Empowering the Frontline Managers

Empowerment, a word that remains so distant from the realities of many companies in Singapore. Before we jump to the conclusion that it’s the fault of management, this is really a systemic problem that is related to the overall maturity of the society and the supply/demand of skilled labor in the economy. Nevertheless, much can still be done to develop our frontline managers to take ownership and grow the business as their own. Here’s an excerpt from “Unlocking the Potential of Frontline Managers” by McKinsey which provides some sad figures to the situation (albeit not in Singapore):

To unlock a team’s abilities, a manager at any level must spend a significant amount of time on two activities: helping the team understand the company’s direction and its implications for team members and coaching for performance. Little of either occurs on the front line today. Across industries, frontline managers spend 30 to 60 percent of their time on administrative work and meetings, and 10 to 50 percent on nonmanagerial tasks (traveling, participating in training, taking breaks, conducting special projects, or undertaking direct customer service or sales themselves). They spend only 10 to 40 percent actually managing frontline employees by, for example, coaching them directly (Exhibit 1). Even then, managers often aren’t truly coaching the front line. Our survey of retail district managers, for example, showed that much of the time they spend on frontline employees actually involved auditing for compliance with standards or solving immediate problems (Exhibit 2). At some companies we surveyed, district managers devote just 4 to 10 percent of their time—as little as 10 minutes a day—to coaching teams. To put the point another way, a district manager in retailing may spend as little as one hour a month developing people in the more junior but critical role of store manager.
In our experience, neither companies nor their frontline managers typically expect more. One area manager at a specialty retailer with thousands of outlets said, “Coaching? A good store manager should just know what to do—that’s what we hire them for.” A store manager in a global convenience retailer told us, “There are just good stores and bad stores—there’s very little we can do to change that.” Another store manager, in a North American electronics retailer, said, “They told me, ‘We don’t pay you to think; we pay you to execute.’”

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 2

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