Lifting the strategic horizon of front-line managers

One of the challenges of developing new and front-line managers is to enable them to make sense of organisational strategy in their context. Strategy is usually seen as the domain of senior leadership, and strategic acumen as a competency that distinguishes top leaders. Strategy is at its clearest a rather fuzzy concept, and to bore front-line managers with arcane theories and definitions, and long-winded semantic distinctions between “mission” and “vision” for instance, would be a waste of time.
We aim to introduce first-time and first-line managers to the aspects of strategy that will actually enable them to do their work better.
It may be tempting to think that this comes down to some tactical, first strategic horizon type of stuff. Front-line managers are responsible for immediate performance, so perhaps they need to know how the organisation’s strategic goals inform their teams’ performance goals – in our experience, managers at this level do indeed find this kind of alignment useful. It is extremely valuable in lifting managers out of a silo view of performance, and enabling them to understand how the team you lead contribute alongside and more and more often in collaboration with other teams.

What they find much more useful, in our experience, is to understand how they contribute not just to a “bigger picture” of organisational performance, but also to a longer view.
The long strategic horizon for a front-line manager may not be what technological disruptions are imminent, where the business should pivot to stay relevant, or what acquisitions will enable it to grow faster.
Lifting the strategic horizon of front-line managers is about vision, mission and values, and perhaps especially values. Perhaps we’re not asking front-line managers to think about core capabilities, but we are inviting them to think about:

  • What kind of organisation is this?
  • What kind of people do I need on my team, now and for the future?
  • What kind of leader can I be in this organisation, and what kind of culture can I help grow?

These questions are immensely practical questions. They shape most of the “people management” decisions managers need to make in the organisation, from how they deal with the relentless onslaught of change, to how they take responsibility for hiring people, welcoming them into the organisation, enabling their performance, developing them, having those difficult conversations without delay, building great teams, and above all, challenging and developing themselves to grow into the leaders that the organisation need to succeed in the long term.