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Frontline Leaders Struggling with Digital Skills; Not Getting Enough Support from HR

New research in DDI’s Frontline Leader Project reveals steep hurdles for frontline leaders adjusting to a digital world
PITTSBURGH—New data from DDI’s Frontline Leader Project makes it clear: Frontline leaders are feeling the squeeze. Tasked with creating a more innovative and tech-driven workplace, they are anxious about their digital skills and are craving more support. Unfortunately, they aren’t getting what they need.
These findings are part of the second phase of research published under DDI’s Frontline Leader Project, an ongoing research project devoted to the issues facing first-level managers. For this portion of the research, DDI drew on survey data from more than 9,700 frontline leaders around the world, as well as its database of more than 13,700 frontline manager assessments. The findings pinpoint frontline leaders’ top struggles, and the types of support and resources they say they want more of from their employers.
“Frontline leaders are in a tough position as the bar for success keeps getting higher and higher,” said Stephanie Neal, director of DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER). “This group of leaders is responsible for so many critical functions, from attracting and retaining talent to fostering innovation and driving adoption of digital technologies. But while expectations of frontline leaders are rising, they aren’t getting the coaching, training and support they need to be successful.”

Key findings in the research include:
  • Leaders are struggliMission-Statement.pngng to see purpose. Despite the fact that purpose plays a critical role in driving engagement and financial performance across the company, most companies are doing a poor job of translating purpose to their leaders. While 90% of HR respondents say their company has a mission statement, only 28% of frontline leaders say their company has one.
  • Coaching is in high demand. 57% of leaders say they want more coaching from external coaches. Furthermore, half of frontline leaders say they wish their manager would coach them more.Craving-Coaching.png
  • Failure is not an option. “Failing forward” has become a hot catchphrase as companies feel pressure to drive for greater innovation. However, only 7% of leaders say that their organization greatly embraces failure in pursuit of innovation.
  • Leaders are anxious about their digital skills, but aren’t getting training. While HR identified digital skills – including digital literacy, leading with digitalization, and leading virtual teams – as among the most important skills for leaders in the next three years, leaders report that they feel least confident in their digital skills. Unfortunately, they also aren’t getting much help to learn them, as HR reports that these areas are also getting very little focus in their development programs.
  • Classroom is king – even for Millennials. While the conversation about learning trends often assumes that learners want a higher focus on technology, 59% of leaders say they want more traditional classroom learning. Surprisingly, that percentage is even higher among Millennials, 65% of whom said they wanted more formal workshops and seminars.
For more information and findings from DDI’s Frontline Leader Project, visit
About DDI
DDI is a global leadership consulting firm that helps organizations hire, promote and develop exceptional leaders. From first-time managers to C-suite executives, DDI is by leaders’ sides, supporting them in every critical moment of leadership. Built on five decades of research and experience in the science of leadership, DDI’s evidence-based assessment and development solutions enable millions of leaders around the world to succeed, propelling their organizations to new heights. For more information, visit
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