The Frontline Equals the Bottom Line

In the spirit of full disclosure, this post is an update of a print article I wrote awhile back. But several experiences recently have made me want to post it in my blog.

The Frontline Equals the Bottom Line

Most of us have heard the expression, "The frontline equals the bottom line," as it pertains to a company’s employees.  It means that as far as the customer is concerned, a company's frontline employees ARE the company.  After all, rarely do customers come in contact with the executives of an organization.  Those frontline employees are truly the face of the organization.  But as leaders, do we perform in a way that is consistent with the frontline equals the bottom line philosophy?  In many cases, I think the answer is no.

I was thinking about this issue recently while eating in a T.G.I. Friday's restaurant.  As I was observing the employees, the reality of the frontline equals the bottom line really hit m
e.  These servers, bussers, bartenders, etc. are the most important people in the company.  I knew this intellectually (I've talked about it for years), but the trueness of it hit me at that moment.  These employees are typically the lowest paid in the organization, treated as expendable, often treated in a condescending manner, and yet they are the most important people in the company.  If these employees fail in their duties, it makes no difference how smart the Sr. VP of Marketing is.  The transaction between the customer and the company (the frontline employee) can easily crash and burn if that frontline  employee doesn't do his or her job well.  This is true in restaurants, hospitals, banks, grocery stores or any other industry/organization.  Executives can call in sick, but if the truck drivers for a distribution center don't show up one day, now there is a situation.  When they do their jobs with pride and enthusiasm, the likelihood of company success is exponentially increased.  When they do their jobs with boredom and skepticism, the greatest technology systems in the world won't help.

We should treat our frontline employees like the stars that they are.  We should honor them for the work that they do because they are the ones that make the world turn.  All of our strategies, visions, and corporate goals are only as good as the execution of those plans; and execution ultimately comes down to frontline people doing things.  Theirs is the most honest work of all.  The customer was either happy or she wasn't, the delivery happened on time or it didn't, the cooler was either stocked or not, the food was either hot or it wasn't.  Frontline employees don't need a report in a binder to know how things are going.  The score is real time for them.

I think what is missing in business today is knowing the importance of the frontline at a gut level.  Most of us know that we should say the frontline is the bottom line, but I don't think it often shines through in our actions.  If it did, we would be having pizza parties regularly, pitching in to help when things are busy, taking employees to lunch regularly to ask what can be improved.  We would hold celebrations all the time.  We would say thank you at every opportunity.  Think about those times in your personal life when you were grateful for something that someone did.  I mean truly grateful.  Remember how sincere and heartfelt your appreciation was toward that person?  Can you remember the last time you showed that level of appreciation to an employee or group of employees in your organization?

The need to be appreciated is one of the strongest needs of all.  When employees work hard all day, doing the real work of the company, being treated with honor isn't too much to ask.  Asking me to clock in and clock out says something about how you feel about my honor.  Giving keys for the supply cabinet only to managers and above says something about how you feel about my honor.  Having a lavish holiday party for the executive team while giving me a $2 tree ornament says something about how you feel about my contributions.  Walking by the reception desk, the loading dock, or the stockroom without acknowledging employees, taking a moment to see how things are going, or just saying thanks, are all behaviors that tell employees what management really thinks.  Is it any wonder that most studies show employee engagement is abysmally low?

My wife and I used to have a housekeeper, Val, who cleaned our house once a week.  She was truly an excellent housekeeper and cleaned even the hardest to reach areas.  Debbie (my wife) sincerely appreciated the extra effort and always showed her appreciation.  My wife and Val became good friends. One time Val mentioned that although she cleaned a lot of houses, Debbie was the only one who appreciated those extra touches and actually showed appreciation.  What is important to note is that Debbie didn't say thank you to get Val to do the extras.  Debbie thanked Val because she did the extras.  Val, however, said that she wanted to do more because of the appreciation.  It was simply a sincere cycle of performance and appreciation.  Saying thank you to people who work hard is simply the right thing to do.  And usually when we do the right thing, we get the right thing in return.  Not always, but usually.

You know who the frontline employees are in your own organization.  I challenge you to take a hard look at the level of appreciation that you show those frontline employees.

Something to think about: Do your employees know you appreciate them?  How do they know you appreciate them?