The Front Line Experience

The Front Line Experience


Happy with the results of the meeting, the senior leader had effectively persuaded everyone of the direction of the project. Drawing upon her vast experience, she refuted the findings of the employee feedback and presented a vision that was solely hers. The project would finally make a reality of her long held wants for improvements to the front line experience.

Does this sound familiar? Senior leaders making decisions for front line associates when they know nothing or very little about what goes on in that environment. Even worse, when presented with new information and employee feedback it is disregarded because it contradicts their knowledge or vision. This is a dangerous way to operate because the improvements likely won’t produce the expected results and may be blamed on someone other than our senior leader friend. Most likely the people on the front lines.

The Employee Perspective

We also need to think about what this does for morale. When employees open up and share their ideas for improvements and what they are experiencing, they are expecting improvements based on their insights. If the improvements counter what they suggested, they may rebel and actively try to make the improvements less effective. At the very least, they will be discouraged from giving opinions again and may feel like they are not valued by their employer.

It’s also not very smart to dismiss their feedback. Nobody knows the job of a front line worker better than the front line workers themselves. That information should be treated like a gold mine for best practices, customer experience improvements, and identifying obstacles.

Sitting at the top of an organization and making decisions without listening to employee feedback is an easy trap to fall into. These leaders are smart and have moved up because of how effective they were at their jobs. However, that leads to making decisions without all the information. What they should do is put themselves in the shoes of employees. The best way to accomplish that is experience a day in the life.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

This can be intimidating because new skills may have to be learned or simply talking to customers brings up anxieties. This is what leaders must do though. Not just stroll through a store and say hello. They must sit and observe associates and ask an annoying amount of questions. Then, they need to get their hands dirty by doing the work of the front line associates. This is one of the best ways for leaders to learn about the associate and customer experiences and should be done regularly.

Methods like this can and have been done. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re too busy. This is way too important to ignore. Frank Blake did this as CEO of Home Depot. He often worked at a local store in Atlanta to keep his perspective fresh. This allowed him to interact with customers and associates. These interactions gave him insights on how to improve the associate and customer experience. He didn’t dream up an idea from a long held belief. He saw and heard the frustrations in the store and made changes to alleviate those frustrations. It paid off for Blake. Home Depot shares rose from $35 in 2011 to $115 in 2015.

You may think that sounds too simplistic, but it’s extremely effective. It’s effective because it gives you a clear eyed view of real problems and how to overcome them. When you implement solutions, your associates will understand that you made an improvement for them and for the customers, not to make more money or get more efficient. Money and efficiency will come as well though. Your associates will be happier and that makes for a more engaged and committed workforce.

Do yourself, your employees and your customers a favor. Spend time on the front lines and learn.