offered in various languages and based on real work and challenges that leaders face. I’ve modified many leadership trainings from a heavily concentrated theoretical framework to something that better reflected the real work and challenges of frontline managers. This meant shadowing what these leaders did firsthand to really understand their daily work (they spend significant time on administrative tasks, for example).

Career advancement opportunities within the organization also need to be clearly communicated to help with advancing frontline staff into management—one of the key ways to improve internal equitable access.

3. Embrace modern and diverse ways of communicating.

Over the years, I’ve advised organizations on how to cultivate intercultural and multigenerational dialogue among teams, management, and frontline members. This is especially critical in a large, diverse workforce, where many communication styles may exist. It’s also fundamental for organizations to develop communication outlets accessible to all employees.

Frontline managers need to be able to communicate in a variety of ways with people at many levels of an organization, especially with their frontline teams. These individuals may already have constraints on their time, as many work night shifts, part-time, or multiple shifts. Traditional methods of communication, such as phone calls and texts, are just as fundamental as videos, emails, or talking in person for keeping the flow of information.

The way communication strategies reach our frontline managers is significant, especially if it relates to policy updates and deadlines. Consider short and concise messages for many employees who have time constraints. Multiple outlets—such as digital signage, text messages, short videos, audio, and infographics—are great ways to distribute communication. After all, frontline managers are often the ones communicating these updates and emails, so the more concise and brief the message, the better.

The bottom line: It’s worth the investment

Frontline managers can significantly influence overall employee engagement, and this influence will increase as employees look to frontline managers for support in the workplace and for well-being. Investing in frontline managers’ development will help them inspire and coach employees, improve employee and customer experiences, and achieve long-term goals for the organization.

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