Is Double the Effectiveness at Half the Cost Possible?

Front Line Leader Development

Most L&D professionals would love to have the budget to add coaching to their front line leader development programs. But 121 with a professional coach is expensive, and usually only budgeted for senior executives. HFL have been piloting two versions of a hybrid approach to frontline leader development with two clients – with very promising results. Lower costs by far, but great impact. Is it possible? Frosso Mathews reports.


“It’s been life changing.”


As an HR professional, most readers will understate the warm glow in the heart one gets when a participant says thank you and goodbye with a comment like this at the end of a program. The comment is even more compelling when uttered by a relatively young, front line leader.


There is plenty of research available on the challenges front line leaders face. Usually, they are in their first leadership role. Quite often, they have had little or no training or development – certainly not before they take up the role. On many occasions, they have not had the luxury of a great managerial role model. They are suddenly managing people who were their mates five minutes ago. And, typically, they are still trying to do two jobs – their previous role, and their new leadership task.


Stress, frustration, and worry ensue.


HFL recently conducted a small survey among prospective front line leaders and it is quite clear that talented individual contributors want to be promoted. They want the extra responsibility. They are usually very keen to get coached, developed, acquire new skills. These are the very things – our research and that of others suggests are more important than money – that keep the best, more junior employees happy and engaged and still at the organisation.


If an organisation doesn’t deliver this development, as many older leaders know and moan about – front line leaders will leave for an environment that promises either more development or more money. This makes developing front line leaders – and being seen to do so – vitally important for nearly every organisation we work with.


What’s the solution?


In HFL’s recent experience, workshops on their own simply don’t cut it with front line leaders facing these sorts of challenges. Workshops don’t provide the ongoing support and confidence building activities that new front line leaders need. Particularly, the program design must help Gen Ys get past the belief that to know how to do something is the same as mastering the skill.


These insights lie behind new program designs introduced for two clients by HFL recently.


Design A had two components. Firstly, regularly spaced, short and sharp workshops that really are workshops – the front line leaders do all the work. They are highly experiential, often use actors to play challenging reports, and focus in key leadership skills – question technique, coaching style, setting expectations, difficult conversations, and so on. The second component is group coaching, again with events evenly spaced, where – as you expect in a coaching session – the coachees also do all the work. Here real life challenges are discussed and worked through.


Design B was the more unconventional program. Here, workshops were discarded completely. The group coaching then takes precedence. HFL has developed a “curriculum-based coaching” concept where the coaching sessions combine pre-reading, with topic driven leadership coaching.


The results from both pilot programs have been immediate. Both clients booked repeat roll outs.


The “curriculum-based coaching” approach has many advantages for a resource poor L&D department. Coaching up to three front line leaders is very cost effective, but the participants still feel like they have a coach. It is a very scalable model, and several HFL clients are considering trialling the execution as a tactical “just-in-time” response for flight risks. And we can now prove it has very high, sustainable impact.




Participants are reporting real “landedness” – they are deploying the skills and approaches described and practised in both the workshops and coaching sessions.


And as one of the coaches involved in delivering these programs, here is a wonderful thing to be able to report: by the third group coaching session, because of the set up, the coachees began to actively coach each other, allowing the coach to gradually take a back seat.


For more information about front line leader programs with a difference – that really land those key 101 leadership skills – please contact us

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