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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Is Your Church Practicing the 4 Habits Behind a Successful Guest Experience?

I have no talents. I am only passionately curious.   – Albert Einstein

One of the joys of my work at Auxano is that I get to serve in multiple roles. My primary role of Vision Room Curator allows me to thrive in my giftedness of research and curiosity, as I am constantly looking for content that creates break-thru clarity with church teams to realize their vision.

In addition, our value of Carnivorous Learning is demonstrated daily in my research, reading, and curation of the cloud of information available for church leaders.

But when my primary role of Vision Room Curator intersects with my secondary role of Guest Experience Navigator, it’s a really good day.

Today’s Vision Room post “4 Habits Behind a Successful Guest Experience” is a great example of the mashup of my two roles. The post speaks to the idea that a primary factor in creating a great Guest Experience comes down to having great people on your front line teams and training them well.

7-Guest Experience

The post itself stands alone, but I was also able to connect it to our most recent SUMSa free book summary – on Judgment on the Front Line by Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy. The book is essential reading for any church leader whose role involves leading Guest Services, Hospitality, or First Impressions teams. The SUMS is a good introduction, but I encourage you to pick up the book as well.

What makes it a great day is that I get to live out the ideas and thoughts above in a couple of ways: this weekend, I will be conducting a Guest Perspective Evaluation for one of our client churches. Front line interaction is a key indicator of the success of a church’s Guest services. During my evaluation, I will take over 400 images and 3-7 minutes of video, which will be edited into a 2-hour presentation for the senior leadership team the following Monday.

In that presentation, I don’t really have to say much – if “a picture is worth a thousand words,” the several hundred images and a few minutes of video have to be worth a book!

On any given weekend, Auxano Navigators are at a church somewhere across the country making the same kind of evaluations for our clients. It’s a powerful service that we love providing.

Beyond the occasional onsite consultation, I also get to live out my role mashup by serving on a Guest Services team at my church, Elevation Church’s Lake Norman campus. After 4 years as a Guest Services Coordinator at our Uptown campus, I stepped over to the launch of our newest campus in the Lake Norman area to serve on the parking team. (I serve an additional role on the Leadership Development team for the church as a whole, but that’s a story for another day).

My Team Coordinator Skyler and Team Leader Jason have demonstrated an excellent grasp of the 4 activities mentioned in the Vision Room post above:

  1. In spite of intentional preplanning for the launch, they listened to our team’s suggestions each of the following 3 weekends to improve traffic flow, increase pedestrian safety, and make sure our Guests felt welcome at all times.
  2. As Coordinator, Skyler is working with our Boot Camp Team (Elevation’s volunteer enlistment strategy) to make sure Parking Team members have a great attitude.
  3. Our Parking Team – like all Elevation teams – is crystal clear on our purpose, because it’s the same as our church purpose: To reach people far from God so that they might be raised to life in Christ.
  4. Our Team Leader Jason encourages creativity and autonomy – from Ryan who “hooks and lands” VIP (first-time Guests) cars into special parking to Christiana who leads the Lake Norman Taxi Team (golf carts to get our Volunteers from their designated lot 1/3 mile away from the church) to Lindsay whose smile contest makes us all laugh – and smile even bigger.

If you lead or serve on a Guest Services, Hospitality, First Impressions or similarly functioning team, I hope you will click on the links above to read more.

Want to know more? Leave a comment below or use the contact tab above to get in touch with me.

Remember…

How your front line teams represent themselves – what they do (or don’t do), what they say (or don’t say) – that’s the powerful human “first impression” your Guest is experiencing – and will remember.

The Other Side of the Coin: What Drives Front Line Team Member Engagement

Yesterday’s post approached the topic of front line engagement from the perspective of the leaders in your organization. Today, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin – your front line team members.

Involving team members in decision-making processes, enabling them to innovate, and providing the autonomy and resources to solve customer problems collectively offer frontline team members the essential elements that have been shown to drive team member satisfactions and engagement.

Research has provided many labels for the drivers of team member commitment, but authors Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy, writing in Judgment on the Front Line, summarize them as the “four C’s.”

Context

Frontline employees want to connect their daily interactions with the customer to the achievement of larger long-term goals. This requires an understanding of strategy and customer and business objectives.

Control

Frontline workers, like most people, want to feel empowered to make autonomous decisions and take action when necessary. There must be established boundary conditions in which employees feel free to make decision, and they must be given the training and tools to make effective judgments.

Care

Ultimately, if employees do not feel connected to their organizations and have a sense that coworkers and managers are unconcerned with their well-being, they will not care about he organization or their job.

Creativity

Work is a personal endeavor that occupies the majority of waking time for most people, so frontline employees need the opportunity to exercise their individual thought and creativity and invest their own personality in their work.

The concern and trust that senior leaders exhibit for all team members in a front-line focused organization translates into strong culture and improved work environments.

That’s something both sides can agree on!

Trust helps you move quickly. It increases your speed. When it’s absent, you can see it – more checks, controls, and processes. That’s bureaucracy.

Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T

ChurchWorld Frontline Facts

Front Line Teams are uniquely positioned to create value in your organization

  • 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

 

Part of an occasional series translating the best of Customer Experience in the Corporate World into Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld

Adapted from Judgment on the Front Line, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy

Undercover Boss May Make Good TV, But It’s a Lousy Way to Keep in Touch With Your Front Line Team

On Undercover Boss, the brilliant CEO goes undercover on the front lines of his company to learn just what’s going on, and how he is going to make it better.

Fail.

In the shows that I’ve seen, it’s more like a Three Stooges comedy from my childhood, only this time there’s only one stooge – the Boss.

Without fail, the Boss learns that he lacks the skills, intelligence, and experience required to keep up with his tasks. His coworkers and supervisors, though clearly frustrated with him, try and try again to train him.

The end result? Big Boss CEO, now humbled by his front line, vows to make changes to the policies and procedures which will improve his team’s working conditions, performance, personal lives, and, by the way, maybe even his bottom line.

I’m not too cynical of Undercover Boss – just thinking there has to be a better way for the CEO or senior leadership team of any organization to find out just what’s happening on the front lines.

If CEOS and senior leaders don’t create routines for understanding customer needs through the eyes of frontline workers, they run the risk of creating strategies that can’t be put into operational practice. Building a business model that is aligned with customer needs is only the beginning – once these needs are identified, the leadership team must work backward from the moment of truth when their team is face to face with the customer.

Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy, writing in Judgment on the Front Line, show just how to make that happen. They don’t advocate that CEOs try to do the jobs of their front line workers (like Undercover Boss). Instead, DeRose and Tichy think that leadership teams must design and build a front-line focused organization. They begin at the top:

Five Responsibilities of Leaders in a Front Line Focused Organization

  • Define a Customer-Based Vision – set the vision and define the strategy based in part on observations, feedback, and learnings from the field
  • Develop a Front Line Focused Culture – create a culture of front line focus with a deep respect for the needs and experience of the front line
  • Obsess over Talent – while deeply respecting their entire organization, leaders know they will win only by having the best talent and right kind of leadership at the front line
  • Define the Judgment Playing Field – leaders ensure that front line teams are equipped with the right resources to make good judgments on behalf of the organization and in the interest of the customer
  • Live on the Line – leaders need to go where the action is, a reality check at a deeper level than just an annual fly by appearance

Now isn’t that better than any episode of Undercover Boss?

My name is Herve Humler and I am the president of Ritz-Carlton… and I am a very important person. But you are more important than I am. You are the heart and soul of this building.

Herve Humler, addressing hotel staff shortly before the grand opening of Ritz-Carlton’s Hong Kong property

ChurchWorld Frontline Facts

Strong leadership is required to unleash the front line

  • Senior leaders use their authority to create the architecture and support systems
  • The organization’s top team must stay directly connected to those in the field
  • Information from the front line should be used to define and refines strategy

Building a front line-focused organization is a process

  • An integrative framework is needed to replace a collage of initiatives
  • The process helps whether starting from scratch or rebuilding a decades-old institution

Part of an occasional series translating the best of Customer Experience in the Corporate World into Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld

Adapted from Judgment on the Front Line, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy

The Frontline Innovation Factory

If you’ve spent anytime on Amazon, you are probably familiar with their recommendation feature – you know, the bar of products across your screen with the title “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”…

It has been very successful to say the least – many shoppers, having found what they are looking for, are delighted to look at other items that compliment their find. (Especially me, when it comes to books!)

When the engineer who developed the idea, Greg Linden, developed a prototype and took it to his boss, he was expressly prohibited from proceeding further with the project.

Wow – Talk about a missed opportunity!

In the vast majority of other, larger, older organizations, the idea would have been killed right then and there. But, as we all know, Amazon was (and is) different.

Customer centricity has been deeply ingrained in Amazon’s culture from the outset. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has been known to leave an empty seat open at a conference table to remind all attendees that they should consider the seat occupied by their customer, “the most important person in the room.”

Amazon’s overriding respect for the customer gave Linden the freedom to proceed with his trial – even over the objections of his senior vice president. The results were so clear and irrefutable that the feature was fast-tracked, and shopping cart recommendations, as we know them, were born.

That’s the power of the Front Line.

In my experience innovation can only come from the bottom. Those closest to the problem are in the best position to solve it. I believe any organization that depends on innovation must embrace chaos. Loyalty and obedience are not your tools; you must use measurement and objective debate to separate the good from the bad.

– Greg Linden, former developer and engineer, Amazon.com

 

ChurchWorld Frontline Facts

The front line is the richest untapped source of ideas and innovation

  • Those closest to the Guests most often understand their needs best
  • Frontline leaders have the know-how to solve operational problems

Winning organizations embrace the paradox of creativity and control

  • Leaders control by setting context and boundaries
  • Leaders creatively unleash their front line by teaching them to make judgments

 

Part of an occasional series translating the best of Customer Experience in the Corporate World into Guest Experiences for ChurchWorld

Adapted from Judgment on the Front Line, Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy