CLOs, Forget Executive Education: You Need to Invest in the Frontline

When it comes to planning a learning and development program, it’s easy to focus on the leaders that make the big decisions. But a recent report from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and the Aspen Institute’s UpSkill America suggests organizations would do well to prioritize investing in their frontline employees (defined here as workers who make less than $40,000 annually and have an associate’s degree or less). Research shows that doing so can reduce attrition, create a talent pipeline for management positions, and help address the mismatch between job openings and people looking for work.

Most organizations surveyed for the report said they offer development opportunities to frontline workers and plan to maintain or enhance these programs in the future. But many respondents also indicated that fewer than half of their frontline workers are accessing these programs. In a recent webinar on the topic, industry experts discussed how to invest in your frontline workers to not only keep them engaged, but also increase the market performance of your organization.

Make it meaningful.

Dr. Sydney Savion, global learning officer at Dell, said getting frontline employees to care about the business is essential to any development program. Savion said Dell accomplishes this in part by utilizing training programs that focus on the worker’s role within the company and Dell’s place in the industry.

“[The programs are] one of our approaches to encourage our frontline employees to care,” said Savion. “If they find what they’re doing [is] meaningful, they’re more productive and more vested—not only in the company, but in what they’re doing to deliver excellence and deliver their best effort.”

Savion also noted that Dell’s partnership with College for America, a fully accredited online degree program, has helped frontline workers develop the communication and problem-solving skills necessary for delivering a great customer experience while also providing them with a college degree.

Accommodate the frontline’s work-life balance.

Advancing frontline workers is about more than offering educational opportunities. Kimo Kippen, chief learning officer of Hilton Worldwide, said offering employees flexibility is an important component of any effort to keep frontline workers engaged. Kimo pointed to Hilton’s new parental leave program as an example of this.

“[Work-life] balance is one of the key themes that comes back to us through our team member global surveys,” said Kippen.

Other efforts Hilton has made in this area include posting work schedules two weeks in advance instead of late on a Friday, said Kippen, so employees have enough time to plan their weekends. In addition, flexibility should extend to the learning content itself: making materials mobile-friendly will allow employees to access information and accomplish training on-the-go.

Track your progress.

When asked about how global organizations measure the ROI from efforts to train and retain frontline workers, John Kaplan, vice president of training and development at Discover Financial Services, said “not well enough.”

“There are so many areas [where] these upscaling programs provide benefits, but the challenge is finding one to three metrics … instead of measuring everything at once,” Kaplan said.

However, Discover is now in the throes of a comprehensive study to sort through their human resources data to come up with precise ROI results, he said. A company’s engagement, talent retention, and upscaling strategies are all tied together, he said, and investing in frontline workers is one way to bring it all together.

Whatever training methods your company chooses, ensuring employees have access to the right information at the right time should always be key. That’s especially important for those frontline employees who interact with customers and prospects, and have a direct impact on your bottom line.