Rethinking the Frontline  Worker

Using Agile to empower people

In the Great Reshuffling, the highest quit rate has been amongst frontline, customer-facing employees – the backbone of many industries.

Negative attributes often associated with front-line, customer-facing jobs – less autonomy and ownership, unpredictable schedules, limited professional opportunity – contribute to a misleading perception and uninspiring vision of these positions. In turn, that results in high turnover. 

The ongoing challenge of the Great Reshuffling is an ideal time for leaders to reimagine the potential of people in these types of jobs:

  • Empower the people in frontline jobs. 
  • Align them with company goals and vision. 
  • Enable them to share in success.  

Human productivity is motivated by purpose, autonomy, and mastery, according to author Daniel Pink. Agile principles provide a path to create purposeful, autonomous jobs that reward mastery.


Autonomous teams are far more effective, especially when built with common goals. Take a team that revolves around different shifts. To be effective, the goals need to be clearly communicated, and success metrics need to be transparent and available. 

A successful autonomous team starts with understanding the business and environmental knowledge needed to succeed. Then they can decide the best way to distribute tasks and skills to meet goals. This might include giving the team leeway to set their own agreements on how scheduling should be done. The leader’s job evolves from managing tasks to ensuring the team has the necessary vision, knowledge, and environment, and is effectively working together. 

A daily pre-and post-shift update will provide time to talk through plans and improvements, and identify changes that need to be made for the next shift.


People want to have meaningful work. To do so, leaders need to communicate a clear organizational purpose and reinforce it. A key ingredient is making sure the team contextualizes what they do and what it means to their customers, then recognizing and celebrating success. 

An example of reinforcing the overall mission is to foster team and organizational performance. This could be identifying representatives of each team to overlap between shifts and share relevant information. Ask the teams to come up with other ways to promote inter-team relationship building and sharing. 


Invested, autonomous teams may balk at restrictive policies that diminish their agency, asking for trust from their employers to pursue better results. Autonomous team settings allow team members to master their in-job skills and their business and problem-solving skills. Team members who share common goals will recognize and appreciate their coworkers’ strengths and mastery rather than underestimate contributions.

As autonomous teams mature and deliver better results, they will continue to ask for more agency. Beware policies that limit autonomy, purpose, and mastery – as those are the pillars of motivation, and hopefully, desirability and retention.

As the journey progresses, remember this Agile principle:

“Build teams around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” 

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