Five reasons why Front Line Leadership training programs fail

Front Line Leadership

It is widely understood that front line supervisors are a critical component for achieving business priorities, including a high level of customer satisfaction, helping the organization reach its business goals, and attaining a high level of productivity.[1] Most large organizations have established front line leadership training programs. Yet, according to one representative study, only 18% of executives, directors, and managers felt that they had capable employees to fill front line leadership roles.[2] With the quality of their talent pipeline in jeopardy, organizations must look at how they are developing front line leaders and why their training programs are failing.


1. The right skills linked to strategic business priorities and the overall vision of the organization are not the focus.

A key best practice is to base the program on a clear picture of the current state and the desired future state. First, you need a clear understanding of the current knowledge and skills of front-line supervisors, as well as the related processes, systems and culture. Second, you need to consider the long term vision of the organization and the shorter-term strategy to achieve the vision. A leadership program is unlikely to be able to navigate from where supervisors are, to where they need to be without first ascertaining these points.

A recognized way to align the program to the strategic priorities of the business is to actively engage and involve stakeholders from the top of the organization on through to the customers and direct reports of the front-line supervisors. By doing so, you will also increase buy-in and support, which maintains attention on what supervisors are doing to support business objectives.

For example, phase one of a Training & Development Systems (TDS) Front Line Leadership Development (FLSD) implementation is to partner with key management stakeholders to identify the current state, to identify the future needs, and to link the program to your business needs, operations and objectives.


2. A measurable link between learning and the expected outcome is not established, and no clear, tangible benefits are communicated.

To support the vision of the program, specific behavioral outcomes must be identified: What is it that the supervisor should be doing? How is that which is being learned going to enable these behaviors? How are the desired behavioral changes going to be measured in the workplace?  Unfortunately, many leadership programs don’t make clear or have a tenuous connection to expected behavior change on-the-job, let alone the impact to the business.

The TDS FLSD program focuses on leadership behaviors specific to the front line supervisor role that are linked to business objectives, and has supervisors work with their managers to identify specific actions to be carried out based on what has been learned.

Further, all humans do their best work when they are intrinsically motivated to do so; when they take ownership of their actions toward achieving departmental and individual goals.  If the supervisor doesn’t see the benefits of putting in the effort to implement the new skills, the learning will quickly take a back seat to other daily priorities.


3. Development is seen as an event, rather than an ongoing process.

Typical investment in training programs equates to 85% for a learning event, 10% towards activities in preparation for learning, and 5% for performance support after learning.[3] This focus on single learning events, unlinked to the workplace, will not create sustained behavioral change. It is critical to spend the time setting expectations up front, building skills over time, and providing support along the way to enable the supervisor to practice and ingrain the skills.

The TDS FLSD program begins with training for the managers of front line supervisors, to ensure their role in the process is clear. The front line supervisors then receive 7 days of training delivered over 6-8 months, with 4-6 weeks between workshops to provide time to apply the skills on the job.


4. Lack of management commitment.

Commitment starts at the top. Top-performing companies are 35-50% more likely to have senior leaders actively involved in supporting leadership programs than average-performing companies.[4]

If leadership doesn’t show commitment to learning and improvement through more than just mandates, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when supervisors don’t see it as valuable or a priority.


5. Participants do not know how or are otherwise unable to implement what they have learned.

A study by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) discovered that 70% of failed training initiatives can be at least partially attributed to the job environment not supporting retention and implementation of the knowledge and skills learned.[5]

A key role of any supervisor is support the learning and growth of their direct reports. This is no different for the managers of front line supervisors: They must make it a priority to mentor and support supervisors on implementation of knowledge and skills. This includes:

  • Clarifying expectations and showing commitment.
  • Working with the supervisor to identify opportunities for application of skills, and to develop measures of accountability.
  • Staying engaged by giving the participant timely, proper feedback, recognition and coaching.
  • Modeling correct behaviors.

For example, in the TDS FLSD program, concepts are practiced during workshops, and then supervisors identify opportunities to put these into practice on-the-job. Managers ensure that supervisors have the opportunity and support to implement. Additionally, TDS works with organizations to create a community of leaders with common goals and willingness to help each other achieve business objectives.

TDS can help you build a successful Front Line Leadership program that encourages commitment of management, focuses on behaviors linked to business objectives, sets expectations, and guides supervisors through implementation.

Front line supervisors drive your organization’s performance. Be sure they are ready with training, coaching and competency designed to build confidence and assure the performance in the workplace. Read more about our FLSD program.

Contact us and let TDS begin developing excellence in your workforce today. 

[1] Harvard Business Review (2014). Frontline Managers:  Are They Given the Leadership Tools to Succeed?  Retrieved July 15, 2017, from
[2] Wellins, R. S., Selkovits, A., & McGrath, D. (2013). Be Better Than Average: A study on the State of Frontline Leadership. Retrieved from DDI website:
[3] Mooney, T., & Brinkerhoff, R. O. (2008). Courageous Training: Bold Actions for Business Results. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
[4] Staff, Linkage Inc, Giber, D., Lam, S. M., Goldsmith, M., & Bourke, J. (2009). Linkage Inc’s Best Practices in Leadership Development Handbook: Case Studies, Instruments, Training. Somerset: Wiley.
[5] Bosworth, P. (2015, January 12). Why Management Training is a Waste of Money. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from