Why do so many HR issues begin at the front line/supervisory level?


Take a moment to think about the people on your staff who are your front line managers or supervisors. These are the folks who are responsible for your day to day operations (team leaders, administrative leads, shift supervisors, etc.). They’re tasked with planning, coordinating and directing the work that keeps your company moving.

A front line manager has to balance the needs and goals of the company with the needs and issues of the employees they manage, which can be a challenge. Often, employee situations arise in which judgement calls need to be made. When these situations arise, a manager or supervisor should definitively know:

  • Can it be handled at the source?
  • Does the issue warrant escalation to upper management/human resources or even the owner?
  • Does it warrant communication to other employees? If so, how should that be handled?
  • How should the situation be documented?

Many managers who are highly skilled at managing business processes are not highly skilled at facilitating employee issues. Take for example a scenario we often see at manufacturing companies. Individuals who are exceedingly good at keeping parts in specification or keeping to production timetables are rightfully promoted “up” into a supervisory role. While the promotion may be well deserved, the individual is either unable or extremely uncomfortable when it comes to handling employee performance issues.

If your “front line” can fix employee situations before they grow into major issues, you will avoid headaches down the road, and your business will run all the more smoothly for it.

Supervisors Are the Key to Successful Implementation of Business Plans

Your front line managers are the advocates and primary implementers of the company’s overarching business plans. What and how they do it can directly impact the success of the implementation of those plans.

A 2019 study examined how supervisors play an essential role in implementation. (Bunger, A.C., Birken, S.A., Hoffman, J.A. et al. Elucidating the influence of supervisors’ roles on implementation climate. Implementation Sci 14, 93 (2019)

The study analyzed the supervisor’s role in diffusing and synthesizing information, selling implementation, and translating top management’s project plans to frontline workers. A correlation was shown between the supervisors’ behavior and the degree to which innovations are expected, supported, and rewarded. In other words, the better prepared the supervisors, the more successful the implementation.

Preparation is Paramount, and It Starts at the Top

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

This sage advice from Benjamin Franklin should be heeded by businesses of all sizes when it comes to preparing managers and supervisors to handle employee issues. And preparation must start at the top ― meaning that management should provide structured training and resources. These can take many forms:

  • In house training. If you have experts in house who can train your supervisors and managers, leverage their knowledge. Beware however that when co-workers are leading the sessions, it can be easy to push them off in favor of pressing daily business issues.
  • Bring in an outside trainer. Partnering with an experienced management training company gives you access to industry best practices, which includes what you need to know in order to remain compliant. For example, training programs available through ConnectedHR include:
  • Go offsite. When training is conducted outside of the office, there are fewer distractions. It can be much easier for your managers/supervisors to focus on the training at hand rather than worrying about daily operations. ConnectedHR’s Learning Series takes place in a dedicated Training Center.
  • Offer online training. Whether in conjunction with an institution of higher learning or a management training company, there are a wide variety of online options available.

Empower your Employees

Often supervisors are unsure of what they can and cannot do.  Don’t leave them guessing. Through proper training, you can empower them. Not only does training establish a process for them to follow, it also lets them know that management supports them. Too often, ownership asks for results without giving supervisors the tools or authority they need to achieve them.

Consider offering training options that focus on:

Delivering an effective performance review. Even in upper management circles, this is something that people struggle with. Often, those conducting the review go through the motions to just get it done, and do not deliver an accurate performance assessment. By providing guidance on how to deliver an effective review, it can be impactful, which is a good thing for everyone.

Addressing day to day performance issues. Supervisors are often tasked with having difficult conversations. In addition to being uncomfortable, they may not know exactly what to say. Whether it’s about someone not showing up, being late or having a bad attitude, training can arm supervisors with strategies for alleviating small performance issues before they grow into larger problems.

Goal setting and incentivizing. Consider giving your front line managers the authority to incentivize. Most companies have a formal annual review. But what about more frequent goal setting sessions throughout the year? Can small incentive programs be put in place by the front line manager? (Think gift cards, etc.) These can promote morale and give managers as way to recognize stellar performance.

Take an Ounce of Prevention

Much is expected of your front line managers and supervisors. While “HR” is most likely NOT a part of their titles, equipping them to properly deal with typical HR issues makes good business sense. Harking back to Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Ben would no doubt approve of being proactive and equipping your “front line” to handle and alleviate budding HR issues. If you’re interested in learning more about ConnectedHR’s training resources, contact us today. Really, today! As Ben Franklin also said, “Never leave til tomorrow that which you can do today.”

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