Featured Article: Don’t Forget The Front Liners

Check out the August issue of Business Science Magazine where you will read amazing articles such as this one by Leah Fennema Hall

Don’t Forget The Front Liners

By Leah Fennema Hall, M.S., BCBA

The success of most organizations relies largely on the performance of frontline staff; they deal directly with customers or are personally responsible for making a product, and many other positions in an organization
exist solely to support their activities. In short, the front line has the power to make or break a business. Despite their importance, the front line is often ignored or mismanaged instead of actively managed. Here are a few industry-neutral pointers to help frontline operators and leadership prepare for success. As a general rule, frontline leadership does their best despite any lack of leadership skills, insufficient time, mountains of misdirected paperwork, or sometimes poorly motivated staff. Simply taking the time to review job roles, provide adequate leadership training, and move towards active performance management will pay enormous dividends in terms of both job satisfaction and organizational outcomes.

The first step in active performance management is to decide what is worth managing. Typically, management will be informed of their organization’s goals and supporting strategy, but they will rarely agree on what that means in terms of meaningful behavior for front-line staff. If performance is to be actively managed, it is necessary to first determine which behaviors are proven to support the organization’s goals, and then to communicate this to frontline leaders so they know what to monitor. Given the fact that staff will need consistent monitoring to embed those behaviors, leaders will do well to limit the list of desirable behaviors only to a handful that is observable, measurable, and proven to be very valuable.

Once leaders have identified what they want from frontline staff, they will need to share this information in precise, behavioral terms. Instead of telling staff to “be prepared,” tell them to “ensure they have adequate materials to meet daily standards at their work station before beginning work each shift.” This is critical as “be prepared” cannot be actively managed, whereas the latter statement is easy to see and manage. Staff must also be trained to complete their tasks to standard before they are expected to perform on the job; this means leadership must engineer opportunities to observe staff performance and ensure they are capable and proficient in all aspects of their role. Leadership would also do well
to ask themselves “Does it make sense for the front line to do their job the way I want them to do it?” For example, is leadership asking the front line to work safely but also rushing them to perform tasks more quickly? Are staff implored to adhere to SOPs when SOPs are unavailable or hard to reach? Where contradictions arise, you can be sure that motivation to do the right thing will rapidly decline.


Organizations tend to promote technically competent people into supervisory positions but forget to provide them with the skills they need to be an effective leader. Basic leadership training is a must before an individual is able to successfully manage staff performance. Starting a supervisory position without these skills is frustrating for the supervisor as well as staff; at the very least performance is unlikely to improve, but it may even decline under the management of ill-prepared leaders. It is also important to give your frontline supervisors the time they need to actively manage frontline staff. It is common to find supervisors—who should be spending the majority of their time observing, recalibrating, and actively managing staff performance (instead of filling out mountains of paperwork, or worse)—filling in for operators when the front line is short-staffed or under-skilled. Active performance management takes time, but it is time well spent. Frontline leadership must have sufficient time in their days if they are to have a fighting chance to manage effectively.

Member Spotlight

The OBM Alliance is honored to have Shane IsleyM.S., BCBA, as a member of our growing team. Shane is President and CEO of West Coast Behavioral Consulting, a Washington-based consulting company and management group focused on applying the principles of behavior analysis to solve socially significant problems in a variety of settings. Shane brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the table that helps businesses address challenges to accelerate and maximize performance improvement. Shane can help businesses make strides in the areas of

• Employee engagement

• Executive leadership development

• Organizational design and development

• Process Improvement

• Business and strategic planning …among others.

Find more about Shane at WCBehavioral.com.

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