McKinsey Report 2010
Most companies don’t offer sufficient training for front line managers or structure their roles
to create the most value. Aggravating the problem, senior leaders are often unaware of the
issues that hinder front line performance. Companies with effective front line managers take
a different approach.
Senior executives and nonexecutive managers are unhappy with the performance of their companies’ frontline managers, according to a McKinsey survey.1 The low level of satisfaction, the results indicate, stems from the way front line managers’ jobs are structured and from inadequate training, not merely a lack of skills on the part of front line managers.
Other McKinsey work has shown that empowering front line managers to make decisions, anticipate problems, and coach their direct reports (rather than simply following and giving orders and solving crises) generates higher productivity and other benefits.2 However, the results of this survey indicate that most companies do not enable front line management to focus on the right priorities and become more productive. Respondents say the most common role for front line managers consists merely of performing assigned tasks, identifying and fixing problems, and successfully confronting unexpected, everyday challenges or crises as they arise . Only 11 percent say their companies’ front line-management roles are structured so that managers focus on coaching and developing their direct reports.
Further, while front line employees receive extensive training and development, their managers—who may have had no previous experience leading others—do not. At all levels, executives believe that the little training they do receive fails to prepare them to take on leadership roles successfully.
Nearly 70 percent of senior executives are only “somewhat satisfied” or “not at all satisfied” with
the performance of their companies’ front line managers (Exhibit 2). More worrisome still, the vast majority of frontline managers (81 percent) say they are not satisfied with their own performance.
One of the main reasons for the lack of satisfaction is that companies’ training programs are
not designed to help front line managers, despite the potential impact their jobs can have. Only
10 percent of respondents say their companies’ front line manager training is effective in preparing managers to lead. At this minority of companies, training emphasizes leadership and interpersonal skills
While front line employees are provided with extensive training, managers are not (Exhibit 4)—
even though for many, their present jobs may represent their first experiences leading others.
Perhaps front line managers receive less training because of the way their jobs are designed at
most companies: managers are expected to ensure that their direct reports do the things that the
managers themselves excelled at to begin with.
• Front line managers receive little training, and the little they do receive does not prepare them
for leadership responsibilities. Increasing the total number of hours dedicated to training and
providing training programs that develop leadership and interpersonal skills could help managers improve their performance.
• Lack of satisfaction with the performance of front line management is tied to the way front line
managers’ jobs are designed. By redefining the responsibilities and expectations of front line
management, companies can improve the front line’s performance. Rather than focusing on fixing problems and auditing the work of others, these managers could focus on anticipating problems and coaching their direct reports.
• Senior leaders and front line managers have different perceptions of what hinders the performance of the front line. They must set aside the belief that front line employees lack the necessary skills to coach their direct reports or make quality decisions. Further, leaders could actively model the behavior they expect from front line management.