Management And Accounting Web

Katzenbach, J. R. and J. A. Santamaria. 1999. Firing up the front line. Harvard Business Review (May-June): 107-117.

Summary by Scott Ingram
Master of Accountancy Program
University of South Florida, Summer 2003

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The main purpose of this article is to discuss ways that an organization can motivate frontline employees. These employees have traditionally been overlooked by management and are largely considered a disposable asset. Many of these jobs are monotonous and the employees never emotionally connect with the organization, their assigned tasks or their customers.

The authors list five methods (see Exhibit 1) of developing a high-performance workforce: 1. the Mission, Values and Pride Path, 2. the Process and Metrics Path, 3. the Entrepreneurial Spirit Path, 4. the Individual Achievement Path and 5. the Reward and Celebration Path.

Exhibit 1
Emotional energy is generated by: Frontline employees commit themselves to the organization because: Organizations that follow this path are:
The Mission, Values, and Pride Path Mutual trust, collective pride, and self-discipline. They are proud of its aspirations, accomplishments, and legacy; they share its values. U.S. Marine Corps, 3M, New York City Ballet
The Process and Metrics Path Transparent performance measures and standards; clear tracking of results. They know what each person is expected to do, how performance is measured, and why it matters. Johnson Controls, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Toyota
The Entrepreneurial Spirit Path Personal freedom, the opportunity for high earnings, and few rules about behavior; people choose their work activities and take significant personal risks. They are in control of their own destinies; they savor the high-risk, high-reward work environment. Hambrecht & Quist, BMC Software, Vail Ski and Snowboard School
The Individual Achievement Path Intense respect for individual achievement in an environment with limited emphasis on personal risk and reward. They are recognized mostly for the quality of their individual performance. First USA, McKinsey & Company, Perot Systems
The Reward and Celebration Path Recognition and celebration of organizational accomplishments. They have fun and enjoy the supportive and highly interactive environment. Mary Kay, Tupperware

A majority of the discussion is based on the United States Marine Corps’ (“Marines”) use of the Mission, Values and Pride Path (“MVP”) to “engage the hearts and minds” of their frontline staff. MVP is based on the concepts of collective pride, mutual trust and a sense of “one for all and all for one.” The five management practices used by the Marines to engender this passion are as follows:

Practice 1: Over-invest at the outset in inculcating core values

In most companies, new employees get a brief introduction to the company values by instructors that usually have little on-the-job experience. The new staff is then put to work. The Marines, on the other hand, use 12 weeks in a controlled environment to teach their recruits their values. This training is done by drill instructors that are themselves top performers.

Practice 2: Prepare every person to lead, including frontline supervisors

Organizations typically differentiate between followers and potential leaders in the ranks of frontline employees. Different attention is given to each of these two groups. The Marines do not differentiate between leaders and followers; all their frontline staff is trained to be leaders. They also prefer to partner seasoned field staff with young leadership professionals in order to help develop their staff.

Practice 3: Distinguish between teams and single-leader work groups

A single-leader work group relies on the leader for goals, motivation and assignments. A team draws its motivation from its mission and the members hold each other accountable for the team’s performance. A Marine fire team consists of four members and is deployed in combat situations. One member of the fire team is the leader. Marine recruits are cross-trained so they can perform the specific duties of all four positions of the team, if needed. They clearly define the single-leader work group and the team concepts so there is no ambiguity in the field.

Practice 4: Attend to the bottom half

Many corporations focus most of their attention on high performers with the belief that low performers are easier to replace than to rejuvenate. The Marines focus considerable time and effort on poor and mediocre performers from the perspective that they “will never give up on you.” This practice builds intense loyalty to the Marines, individual pride and mutual trust.

Practice 5: Use discipline to build pride

Businesses have traditionally used discipline as a top-down method of punishment for inappropriate behavior or low productivity. The Marines put tremendous emphasis on self-discipline and group-discipline. This is successful because the underlying values of the organization are not corrupt and every Marine is required to act with honor, courage and commitment. This practice helps ensure a widespread commitment to mission, values and pride.

Though the authors acknowledge that most businesses do not have the option of keeping new employees sealed off from the rest of the world during training, they do believe that implementation of the five practices used by the Marines can convert ordinary workers into an extraordinary workforce. The cost to implement these practices is not great, but management is required to make a large commitment of their time and other resources to the organization’s greatest asset, its staff.


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