Front-Line Leaders: 3 Capabilities for Improving Retention

This is our third post on capabilities that Front-Line Leaders require in order to help their organizations achieve specific business goals. As we’ve said in our first two posts, it’s not news to say that organizations should develop the specific capabilities their people require to deliver the specific business outcomes they seek. But just what are those capabilities?

The Importance of Focus

To develop a perspective, we reached out to a group that is sometimes underrepresented: line employees. We asked over 300 line employees across industries: If your team leader were to take one action to achieve this outcome, what action would that be?

So far, we have looked at what capabilities Front-Line Leaders require to improve productivity and quality. Let’s look at the final area we examined, retention.

The Story So Far

What we have uncovered so far is that the capabilities that Front-Line Leaders require to improve productivity and quality focus on making the team work better: Capabilities like creating a better team environment, ensuring staff have the resources they need and routing the right work to the right person.

But what capabilities do Front-Line Leaders require if your focus is on retention? Imagine, for example, that you have taken the role of team leader for a production team in a company that manufactures precision instruments. There’s competition for your people. What capabilities do you require to keep them?

Or, stepping back a level, imagine that you lead HR for that manufacturer. What capabilities do you want all of your team leaders to have?

One Action to Improve Retention

Here’s what we found.


What jumps out is that the priority actions here are completely different than those selected for our other goals of quality and productivity. When it comes to increasing retention, individual performers wanted recognition more than anything else. This is echoed by other research. According to the 2014 Saba Retention and Leadership Survey, 1 in 5 of American employees searching for a new job feel they are not currently being recognized for their achievements/impact.

Others wanted assistance with growth. Consider the second and third items, “help you manage your career” and “help you develop your skills”.

Now, on the face of it, these items make sense. But is that what you expected up front? Or would you have expected purpose to rise higher? After all, “make it clear why your work matters” and “clarify what matters about your output” both were not often chosen.

Is increasing retention on your company’s short list of goals this year? If so, how will you enable your Front-Line Leaders to play the part only they can? How will you first identify and then develop those capabilities?

Stay tuned for our final installment: Targeting the Capabilities Your Front-Line Leaders Require.

Interested in learning more about leadership development? Check out our Blended Learning Guide.

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