How agile can power frontline excellence

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Quentin Jadoul, Deepak Mahadevan, and Philippine Risch for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

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An agile transformation can release the full potential of frontline staff, leading to more-satisfied, happier employees, lower costs, and better overall performance.

What does an agile operating model in the frontline look like?

Any frontline agile transformation is guided by a set of comprehensive and consistent design choices about strategy, structure, people, processes, and technology, all aligned around the aspiration to create an improved customer experience (exhibit). In addition, a frontline agile transformation is iterative and grows through testing, learning, and refinement; not everything can be planned.

Strategy: Provide the big picture for salespeople

The strategic choices that companies make often don’t filter down to the hearts and minds of frontline workers. But what if sales employees could exercise informed judgment, become entrepreneurs within the enterprise, and conduct short-term experiments and share ideas on what works? Magic can happen if frontline employees understand how their targets link to strategic objectives and how their work contributes to wider company success.

In agile sales organizations, the average frontline employee receives more information and is included in communications about the purpose of, and strategic choices for, the organization as a whole. Communication is more inclusive and interactive. These agile organizations foster dialogue (both top-down and bottom-up) and understand how sales functions can drive the strategic agenda using customer feedback. They operate from the belief that empowered employees will make more and better emotional connections with customers, leading to greater engagement on both ends and a stronger, longer, and broader relationship as a result.

In addition, in agile sales organizations, the number of performance indicators is drastically reduced to a set of clear outcomes to focus energy on the things that matter most through the lens of the strategic aspiration. We have found that ten to 12 metrics seem to be the right number. In addition, the metrics and the outcomes they measure are self-assessed on a quarterly basis, including the latest insights and customer feedback.

Structure: Radically de-layer the organization and empower frontline teams

Agile reduces blockages, bottlenecks, and friction. Let’s look at how this plays out at a bank; the lessons learned can apply to all consumer-service industries.

When banks digitize client journeys and customers become more comfortable using digital channels, traffic at branches tends to fall. As a result, the number of team members in a branch may become too small to justify a manager in each branch. In addition, internal sales processes and controls are digitized, so the number of management tasks declines.

Reduced transactional traffic at the branch and an increase in interactions requiring advice giving can lead not only to smaller teams but also to teams with more seniority. This opens the way to give employees more responsibility while eliminating the need for a branch manager. When shifting to more-empowered teams of sales advisers with a variety of expertise (by segment or product) and shared objectives, peer-to-peer coaching and learning can happen naturally and directly on the job. Moreover, a big reduction in managerial roles becomes possible if more empowering and agile ways of working are applied to sales.

For example, one Western European company eliminated two layers: the regional director and store manager roles. The lowest level of management became responsible for geographic circles of three to six stores. This was done not only to reduce the number of store managers and cut costs but also to create multidisciplinary teams that could rotate across stores. This approach allowed smaller stores in rural areas to tap into the kind of sophisticated client services that they had been lacking. In addition, these employees started to handle inbound email, outbound calling, and remote video services across branches, thus making more effective use of downtime.

Some of the cost reductions were reallocated to fund a greater number of more qualified client-facing staff members, leading to improved customer interaction, higher-quality advice, more sales, and happier customers. Consequently, the transformation did not come at the expense of client interactions but instead benefited them.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Quentin Jadoul and Deepak Mahadevan are partners in McKinsey’s Brussels office, and Philippine Risch is a partner in the Amsterdam office.
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