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We’ve written previously about our perspective that a broad group of an organization’s employees should be supported and trained to be strategic thinkers. One typical counter argument to this point of view is having a high percentage of strategic thinkers among an organization’s front line employees causes confusion (and misdirection) because only a company’s upper management should be focused on strategy.

While it makes sense for upper management to be establishing overall strategy for an organization, our contention is you want all employees (including front line employees) expected to carry out a company’s or business unit’s strategy to be strategic thinkers.

The reason?

Because when front line employees encounter situations which don’t fit the organization strategy, you want them to be able to strategically improvise rather than carrying out strategies exactly as stated when they don’t make sense.

Need proof? Here are a couple of examples.

At a client session on customer service and retention I hosted, customer service performance was one of the critical topics on the agenda. The topic under discussion was how to get a customer service rep (CSR) to do the proper thing when facing a situation outside the norm?

One attendee told about a CSR who demanded the immediate return of a cable converter box destroyed in a fire because the fire wasn’t the cable company’s problem. Tragically, the fire claimed the lives of two family members, making the cable company’s policies insignificant by comparison. Afterward, the supervisor was left to ask the CSR if making the demand felt right while it was happening.

Another person told how a mystery research caller to his service center was stymied in performing call evaluations. The researcher needed to know what city the CSR was in for the evaluation, but CSRs had been told to never disclose their city location. As a result, the researcher couldn’t get beyond the generic response CSRs had been instructed to provide.

In both cases, CSRs were simply following what they were told. They focused on “what mattered” as explicitly instructed by their supervisors, i.e., get the cable box back; don’t say where you’re located.

The challenge is when you provide explicit answers about what matters, you get explicit behaviors.

When you don’t allow for or support strategic thinking skills among front line employees, you can get blind performance which appears on the surface to be correct, but is truly detrimental.

What are you doing in your company relative to strategic thinking? Are you trying to get more employees to understand strategic thinking and learn frameworks on what to do when the current strategy isn’t working? – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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4 Responses to “Should Front Line Employees Be Strategic Thinkers in Your Organization?”

  1. Dalka says:

    Awesome post.

    Truly awesome post!

  2. Ernest Warner says:

    Unfortunately, most front line employees are taught to be clerks, not managers. Typically, managers have a sense of the front line goals while observing and “managing” business objectives.

    I agree that front line staff need to be aware of strategic goals and ideas. They should also be creative and flexible to respond to customer concerns within a certain realm, for example Enterprise or Nordstroms.

    • Mike Brown says:

      All makes sense, Ernest, although I will admit, Enterprise Rental employees are directed to be a little too familiar for my tastes. When I rent a car, I want to get going, not strike up a prolonged conversation with the rental agent! (But maybe I’m just a fuddy-duddy!)