How to Build a Front Line-Focused Organization

Smart organizations win by trusting their people.

In Judgment on the Front Line, authors Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy assert that too many organizations do too little to tap into the intelligence, creativity, and experience of their frontline workers.

Their thesis – supported by interviews with over twenty organizations – has been that organizations that have a sincere desire to maximize the contribution of all their employees need to invest in the development of good judgment among their people who occupy the frontline positions, where every organization most closely touches its customers and community.

Judgment on the Front Line delivers a practical process that will transform organizations of all sizes – even churches – by transforming the organizational dynamic from an increasingly outmoded hierarchical management style to one that fosters more trust and investment in frontline employees.

Doing so requires reverse engineering the organization from the front line back to headquarters, creating systems, structures, and organizational roles that are designed to support those who serve the customer.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Judgment on the Front Line, by Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy

Front line associates who deal directly with customers are the face of any organization. Not only do they have the most impact on how a brand is perceived, but they are also the most valuable source of insight into what customers want and how to give it to them.

Management experts Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy have spent years partnering with CEOs as they try to transform their organizations, which often entails working with leaders from top to bottom to help thousands of associates align with the organization’s vision.

Judgment on the Front Line shows how to build a front line-focused organization. DeRose and Tichy offer a five-step process that helps leaders identify how to generate dynamic customer innovation at the front line, and they give powerful examples of front line leadership in action.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Five-Step Process for Building the Front Line-Focused Organization

  • Step 1: Connect Front Line to the Customer – senior leaders set expectations for how the front line connects with customers.
  • Step 2: Teach People to Think for Themselves – the front line needs a method and language for solving complex issues.
  • Step 3: Experiment to Implement – frontline personnel see opportunities to create new products and services.
  • Step 4: Break Down the Hierarchy – liberating frontline capacity provides more time for thinking and innovation.
  • Step 5: Invest in Frontline Capability – failure to get the right talent will undo even the best efforts to create a front-line focused organization. 

> Starting at the Top

Building a front line-focused organization requires top-down support

  • Senior leaders set expectations for how the front line connects with customers.
  • Top leaders must clearly define the scope of frontline judgment authority.

Shaking up leadership at the top

  • Senior leaders may be the slowest to embrace change to a front line-focused organization.
  • Adapting frontline solutions locally requires organizational support and resources.

> Teaching People to Think

Accessing frontline intelligence requires teaching problem-solving skills

  • The front line needs a method and language for solving complex issues.
  • Decision-making can’t occur at the front line if people don’t know how to think critically.

Leaders must articulate, align, and refine the problem-solving methods

  • Common frameworks and language reduce hierarchy and enable frontline action.
  • Developing judgment skills requires experiential training, tools, and strong support.

> Experiment to Innovate on the Front Line

Frontline innovation ideas are an untapped reservoir of growth potential

  • Frontline personnel see opportunities to create new products and services
  • Most organizations lack a methodology for collecting and testing frontline ideas.

A culture of experimentation creates growth and commitment

  • Frontline leaders grow as the put their ideas into action.
  • When employees experiment, they emotionally commit to their customers and coworkers.

> Breaking Down the Hierarchy

Reducing hierarchy liberates frontline capacity

  • Hierarchies proliferate rules and bureaucracy that bog down the front line.
  • Liberating frontline capacity provides more time for thinking and innovation.

Hierarchies don’t disappear overnight

  • The more entrenched the hierarchical mind-set, the more radical the action required.
  • The ultimate goal is creating meaningful collaboration at all levels.

> Investing in Frontline Capability

Rigorous selection and training is critical to building commitment

  • Failure to get the right talent will undo even the best efforts to create a front line-focused organization.
  • Up-front investment in hiring can break the cycle of employee turnover.

Frontline supervisors create local environments that retain talent

  • Frontline supervisors lead most of an organization’s employees yet receive the least training.
  • Great frontline supervisor unleash employees and increase commitment.

Front Line Teams are uniquely positioned to create value in your organization. Are you doing everything you can to help them  – and the whole organization – succeed?

  • Generating value – your team can offer new ideas based on first-hand dialogue with Guests about their needs
  • Solve problems – when your frontline team is free to exercise its judgment to make good decisions for the Guest, they can solve problems on the spot
  • Avert crises – frontline teams know where the trouble spots are, and can help your organization avoid disasters by providing early warnings

More than simply asking the key questions, it is time for leaders to create organizational structures and systems that implicitly trust those at the front line – who often earn the least yet do some of the most difficult and frustrating jobs – to exercise good judgment, get closer to customers, and day in and day out, deliver great results for their organizations.

>> Excerpt taken from SUMS 33, published February 2014.


For most churches, the front line consists of your hospitality teams. Auxano has drawn from 15 years of onsite Guest Perspective Evaluations with over 500 churches to bring you the Guest Experience Boot Camp. Held on August 29-30 at The Cove Church in Mooresville, NC (Charlotte), the Boot Camp will provide two days of collaborative learning that will help your church develop its front line. Up to five members of your team can attend for an investment of $1,995 for the whole team.

Learn more and register here. Just for readers of this blog, a special discount: use the code Friend15 to receive a discount of almost $300. Hurry! This discount expires July 31.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

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