Who are front line managers?
Front line managers are managers who are responsible for a work group to a higher level of management. They are normally in the lower layers of the management hierarchy and the employees who report to them do not themselves have any managerial or supervisory responsibility.
Front line managers are usually promoted from the ranks of employees. Typically their management responsibilities would include:
-Managing operational costs
-Providing technical expertise
-Organization work allocation and rotas
-Monitoring work processes
-Dealing with customers / clients
-Measuring operational performance
In many organizations, front line managers now carry out activities which were traditionally within the remit of HR such as coaching, performance appraisal, involvement and communication, and discipline and grievances. In many cases they also carry out recruitment and selection in conjunction with HR.
The role of front line managers
The people and performance research carried out by a team at Bath University found that front line managers played a pivotal role in terms of implementing and enacting HR policies and practices. They found that where employees feel positive about their relationship with their front line managers they are more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment and loyalty which are associated with higher levels of performance or discretionary behavior. Discretionary behavior is defined as that which goes beyond the requirements of the job to give that extra performance which can boost the bottom line.
The areas where front line managers make a significant difference to people management practices are
-Training, coaching and guidance
-Involvement and communication
-Openness – how easy is it for employees to discuss matters with their front line manager
-Recognition – the extent to which employees feel their contribution is recognized
These are all areas where, although the process may be designed by HR, it cannot be delivered by HR. The front line manager role is crucial in a number of respects, in:
-Enabling the HR policies and practices, or bringing them to life
-Acting upon advice or guidance from HR
-Controlling the work flow by directing and guiding the work of others
To do this successfully, this part of the front line managers role must be given at least as much recognition as other operational areas and they must be allocated time within their work schedule to carry out the people management side of the job.
The qualities and skills needed from front line managers
The Bath research found that front line managers exercise a strong influence over the level of discretion that an individual has over how they do their job. Some managers can permit and encourage people to be responsible for their own jobs whereas others can stifle initiative through controlling or autocratic behavior
To encourage the kind of discretionary behavior from employees associated with higher performance, front line managers need to:
-Build a good working relationship with their staff. They need to lead, listen, ask, communicate, be fair, respond to suggestions and deal with problems
-Help and support employees to take more responsibility for how they do their jobs by coaching and guidance
-Build effective teams
Many of the qualities and skills which are associated with higher quality front line management are around the behaviors of front line managers. It is not enough to educate front line managers in the behaviors required; organizations must also ensure they are developing the environment and culture in which front line managers are actively encouraged and permitted to exhibit the behaviors above. The Bath research found that organizations which had a strong shared culture with guiding principles for behavior which were embedded into practice over time were more successful.
Managing front line managers
Well-managed front line managers are more likely to go on to lead high performing teams. The Bath research found that the relationships front line managers experienced with their managers and with senior management generally made a significant difference to their willingness to display discretionary behavior in their own management activities.
Generally front line managers are more likely to display the positive behaviors associated with higher levels of performance from those they are managing if:
-They have good working relationships with their own managers
-They are provided with good career opportunities and supported to progress their careers
-They experience a positive work-life balance
-They are allowed to participate and feel involved in decision making
-There is an open organizational culture which enables them to air a grievance or discuss matters of personal concern
-They are given a sense of job security