Is Frontline Leadership Development Still Being Ignored?

Emma Weber

Bersin by Deloitte (2014) found that organisations spend around twice as much on mid-level managers and up to five times more on senior leaders than they do on Frontline leaders.

When frontline leaders have such a critical role in supporting effective operations and employee satisfaction and performance, it begs the question – why aren’t more resources being devoted to Frontline leaders?

In 2013, the US Department of Labour saw 2 million Americans quit their jobs each month. Studies have shown again and again that having a good relationship with managers can dramatically affect employee engagement and retention.

HBR research in 2014 showcased the following findings:

  • 77% said frontline managers are crucial in helping their company reach its business goals
  • Yet only 33% said their organisation’s frontline managers are competent in business-based decision making
  • And 12% said their organisation currently invests sufficiently in the development of frontline managers
  • Over 90% believed frontline managers’ lack of leadership development negatively impacts employee engagement.

Why has the frontline been ignored? Perhaps it’s the cost of developing the sheer number of frontline leaders compared to senior leaders.

Yet for a large organisation with up to 20,000 frontline managers who directly supervise up to 80% of the entire workforce (Hassan, 2011), investment at this level is critical for business success.

So is this still the case? In the largest ever survey of leadership in Australia in 2016, the Centre for Workplace Leadership found that despite the key role played by frontline leaders, they are mostly neglected in overall investments into leadership development. For every $10 spent in senior leaders, only $1 is spent on frontline leaders.

In our 2017 Learning Transfer Research with Lentum Ltd we touched briefly on budgets for each level of leadership and it was interesting to see that actually organisations are starting to favour Front-line managers over Executive, Mid, and Other levels. However we also found that leadership development in Australia is being more concentrated on the Exec level than the frontline level.

It seems that all of this research from 2013/14 has been heard and is starting to have an effect on learning budgets around the globe, with Australia sitting slightly behind. Look forward to sharing more with you on this when we release our full research report – coming soon, watch this space!

Whatever the level of leadership development – often there can be a struggle to create improved organisational performance and demonstrate results. I looked into why leadership development fails and what we can do about it on a webinar this week with Juliet Hammond & Suzanne Quentin from LIW – you can sign up to the webinar registration page here and we’ll send you the recording.

Emma Weber

Emma Weber is a recognized authority on the transfer of learning. As CEO of Lever – Transfer of Learning, she has helped companies such as Telstra, Oracle and BMW deliver and measure tangible business results from learning. Emma has also been a guest speaker at learning effectiveness conferences worldwide and authored the hugely successful book Turning Learning into Action. Much more detail around the issues and solutions examined in this article are available in the book – please feel free to download a free chapter.