Your front-line employees are the face of your business to the customers that walk through your doors day in and day out. They are the people that work behind your counters, take orders, walk the floors, and ring in the sales. These are the people your customers interact with more than anyone else in your company. If you’re not keeping them actively engaged in their jobs of building a better brand for your company and inspired to create the innovative tactics needed to move your business forward, then you’re missing out on the most important tools you have at your disposal. These six things will go a long way towards creating a more innovative and engaged front-line workforce for your business.
1) Empower your front-line. Give your front-line permission to make the decisions necessary to keep your customers happy. While you don’t want them giving away the store to every customer that walks through the door, you can give them some degree of latitude to make decisions that will make things right in the eyes of the customers. You’ll have to decide how much empowerment you’re willing to offer, but giving them something to offer the customers to seal the deal, make the sale, or placate dissatisfied customers empowers them to handle the situation and earn the respect and loyalty of customers.
2) Be responsive to the needs of your front-line employees. Whether it’s new uniforms, new equipment for the business, or better conditions in the break room, if employees bring you reasonable requests, it’s in the best interest of the business to grant them. More importantly, according to GovLeaders.org, these requests are “often a test” to determine just how responsive you’re really willing to be to their needs and how dedicated you are to the change you tell them you want to see from them. Showing them that you’re willing to hear them out and deliver what is need creates loyal, engaged, and innovative employees who are going to represent your business well.
3) Encourage ideas for innovation. This is one area where many businesses struggle. Even those that claim to encourage or desire innovation often criticize it when it’s staring them in the face. Accept innovative ideas and give them careful consideration before accepting or dismissing them. Let your employees know that you value their contributions and ideas. You can even encourage these contributions in the form of contests or competitions with prizes the employees are likely to value (cash works well, as does paid time off, recognition, and gift certificates to other businesses).
4) Stand behind your employees. Nothing will encourage the inspiration and innovation of your employees quite like having them know, without a doubt, that you’re on their side. Don’t simply deliver the company line that says: “We’re on your side.” Show them by providing them with adequate training before throwing them to the masses, and standing up for them and behind your brand when mistakes are made. You should never throw your employees under the bus in an attempt to look good in the face of angry customers. Try to make the situation right and then address the problem, if there is one, with the employee at a later time when things cool down.
5) Offer careers rather than jobs. There’s a lot that can be said about the benefit of a potential career path within the organization, rather than just a dead-end job. If you’re truly seeking to find bright and innovative workers, offer them the reward of advancement—and follow through. These are, after all, the very type of people you want to see move up and do well within your corporate structure.
6) Prepare for mistakes. It doesn’t matter if you’re creating light bulbs, making omelets, or trying to build a better mousetrap; mistakes happen along the way to innovation. Be ready for them and allow your staff to make them, within reason of course, without fear for their jobs or futures within your organization.
Small changes in the way you run your business can have a significant impact on the attitudes and engagement of your front-line employees. Try these on for size right away to see what a difference they can make in your business.