The ultimate guide to frontline employee development

How to leverage employee development tactics to foster high-performing frontline and deskless teams.

Employee development is a crucial step in creating a high-performing workforce. But for frontline organizations with tens or even hundreds of thousands of employees, it can be challenging to know where to start. How can you foster productivity, efficiency, and agility in a workforce that spans hundreds of locations across the country – or the globe? 

The ultimate guide to frontline employee development is here to help! This step-by-step plan to developing your frontline and deskless workforce gives you everything you need to foster high-performing teams ready to take on anything, from key launches and promos to unexpected changes. 

What is frontline employee development?

At its core, employee development is the process of improving your workers’ skills (and adding new ones!) through support, employee training, communications, and feedback. It’s a great way to foster top performers from within your workforce, not to mention drive performance to reach your operational goals. 

Challenges frontline organizations face with employee development

Employee development in frontline and deskless organizations presents a unique set of challenges: 

  • Scale of workforces – and speed of new hires: With some organizations employing tens or even hundreds of thousands of workers, employee development at scale becomes a serious problem.
  • The distributed (and isolated) nature of deskless workforces: Frontline employees are often spread out in locations across the globe, making employee development more difficult and less consistent.
  • Less technology and tools for deskless employee development: Development tools for deskbound employees, such as email or intranet sites, aren’t as useful for deskless workers, who need more real-time training and engagement in smaller bursts.

Why is employee development important?

Investing in employee development programs can drive revenue, operational consistency, and efficiency by fostering your most valuable asset: your workers. In other words, employee development ensures that your frontline is engaged, informed, and empowered to thrive in their roles. Also, deskless industries constantly battle sky-high turnover rates – and labor shortages. So focusing on developing existing staff is a great way to retain the workers you have, while helping them grow into productive, efficient, high-performing stars. That’s win-win!

How do you develop frontline staff?

Traditionally, employee development is not often seen as a priority for frontline and deskless organizations. Development is usually equated with mentorship, one-on-one training, and hands-on leadership, all of which can be difficult to scale for larger frontline organizations. But there are many other ways that organizations can develop their workforce at scale: 

Set up new hires for success 

An effective frontline employee development program starts on the very first day a worker joins your organization – and continues long after. The first 30, 60, and 90 days are crucial to a new hire’s success. It’s the organization’s first and most impactful chance to create a real connection with the employee and set them up to be highly productive ambassadors of your brand. 

Create a robust feedback loop

A huge component of employee development is employee feedback, both top-down and upward. Implementing top-down feedback means you’re addressing performance issues at an employee, location, or regional level – and you’re doing it fast. Those annual or twice-a-year performance reviews that are still surprisingly prevalent in deskbound organizations have no place in deskless organizations, where change often needs to happen at a rapid pace. 

Build a sense of purpose and meaning

Employee development is closely linked to purpose and meaning. Find ways to connect everything back to your purpose. Bake this messaging into internal communication and company updates, employee forums, AMAs, protocol changes – everything. Help your employees see why their work is meaningful and impactful every single day, and you’ll develop productive, engaged workers.

Leverage trickle-down manager coaching

You’ve invested in professional development programs for your salaried managers – great! Now boost knowledge retention (and program ROI) by encouraging your managers to then share their learnings with their teams. This approach can be limited to shorter, micro-communications, something as simple as sharing a new communication technique or a common interpersonal pitfall, but it means that your middle managers will be engaging their teams with professional development material at scale. 

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Tools to use in frontline employee development 

Communication channels and tools are a huge component of a deskless employee communication strategy. One of the biggest mistakes that organizations make is assuming they can develop and engage these workforces in the same way they would with office or deskbound employees. Frontline workers require a much different approach. 

When it comes to tools and technology, here are 5 options to consider when planning out an employee development program:

Email

Use: Sharing updates and announcements and has a wide reach for HQ to pass along information.

Pros: Easy-to-use communication tool that everyone has already adopted.

Cons: Organizations don’t always have updated email databases for their full frontline and deskless workforce.

Intranet

Use: Provide employees across the organization with information in different content formats; typically accessible on all devices (primarily used through desktop).

Pros: Centralized hub for information and communications.

Cons: Frontline and deskless workers aren’t often able to access an intranet site during work hours, when they need the info the most; also, traditionally mostly one-way communication.

Employee surveys

Use: Annual surveys or pulse checks sent to employees by email or through an intranet site.

Pros: Employee surveys foster upward feedback, which harvests great ideas and ensures workers feel heard.

Cons: Surveys sent in traditional formats have become white noise to employees, with most not even filling them out and others not giving meaningful answers.

LMS/training tool

Use: Used for the delivery of e-learning courses, training programs, and/or development programs; typically distributed through longer-form modules and are highly compliance driven.

Pros: Ongoing development is a great way to keep employees engaged and loyal.

Cons: Focused solely on training and development; lacks the functionality of a full communication platform.

Digital communication platform

Use: Interactive platform with communication, social features, chat functionality, survey and quiz features, and forums.

Pros: Engaging, gamified, all-in-one platform to keep workers engaged with the brand on a daily basis; a smartphone app ensures workers can access information in real time.

Cons: An app-based platform requires organizations to adopt a BYOD policy to allow devices at work.

Fine-tuning your employee development plan

Getting a frontline employee development plan in place is only part of the fun. The next step is iterating on it to make it as effective as possible, long term. Here are some easy to fine-tune your employee development:

Audit your communication, feedback, and employee development channels

An internal audit is a review of how well your organization and its leaders share information, collect feedback, and develop their staff. This audit is especially crucial for organizations with deskless and frontline employees, who spend very little face-to-face time with management and don’t have regular access to computers, so a specialized strategy is crucial. Checking in on your programs regularly ensures you’re not wasting time and energy on programs that are ineffective.  

Use quizzes and surveys to identify knowledge gaps and issues

There will always be knowledge gaps that emerge in your workforce. After all, each employee processes and retains information a little differently. When it comes to sharing information, protocol updates, product promotions, and other crucial intel, the goal isn’t a 100% retention rate – the goal is to have a process in place to identify those gaps quickly and effectively and fill them at scale. Quizzes and surveys are a great option here, so you can mitigate any uncertainty before it leads to disengagement or mistakes. 

Check your metrics to keep a close eye on disengagement

When it comes to doing more with fewer employees, it’s important for organizations to keep a close eye on their workforce metrics to watch out for burnout, hits to morale, and overall disengagement. If you have a communication platform or tool in place, tracking these metrics is easy. But if you’re taking a slightly more analog approach, you can monitor disengagement through such metrics as email open/read rates, survey completion, and turnover rates. Here are our go-to metrics for tracking employee development.