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Front line problems are symptoms of problems at the top

 18 April 2022     Donald Cooper 

What happens on your ‘front line’ has a huge impact on your bottom line. But, when things go wrong on the front line, it’s almost always a symptom of problems further up in the organization.  And, sadly, it’s always easier to blame the front-line folks than it is to look for and deal with the real problems further up the line – especially if we’re part of the problem.

In over 20 years of coaching businesses around the world, I’ve found the eight common management shortcomings listed below cause most of the front-line problems in any business.  Which ones might apply to your business, and what will you do to fix them?

Keep in mind the ‘front line’ is not just where we interact with our customers. There is a ‘front line’ in the warehouse, the accounting department, in manufacturing and in every other part of the business. It’s where most of your people are and where most of the work gets done.

This project requires a high degree of self-awareness and a great deal of personal courage to see and admit to what’s really preventing your front-line people from doing their job wonderfully. Then, it will also require some considerable wisdom in knowing how to fix what needs fixing and, finally, it will require persistence in implementing and following up. Check off any of the challenges listed that may be hurting the effectiveness of your front-line people.

Our ‘front-line’ problems are most likely caused by one or more of the following:

  1. Lack of clear expectations, indecision, mixed messages or conflict at the top.
  2. A lack of urgency or caring at the top.
  3. Toxic leadership style at the top. Toxic or lazy middle management.
  4. Micro-managing from the top, or from middle management.
  5. Lack of communication.
  6. Not investing in systems and processes required to deliver efficient, consistent and extraordinary outcomes on the front line.
  7. Not hiring the right people and ensuring they have the training, information, tools, empowerment, ‘hugs and rewards’ to do their job wonderfully.
  8. Failure to deal with non-performance. ‘Bad apples’ are allowed to stay and pollute the entire group.

Many businesses actually set up their front-line employees to fail through one or more of these eight shortcomings. How does your business rate and what will you do to fix what needs fixing? Involve some of the best minds and hearts in your business in this important exercise.

Encourage them to be frank and open in their comments. Listen intently and calmly and ‘thank’ them for their courage and insight in speaking their truth. Then, decide what action will be taken, by whom, by when, at what cost, with what outcomes, measured how. Finally, implement effectively and follow up diligently. The world is run by those who follow up!

Here are a few other things to get you thinking:

Quote of the week: “Never take advice from someone who has never made mistakes. They’re either liars or are totally lacking in self-awareness.”

Quick business tip: In survey after survey, the companies rated the best for ‘customer experience’ are also rated as one of the best places to work in their industry. This is not a coincidence! You cannot be a great place for your customers if you’re not a great place to work.

So, what four or five things will you do in the next six months to be a better place to work? Ask your team for their input. Trust me, they have a list. Remember, the best people have to work for someone – it’s just you have to deserve them!

Only 1% of our population lives on farms. More efficient machinery, higher-yielding seeds, effective pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer, crop rotation and other farming practices, have dramatically increased the per-acre yield of all crops.

With farms being more productive, fewer farmers are needed to feed the world. In Canada and the United States, the percentage of our population living on a farm has shrunk from 25% in 1935 to a mere 1% today. That 1% feeds the other 99%, and exports huge quantities of food to other parts of the world.

Turning a customer objection into a powerful differentiator. When online dating site eHarmony was criticized for the extended length of their Profile Questionnaire, they created an ad campaign that asked, “Do you want ‘quick’ or do you want ‘forever’?”

That is brilliant! How could you turn your customer objections into a positive differentiator?

That’s it for this week. Stay safe! Live brilliantly!


Sealy Canada
Phoenix AMD
This HGO article was written by:
Donald Cooper
Donald Cooper

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now, as a business speaker and coach he helps business owners and managers throughout the world to rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability.


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