Harness the Power of Frontline Supervisors to Turn HR Policies into Performance Gains

Voir How Supervisors Influence Performance: A Multilevel Study of Coaching and Group Management in Technology-Mediated Services

One approach to creating a learning environment is to broaden the core responsibilities of frontline supervisors—beyond traditional duties of monitoring and administration to a set of performance-oriented tasks that identify, assess, and develop the competencies of their employees and align their performance with the organization’s strategic goals.

Coaching increased productivity over time. When frontline supervisors spent more time providing individual feedback and guidance, employee productivity improved.

The use of team projects and group rewards increased employee performance. However, pairing less with more experienced workers, sometimes called buddy systems, was not related to productivity improvement in this particular setting.

Performance improvements from coaching were higher when frontline supervisors combined coaching with group rewards.

The interaction between coaching and workplace technologies was significant. While all work groups in this study benefited from coaching, the returns to investment were higher in less automated sites than in more automated sites. In addition, the benefits to coaching eroded more quickly where technical changes were occurring at a faster pace.

This study indicates that what truly maters for performance is the informal implementation of management practices by frontline supervisors, not just the existence of formal HR policies.

Examples of coaching activities include helping employees set goals, providing constructive feedback on specific tasks, offering resources and suggestions to adopt new techniques, and helping employees understand the broader goals of the organization.

Beyond individual coaching activities, frontline supervisors can influence performance by how they shape working relationships among the employees they oversee

One approach is for them to create an environment of individual competition based on the assumption that employees will be motivated to perform better because they want to out-perform their peers.

Alternatively, supervisors may adopt group management practices that foster a cooperative environment based on the assumption that group interaction provides social support, or opportunities for mutual learning, that enhance the performance of all employees

In this study, we find that a cooperative approach is more effective for reinforcing the benefits of coaching

It helps establish positive group norms that define the accepted patterns of employee behavior, and helps employees apply what they’ve learned to their jobs.