Understanding the Link Between Frontline Workforce Empowerment and Business Success

It's not shocking that nearly 90% of businesses say their success depends on empowering those on the frontlines to make better decisions in the moment. They are, after all, the key touchpoint between any organization and their customers. What is shocking, however, is that less than 10% have actually done so. Employees on the frontlines have not been empowered and equipped to deliver the greatest impact to their companies - and data quality or technology isn't the main culprit. It's business leaders themselves, who either lack the resources, strategy, or courage to empower the new decision makers who are already shaping businesses from the frontlines.

To better understand how organizations are thinking about the link between frontline worker empowerment and organizational performance, ThoughtSpot partnered with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services to produce a study surveying 464 business executives from 16 industry sectors in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. The study found organizations will be more successful when frontline workers are empowered to make important decisions in the moment, but the reality is few are equipping their workers with the resources to do so. Less than one quarter (24%) of organizations say they currently have a truly empowered workforce and 86% agree their frontline workers need better technology and more insight to be able to make good decisions in the moment. 

While analyzing the data, two distinct groups emerged. We identified organizations that are empowering their employees and equipping them with digital tools to make informed business decisions as Leaders (20% of the total respondents), while over twice as many organizations (43%) are failing to empower and effectively equip their workforce with the right tools to address today’s business needs, who we’ve deemed Laggards. Leaders include organizations within the technology/telecoms (27%) and financial services (20%) industries, whereas Laggards consist of organizations in the manufacturing (18%), government and education (17%) and healthcare and pharmaceutical industries (15%). 

Some interesting discrepancies emerged between the two groups, revealing what constitutes a Leader and how they are better positioned:

  • Leaders are far more likely to provide training for effectively applying technology-enabled insights (73% vs. 33% compared to Laggards) and prioritize a data-driven culture (51% vs. 23% compared to Laggards).

  • Leaders are benefiting greatly from the creation of a more digitally connected and empowered workforce: 72% say productivity has increased at least moderately by empowering frontline workers; 69% say they’ve increased both customer and employee engagement/satisfaction; and 67% say they’ve increased the quality of their products and services.

  • Leaders are also more likely to have seen increased revenue over the past year as a result of their empowered workforce: 16% have grown more than 30% and one third have grown between 10% and 30%.

  • Respondents at Laggard companies are 10 times as likely as Leaders to say their top management does not want frontline workers making decisions (42% vs. 4%).

  • Leaders largely believe they have sufficient security and governance in place as more autonomy is introduced into the frontline workforce (75%), while less than half (48%) of Laggards say the same

While the benefits of an empowered workforce are clear, the path forward is not without obstacles. Currently, the largest hurdle to frontline worker empowerment is the lack of effective change management and adoption processes (44%). Additionally, nearly one third (31%) say a lack of skills to make appropriate use of technology-enabled insight is a barrier. While almost all respondents (91%) say that managers and supervisors play an essential role in empowering frontline workers, over half (51% overall, 66% of Laggards) say managers and supervisors are not well equipped with the right tools, training and knowledge to empower frontline employees appropriately. 

Organizations can learn from the Leaders, who are investing heavily in digital capabilities that are designed to transform frontline working. Over the next two years, they widely expect their organizations to adopt collaboration tools (55%) and self-service analytics (54%). Leaders specifically report that a shift to a data-driven culture is critical to their corporate strategy (51% compared to 23% of Laggards). 

Armed with the appropriate tools, employees in every industry can access their organization’s goldmine of data to make informed decisions in the moment. As evidenced in this report, doing so not only creates more autonomous, empowered workers, but boosts the organization as a whole to be better set up for success. We hope you will take inspiration from this report and those on the frontlines of a data-driven culture shift, while recognizing the long-term dividends that will be paid to the adopters.