New research from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, sponsored by ThoughtSpot, the leader in search and AI-driven analytics, illustrates a link between empowering frontline workers, like retail merchandisers, doctors, and banking relationship managers, and organizational performance. The report, “The New Decision Makers: Equipping Frontline Workers For Success,” analyzes the sentiments of 464 business executives from 16 industry sectors in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. The study found organizations will be more successful when frontline workers are empowered to make important decisions in the moment, but the reality is few are equipping their workers with the resources to do so. Less than one quarter (24%) of organizations say they currently have a truly empowered workforce and 86% agree their frontline workers need better technology and more insight to be able to make good decisions in the moment.
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Frontline employees stand to benefit the most from resources like communication and collaboration tools and self-service analytics, which top the list of technologies that survey respondents expect knowledge workers to be using over the next two years. Respondents across the board strongly believe that both work quality and productivity will increase as more data-based insights are made available to such workers. Specifically, 92% say the quality of work of frontline employees in their organization would improve in the long term, and 73% say it would improve in the short term as well.
Leaders vs. Laggards
The report found that only a minority of organizations (20%) are empowering employees and equipping them with digital tools to make informed business decisions. These organizations were identified as the Leaders based on other collected performance data. Leaders are also more likely to have seen increased revenue over the past: 16% have grown more than 30% and another third have grown between 10% and 30%. Alternatively, over twice as many organizations (43%) are considered Laggards due to their failing to empower and effectively equip their workforce with the right tools to address today’s business needs. The Leaders are far more likely to provide training for effectively applying technology-enabled insights (73% vs. 33% compared to Laggards) and prioritize a data-driven culture (51% vs. 23% compared to Laggards). Leaders were best represented by organizations within the technology/telecoms (27%) and financial services (20%) industries, whereas Laggards were represented by organizations in manufacturing (18%), government and education (17%) and healthcare and pharmaceuticals (15%). Respondents at laggard companies were 10 times more likely than Leaders to say their top management does not want frontline workers making decisions (42% vs. 4%).
Leaders are benefiting greatly from the creation of a more digitally connected and empowered workforce. Respondents who have started down that road are already reaping the benefits, with 72% saying productivity has increased at least moderately by empowering frontline workers; 69% saying they’ve increased both customer and employee engagement/satisfaction; and 67% saying they’ve increased the quality of their products and services.
Organizations are not able to realize the benefits of a fully empowered workforce without overcoming the barriers influencing the decision-making process. Currently, the largest hurdle to frontline worker empowerment is the lack of effective change management and adoption processes (44%). Additionally, nearly one third (31%) say a lack of skills to make appropriate use of technology-enabled insight is an obstacle. While almost all respondents (91%) say that managers and supervisors play an essential role in empowering frontline workers, over half (51% overall, 66% of Laggards) say managers and supervisors are not well equipped with the right tools, training, and knowledge to empower frontline employees appropriately.
Critical Success Factors to An Empowered Frontline Workforce
For a fully empowered and productive and frontline, organization can learn from the Leaders. First, the research found that frontline empowerment depends on support from top management, with 43% of respondents deeming senior leadership responsible for ensuring employees have the tools, training and support they need to be successful. Leaders specifically report that a shift to a data-driven culture is critical to their corporate strategy (51% compared to 23% of Laggards). As a result, Leaders are investing more heavily than others in digital capabilities that are designed to transform frontline working: they widely expect their organizations to adopt collaboration tools (55%) and self-service analytics (54%) over the next two years.
Industries across can also invest more deeply in training employees. Today, only two-thirds invest in programs that teach workers how to use new technology tools and fewer than one-half (46%) are spending on programs that show workers how to effectively apply the insights these technologies provide.
“Quality frontline decision-making is driving short term gains, but more significantly propelling better business in the long term,” said Alex Clemente, managing director, at Harvard Business Review Analytics Services. “The shift to an empowered workforce is causing organizations to experience significant increases in productivity and customer and employee satisfaction, however, more holistically, these efforts are also generating enhanced innovation, top-line growth, market position and profitability. To enable this growth, we expect top management to first prioritize building a culture and team that supports data-based decision-making.”
“In today’s world, businesses are creating and collecting more data than ever in their bid to transform and compete in the modern digital economy,” said Sudheesh Nair, CEO of ThoughtSpot. “The challenge remains: how can organizations supply their workers on the frontlines with the resources so they can turn this data into insights that drive decisions and long-term impact. The research mirrors our own experience with customers. Those that are empowering and equipping the frontlines are not only delivering better customer experiences, but breaking down the traditional business silos and structures needed for true transformation.”
To read the full report, visit ThoughtSpot.com.
The Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey was based on a total of 464 respondents drawn from HBR Advisory Council and HBR e-newsletter lists.
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