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What Do Modern Frontline Manufacturing Leaders Really Want?

by Laurence Pintenat and Martin Rahn

What do frontline manufacturing leaders really want?Constellium and DDI have been partnering for almost five years to design and deploy a learning journey for frontline leaders. Since 2018, Constellium has been focused on a stronger learner center approach. A bit of background: Constellium has chosen to invest in its frontline leaders for several years, opting for a cascading approach, where the managers of these leaders become certified trainers and can deliver training to them. More than 2,500 frontline leaders were trained in Interaction Essentials and other leadership skills. You can read more about this initiative here.

Now, back to the story. Considering these new challenges, we had the idea to get closer to the end users. We wanted to put ourselves in their “today and tomorrow shoes,” targeting the right content and learning methods that would be more natural to frontline leaders. We opted for the Empathy Design interview method, going beyond the traditional questions of training needs analysis. We were animated by a real curiosity, wanting to learn beyond the obvious. Some of the questions we asked were:

  • What motivates frontline leaders in 2019?
  • What makes them get up in the morning?
  • How do they think about their accountabilities?
  • How do they feel?
  • How do they envision the evolution of their role?
  • What makes them dream?

Of course, the first response to these may be, “It depends on the person,” but we found trends between the cumulated behavioral assessment data for this population, our daily experience of training hundreds of these leaders across cultures and industries, plus the interviews done with several frontline managers. We don’t pretend to know how to answer all of these questions perfectly, but here are some insights we gained from frontline leaders, including quotes from the leaders themselves.

They don’t feel their work behind the scenes is noticed.

“What I do that’s not part of my job description? Assist the team in getting their job done, helping them with troubleshooting, and pay attention to the needs of each person. If you have 30 people, you have 30 different personalities, and you almost play the role of therapist.”

Time and again, the people we interviewed said they work hard and did what was expected of them, but the work they do behind the scenes on their own initiative is never recognized. If basic leadership skills are not explicitly expected, how can they be observed, acknowledged, and purposefully developed to a greater level of efficiency?

They see their roles evolving toward human issues instead of technical issues.

“We need to change mentalities: we focused on process, technology, and tools in the past; we now have to pay more attention to what our people need. There will be a snowball effect on business results if we are able to understand how humans function and how to approach people to support them in their journey to adaptation.”

Most of the people we interviewed envisioned less focus on technical issues, more on human issues! Employee satisfaction and cultivating intrinsic motivation to enhance engagement are and will be two important focuses in the future. They strongly felt a need to shift mentalities from process and technology to the needs of their people.

One of the key challenges for those frontline managers is to find incentives to motivate their teams, because motivation is not only about the payroll. By developing and empowering their teams, leaders are able to focus more on their leadership abilities.

They know what their dream is—for themselves and their colleagues.

“My dream is that people would be happy to come to work, and that I’m useful for others. My dream for all my frontline leaders’ colleagues? Open their eyes to people’s unique assets and the richness of diversity. I would like team members to get more autonomy so that I can focus more on the human aspects of my leader role.”

In the dreams of a frontline leader, all machines function well and the production process runs smoothly without having to stop for technical troubleshooting. This gives leaders more time to dedicate to people challenges, with more focus on their team and less on machines. People would be happy to come at work. As leaders, they wouldn’t just be there for their team members. They could use their expertise to open their colleagues’ eyes to the richness of diversity.

They need to concurrently focus on achieving their company’s goals and their own leadership journey.

Technology is opening new ways to support leaders at their most critical moment of need—just in time. They can go through a online management assessment where they can feel how it looks like to embrace new leadership challenges and visualize their strengths and skills gaps. Another interesting option for a frontline leader could be using a program that makes an online coach available any time, anywhere. With rapid advancements in mobile technology and artificial intelligence, it’s now possible to embed learning in the job, respond to an individual’s learning need, and even anticipate that need. Microlearning is focused on solving problems as opposed to learning a new skill.

Investing in frontline leaders’ behavioral change and growth is crucial.

Obviously, frontline leaders play a critical role in the overall business success of a company. But are companies investing enough in this population? Probably not.

How to address the upskilling of this population in a both qualitative and cost-effective way, when we know that very often frontline leaders constitute the highest volume of leaders in an organization? This requires a move to a more user-centric, digital, and personalized learning journey.

So, how are you combining focus on your frontline leadership development and business success right now? What can you do considering our research? 

Check out our findings on what frontline leaders really want in our Frontline Leader Project.

Based in DDI’s Paris office, Laurence Pintenat works with global organizations to consult, define and implement the leadership strategy and solutions that support business and people strategies. Outside of work, she has a passion for contemporary dance, performing on stage once a year. This reflects one of her personal mottos: “Movement is life!” (whether it is fast or slow, big or small, or physical or intellectual).

Martin Rahn is the Group Talent and Organizational Effectiveness Manager at Constellium with a strong background in personal development topics. As a DDI-qualified trainer, he has trained many Front Line Managers at Constellium, whether in France, Germany, Switzerland or the USA. In his spare-time, he loves to spend time with family or friends and he plays water polo with his team in Paris.

Posted: 18 Jul, 2019,
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