Should every employee get leadership lessons?

Frontline staff are the public face of your company, and giving them crucial skills training can make your business stronger

Should every employee get leadership lessons?
“Can I speak to your manager?”

It’s one of the most frustrating questions a frontline employee – or their manager – can hear, but at one Canadian elder care organization, it’s being asked less and less, as employees take more ownership of their work.

Nurse Next Door, which provides home care by caregivers and registered nurses, has made self-leadership a priority for its workforce.

A key area, says Brenda Rigney, Nurse Next Door’s vice president of “Pink Ops” – people, marketing, operations, care services and IT – is developing its workers’ time management skills, without them having a boss breathing down their neck.

“We’ll talk about ‘the work’s not done until it’s done’ – that doesn’t actually mean you’re working 24/7, but it does mean you may need to change the way you work,” she says.

“It means you may need to change the way you manage your time, and it’s not going to be about your boss going through your checklist and your work responsibilities every week with you. You’re going to need to look at your work, your output, and manage your time accordingly.”

While many organizations may hold back leadership lessons for only those in leadership roles, Rigney suggests there’s just as much value – if not more – in training a barista, coordinator or other frontline worker as there is a company director.

“They’re the ones that are actually engaging with the customers … When companies are struggling with innovation or trying to get results and shareholder value or a better customer experience for their clients, they should be looking at those people that are touching the work directly and investing in those individuals.”

At Nurse Next Door, that means training staff in “intentional conversations”: better communication, better listening and connecting with people, instead of relying on their manager to do it for them.

Now, instead of escalating complaints to managers, schedulers at Nurse Next Door’s 24/7 call centre are equipped to defuse the situation and solve problems themselves.

In turn, that’s increased staff retention and engagement, Rigney says.

“They didn’t like handing things off – they wanted to know what happened to that customer. They felt bad.

“That’s the difference we’re seeing: now people are taking greater ownership for their work, we’re actually seeing less problems even occur because ‘now that I’m responsible for having to own the solution, I’m going to make sure the problem never happens to begin with’.”

Rigney urges other organizations to reconsider the idea that hierarchy is necessary because “the entry-level employee will create anarchy if there’s not some type of structure”.

“It’s the opposite: if you connect people to a higher level of purpose, and you give them skills on how to drive that purpose, they will be the best ambassadors for your organization.”

Brenda Rigney will speak on shaping a culture of self-leadership at the HR Leaders Summit in November.

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