The Importance of Getting Frontline Managers Aligned with Strategy

The Importance of Getting Frontline Managers Aligned with Strategy
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Getting Frontline Managers Aligned with Strategy
For a corporate strategy to be successful, it must be understood, believable, and implementable enough.   And that means getting frontline managers aligned with strategy after your strategy retreat.  While each executive leader has the responsibility of fully understanding and committing to the business strategy, frontline managers must make it actionable and meaningful for their teams.

Only then can activities and behaviors on every level be focused on successfully implementing the strategy across the company.

Why the Focus on Frontline Managers?
From our perspective, the most difficult thing about corporate strategy is consistent execution across an organization.  When push comes to shove, the people most responsible for a company’s ability to execute their strategic plans are the managers on the frontline who must get the work done through their teams.  Typically making up more than half of an organization’s leadership and supervising more than three-quarters of the workforce, frontline managers hold the keys to bringing a strategy to life.

Strategic Clarity
The best leaders ruthlessly seek strategic clarity so that the clear and compelling choices about where to play and what big bets to make are clear to the frontline.  But strategic clarity is neither simple nor easy.

  • IBM found that less than 10% of well formulated strategies are effectively executed.
  • 49% of executives recently surveyed by Booz & Company said their companies had no strategic priorities.
  • Our organizational alignment research found that employees perceive that their company’s strategy is 50% less clear than what their leaders believe.

Unless you and your frontline managers are crystal clear on the business goals and priorities and how to execute against them, your strategic initiatives will suffer.  If the strategy is not clear enough, not agreed to, not perceived to be equal to the challenge, or not supported by adequate resources, it will not be successfully implemented.

Frontline Management Strategic Clarity Warning Signs
Based upon data from our management development and new manager training programs, here are the top signs that you have work to do before you’ve reached the point where you and your frontline managers are headed in the same direction:

  • It is unclear how success and failure is measured
  • Employees regularly ask for more clarifying information before they act
  • Key stakeholders disagree on major priorities, roles, resources, funding, or timing
  • Many question if the strategy is equal to the challenge of the organization’s objectives
  • The strategy is not being executed consistently throughout the organization

How to Get Frontline Managers Aligned with Strategy
Frontline managers usually have their fingers on the pulse of what matters most to your employees and your customers.  Frontline managers must be clear on where the business is heading.  If your managers are at all confused or unsure about the organization’s business goals, you will need to set the conditions so that they:

  1. Understand the Finances
    Invest the time to ensure that your managers have the business acumen to understand the implications of your company’s financial statements. The more your managers know about your finances, the more they can offer their team.

    If you want to improve strategy execution, do not leave the financial modeling to the finance team.

  2. Understand How and Why Decisions are Made
    If you want your frontline managers to make timely, high quality, and graceful decisions, make sure that they have transparency into how and why the executive decisions that they are expected to implement have been made. With the right context, authority, and knowledge, frontline employees can typically make the fastest and best decisions.

    If you are going to push strategies down through an organization, make sure that you do the same with decision making.

  3. Feel Comfortable Asking Questions and Giving Feedback
    If you want to get your frontline managers aligned with the strategy, you must make sure that they feel comfortable asking tough questions and giving feedback to their bosses. Why?  Because they must believe in the quality of the strategy, must be able to articulate what matters most to their teams, and must be able to learn and adapt as circumstances change.

    Make sure that your leaders view questions not as personal criticism but as an opportunity to align and grow their frontline managers.  Are your leaders open to feedback?

  4. Get the Coaching They Need
    Managers who receive consistent coaching outperform their peers 4-to-1. Make sure that your company asks leaders to spend at least 30 percent of their time coaching their frontline managers and expects managers to spend the same amount of time with their team.  For frontline managers to become true leaders, they need to receive the coaching required to see the big picture, make good decisions, and lead their teams.

The Bottom Line
With flatter organizational structures, we believe that frontline managers hold the key to connecting the overall strategic priorities with the tactical actions required to accomplish them.  To get frontline managers aligned with strategy, companies must devote the time required to ensure that their frontline managers understand the company’s direction and its implications for them and their teams.  Are your frontline managers aligned?

To learn more about improving strategy execution, download 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

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