The pandemic has highlighted plenty of organizational vulnerabilities—for instance, inefficient strategies for flexible or remote work and insufficient wellness resources—that have left HR leaders scrambling to meet the quickly evolving needs of employees. Another area that COVID-19 has illuminated as a space for growth is leadership development—particularly for frontline managers.
Katy Tynan, principal analyst at Forrester, says frontline managers are often the lifeblood of an organization. And when a crisis like the pandemic hits, if they’re not prepared to lead, operations can crumble.
“The biggest issue organizations ran into if they didn’t already have a baseline of good management development and support for frontline leaders is that they had trouble with communication,” she says. “So much communication depends on frontline managers—even if you have a great comms team and good resources internally, without frontline managers knowing how to communicate, that impacted companies’ ability to be agile, to adapt to the many changes.”
Plus, ill-equipped managers have been particularly challenged to address employee stress and burnout, she adds. It’s an increasingly prevalent problem as the pandemic drags on; one recent study found 76% of employees surveyed reported experiencing burnout.
Tynan will explore how organizations can reduce these risks during her keynote address, “Not All Leaders Are in the C-Suite” at next month’s free, virtual Spring HR Technology Conference.
Among the strategies she’s seen organizations deploy to better develop managers during the pandemic, Tynan cites the value of community building—even from a virtual standpoint.
“The thing that has made the most impact is when organizations have formed a strong community for frontline leaders,” she says. “They’re regularly bringing together cohorts or entire communities of leaders and managers and feeding them information directly from senior or executive-level leadership. And that’s helping them know that they’re important, stay in the loop and access the resources they need to effectively navigate processes.”
While not enough organizations have focused on the value of frontline managers, it’s “profoundly important” for the future of work, Tynan says. In particular, the rise of remote and hybrid work will necessitate a better-prepared management team.
Before the pandemic, only about 7% of the American workforce worked remotely—that number is expected to permanently grow threefold after the crisis subsides, she says.
“Leaders will need to be able to set goals based on outcomes, to engage with talent that is physically in front of them and working remote, and provide the same opportunities for development and for access to senior leadership,” she says. ”All of that will run through managers.”
While the pandemic may have forced some organizations to recognize the value of investing in managers, it also highlighted that this commitment needs to be continuous. For instance, the temporary remote situations many employers are in today will be different—and require different capabilities from frontline managers—from the durable, hybrid situations we may see in a few years.
“There’s another transition coming,” Tynan says. “It’s not enough to say, ‘OK, now we know how to do [leadership development for managers].’ Because next year there will be something very different and managers are going to have to pivot again and learn new skills. You have to keep investing.”