6 Biggest Frontline Management Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Frontline management is challenging, requiring a balance between upper management demands and employee needs. Many frontline managers are promoted because they were successful individual contributors, not for their management skills. In fact, according to Capterra research: “only 37% of middle managers received managerial training when they were hired or promoted,” and “74% say they ‘rarely’ or ‘ever’ received ongoing managerial training afterwards.”

Do you know where your frontline management team may be falling short? Here we share the 6 biggest frontline management mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Not asking for management training.

Sometimes leader development budgets don’t stretch beyond executive and mid-tier leaders, leaving no development opportunities for frontline management. Other times, the budget is there, but new managers are overlooked – and they don’t know to ask.

With countless, affordable online training platforms available, at minimum, managers should be afforded access to online courses for frontline management.

As an example, LinkedIn Learning offers a plethora of training for early-career managers – everything from learning how to have difficult conversations to how to lead with emotional intelligence. To keep leaders focused and engaged, LinkedIn Learning can be combined with scalable coaching so that new managers have the ability to discuss and apply what they’ve learned to real-life situations.

Bottomline: If new managers aren’t afforded any management training, they should ask.

Mistake #2: Managing remote workers with heavy-handed, employee surveillance tools.

Unfortunately, before the pandemic in 2020, few supervisors and managers had experience with the frontline management of remote or hybrid employees.

Concerns about not being able to actually see what remote workers are working on have led some to turn to heavy-handed rules and policies—even surveillance tools. That can be a big mistake, though, because it erodes trust, drives disengagement, and boosts the odds that employees will decide to look for work elsewhere.

Instead, frontline managers should work with employees to:

  • Foster trust through autonomy. Set clear expectations and examine work output and results.
  • Implement regular check-ins. Schedule regular one-on-ones to review progress and provide feedback.
  • Use technology positively. In some situations, surveillance tools that track time logged in to an application or other data might be deemed appropriate. However, project management tools like Jira, Trello, and Asana can provide visibility into an individual’s productivity without the heavy-handedness of surveillance tools.

CHROs and other HR leaders can help frontline management by providing them with the education, skills, and tools to measure and manage output objectively.

Mistake #3: Providing inadequate communication.

Here, again, managers tend to be more challenged when their employees are working remotely. Yet, no matter where they’re located, many supervisors and managers struggle with their role as a key communication conduit with employees. It’s essential that frontline managers share clear and timely information with direct reports.

A big mistake frontline management makes it misunderstanding their role in management meetings. Going from individual contributor to manager usually means entering into manager-only meetings about company goals, strategy, and results. Often times, managers enjoy the access, but they don’t realize they are there not just for themselves, but to pass along appropriate updates to the team. To combat this, frontline management should:

  • Share information up and down the organization.
  • Encourage feedback and two-way communication.

HR can support frontline management with the tools, resources, and multiple communication channels they need to communicate effectively with employees.

Mistake #4: Not giving appropriate feedback—positive and constructive.

Frontline management plays a critical role in providing employees with the feedback they need to support both their teams and the company, and to stop or change the things they may be doing that can hinder success.

Many managers, though, may be hesitant to provide feedback, even when it’s positive. When they do, it often takes the form of general feedback shared in passing, like “great job.” Instead, frontline management should:

  • Be specific and timely. Give feedback to employees as close to the behavior as possible. Don’t delay or avoid providing feedback.
  • Develop a culture of continuous—and two-way—feedback. How open are you to receiving feedback as a manager? When you model how to accept constructive feedback well, you become a positive example for your team to follow.
  • Identify areas of growth. This helps you focus your feedback on a goal, and it helps the employee understand what they can be working toward.

Mistake #5: Neglecting work-life balance.

During the pandemic, many employees had the opportunity to work from home—and they liked it. Now, as some are being called back into the workplace, that demand for flexibility and balance remains. Frontline leaders need to be able to accommodate these needs. Remaining rigid, or resisting employees’ needs for flexibility, can backfire quickly. To help promote healthy work-life balance, encourage your frontline managers to:

  • Lead by example. You set the pace by demonstrating to employees that it’s okay to take a long lunch, come in late or leave early once in a while, or take a day off just to recharge.
  • Offer flexible work arrangements. Be proactive in talking to employees about their need for flexibility and taking steps to accommodate those needs in a way that still supports department and company goals.
  • Encourage breaks and downtime. Prompt your team to take regular breaks and enjoy a little downtime now and then to help them recharge and rejuvenate.

Work-life balance is important to employees. It should be important to your frontline management as well. Encourage them to practice flexibility in support of employee work-life balance needs.

Mistake #6: Ignoring diversity and inclusion.

We live in a diverse world—that world should be reflected in our workforce. But fostering an inclusive culture isn’t just about building a diverse workforce. It’s also about ensuring inclusion and belonging for all members of your team. Failing to foster an inclusive work environment can have a negative impact on innovation, engagement, and retention.

To foster an inclusive culture, frontline managers should:

  • Proactively build a diverse team. This starts during the talent acquisition process. Make sure you’re supporting your hiring managers in their efforts to find diverse talent through a variety of channels.
  • Ensure inclusive practices. In many cases, a lack of inclusiveness is unconscious bias, but that doesn’t make it any less damaging to a team. Encourage frontline management to foster a work environment where all employees feel supported in sharing their opinions and feedback—even, and especially, if their views differ from others’.
  • Seek out diverse opinions. Don’t expect all employees to speak up without being prompted. Some may need to be proactively approached, perhaps in private, to feel comfortable sharing opinions that may differ from others.

Savvy organizations know that diversity and inclusion are must-haves for building strong, collaborative, and innovative teams. Provide frontline management with the resources and support to build and sustain diverse teams.

Use Microcoaching to Help Frontline Management Succeed

Employee satisfaction and engagement are almost always tied to people’s relationships with their manager. As we mentioned in the beginning, first-time managers aren’t typically afforded much development after they step into the role. As the CHRO or talent development leader, your job is to ensure that frontline management is well prepared to lead. And the risks are high. Just one inadequately developed “bad manager” can significantly affect talent retention.

Investing in frontline management has become more necessary than ever due to the scarce talent in the workforce. And luckily for organizations, it has also become more affordable with microcoaching.

Microcoaching is a new coaching model that is rapidly growing in popularity. It offers short coaching engagements (typically 30 minutes) over a timeframe of a couple months or more. Managers enjoy all the benefits of coaching in a shorter time commitment compared to traditional leadership development programs. And employers enjoy the benefits of coaching at a reasonable price.

Want to learn more about combining microcoaching with online learning for frontline management?

Discover how you can improve engagement and learner satisfaction when you add microcoaching to your online learning strategy.