Frontline managers are an essential piece of the puzzle when a company wants to implement changes. Nonetheless, supervisors in blue-collar industries often struggle to communicate effectively with their employees, which can impede the successful implementation of initiatives from the top down. In fact, only 26% of companies view their change initiatives as successful, while just 34% feel their mid-level managers are prepared for their role in change initiatives.
“You’ll have an initiative that will be pushed out from an executive level, and the intent is to push it out either to the shop floor or to some point where it impacts the clients,” explained Joseph White, director at AEU LEAD, a division of The American Equity Underwriters. “The burden of implementation falls on that middle tier, and in order for them to be successful, they have to be able to engage with and get the buy-in they need from those that are implementing it – and that’s where it’s really fallen flat.”
AEU LEAD partners with companies in labor-intensive industries to help transform their managers into efficient leaders through structured training and development programs that in part focus on the element of coaching. The ability of managers to communicate with and coach their employees becomes even more critical considering that 67% of employees prefer to receive change-related communication from their direct supervisor.
“We started out initially focusing only on safety, and we quickly learned that changes the companies we were working with wanted to make were more systemic and program-oriented, and the skills that were needed to make that happen were missing,” said White. Part of the problem is that most middle-tier managers are hired for their technical skills and not necessarily their ability to communicate with employees.
“They’re great with their tools, they’re good employees, and then, one day, they come in and are told, ‘we’ve got a great opportunity for you, and we’re going to promote you into this supervisory role,’” said White. “Well, only one out of two supervisors gets any form of training in that transition, and even less than that are provided with any sort of people skills.”
While they might be given authority, these new managers don’t always understand how to influence their employees to get commitment for change initiatives, as well as give them direction and be able to set expectations. AEU LEAD is able to fill the skillset gap through the many activities offered in its training and development programs. Some of the topics touched on include employee engagement as well as establishing credibility because, explained White, you got to walk the talk. If a manager says they’re going to do something, it’s important that they follow through since it helps to gain the respect of their employees.
“What we really try to work on is giving them the skills needed for influence, and that gives them a lot more leverage in terms of getting [high] performance out of the employees they have working for them,” White told Insurance Business.
The other side of coaching involves performance management, which means managers might need to have difficult conversations around behaviors they’re seeing from their employees, and answer questions like, ‘How am I doing as an employee? Am I beating expectations? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses?’ That can be a difficult task for many managers who lack communication skills and avoid those conversations.
Through partnering with AEU LEAD and receiving training on effective coaching, managers can excel in their roles and, in turn, companies can see an increase in employee productivity, morale, and retention.
For brokers, AEU LEAD can be an important differentiator for the companies that they’re working with in blue-collar industries.
“As providers of services, brokers have to move beyond being simply a commodity. They need to be far more transformative, and help companies be successful,” said White. “Companies don’t want to abandon their identity and they don’t want to abandon their culture, so how do you as a broker or as an insurance company meet them where they are and help them move forward? If I’m a company, I want someone that’s a partner – someone that can come in and help me understand market conditions, and how I can become better as a company. And if I can find that, that leveraged value is far, far more valuable to me than simply purchasing an insurance product.”