Since writing about the senior leadership capabilities needed for a VUCA world, I’ve turned my attention to the capabilities needed by those leaders at the heart of most manufacturing organisations, the Front Line Leaders.As more and more demands are put upon these leaders, and the delayering of the organisational structure surrounding them continues, I think there is a growing burning platform for senior leaders and their HR partners to invest in Front Line Leader capabilities. And research (appears to uphold this view, with 60% of Front Line managers claiming to have never received any training before stepping into a leadership role. So this is the first of three articles where I share the insights I’ve gained from talking with people from across this sector, about the capabilities needed to drive what my consultancy terms Strategy Execution Power.
Industrial manufacturers inhabit a world littered with uneasiness
This is according to PwC's recent paper (2017 Industrial Manufacturing Trends) outlining the global trends for industrial manufacturing, and citing the International Monetary Fund predictions that global demand for manufactured products will continue to grow at a snail’s pace in 2017. Unsurprisingly, industrial manufacturing senior executives are pessimistic and uncertain at best about the world economy, having seen their organisations experience these disappointing sales gains.
PwC point out that in a slow-growth environment such as this, productivity gains are paramount, and one of their six recommendations to help industrial manufacturers profit despite the significant challenges they face, is to invest in their talent. Specifically, I want to talk about investment in the First Line Leaders, many of whom will be talent, and all of whom manage and develop future talent.
The strategic straight-jacket of home grown Front Line Leaders
Havard Business Review recently updated its 10 Must Reads for New Managers, which focuses on how to transition from being an outstanding individual contributor to becoming a great manager of others. The book covers everything from developing emotional intelligence and navigating relationships with employees, bosses, and peers, to enhancing team performance, and understanding the big picture in decision-making. The breadth of this list is a great illustration of the size of step change a usually high-performing and technically skilled operator makes, when they are often internally promoted into their first Front Line Leader role.
This transition is well researched by Charan, Drotter and Noel in their book The Leadership Pipeline, How to Build the Leadership Powered Company. They argue that these high performing people are reluctant to change; they want to keep doing the activities that made them successful as individual operators. As a result, people make the job transition from individual contributor to Front Line Leader without making a behavioural or value-based transition. The authors’ research shows that this values-based shift is especially difficult; to value the managerial work of making others productive by making time for others, planning, coaching, and developing a high performing team. If these newly promoted Front Line Leaders are never given the targeted learning and development opportunities to make this crucial transition, organisations can have the most amazingly written strategy ever, but the execution power to make it happen on the ground, will not be available.
High performing teams drive strategy execution
There are over 7 million Google hits for ‘high performing teams’, and with good reason. Many organisations are seeking to connect their strategy to Front Line execution, by building high performance teams that are agile enough to respond to rapidly changing requirements from their customers, and leverage the opportunities that Industry 4.0 provides to support that agility. Whether that involves increasing capacity with new shift patterns, using big data to make faster fact-based decisions, incorporating the Internet of Things into process management, or delivering rapid design changes without risking the kind of costly product recalls we saw in 2016 from the likes of Samsung and Audi. The world of the Front Line Leader is becoming increasingly volatile and complex, and a much more modern take on their capability development is needed, if these leaders are to keep up.
Front Line leadership capabilities need investment
Back in 2014, research from Bersin by Deloitte showed that Front Line Leaders receive the lowest per person investment in leadership development, and less than half the amount of mid-level leaders. When you consider that many of these Front Lint Leaders are in their first position of leadership, and all are collectively leading 80% of the workforce of most organisations, where the rubber hits the road, this is a significant under-investment.
These leaders need the capabilities to convert their organisations’ strategies into operational execution, and these are the five capabilities for driving Strategy Execution Power; communicate to engage, be a role model, lead high performing teams, grow their team’s capacity for change, and exercise value-based leadership.