The business case for developing frontline talent 

Paul Moskowitz
Paul Moskowitz
Jul 03 2024
5 min read
The business case for developing frontline talent 

Many companies have a goldmine of talent that often goes untapped – frontline employees. They are hourly-paid, shift-based workers — cooking and serving food, assembling products, answering calls, stocking shelves, delivering packages — they are the heartbeat of daily operations. Yet, their potential for growth and leadership is overlooked for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the perception that it’s just too hard vs. external recruiting. Throughout my career in the restaurant, manufacturing, and distribution sectors, I have seen how investing in frontline employees creates significant advantages for competing in the marketplace. Here’s why developing frontline talent is not just beneficial, but essential, and how you can make it happen.

Why invest in frontline talent?

Frontline employees are the core of many businesses. They serve customers, make goods, and keep things running smoothly every day. Growing talent from within this group isn’t just a nice-to-do; it’s smart business. Let’s break down a few of the reasons why:

Speed vs. Cost vs. Effectiveness: Hire externally vs. develop internally is a key talent decision. Developing internal frontline talent can take more time and planning, but is a better longer-term investment. External hires come with higher recruiting costs and the risks of fit and success. Homegrown talent already knows your company culture and operation and has a proven track record of performance in your organization.

Employer brand reputation: In an increasingly constrained talent market, an employer’s brand reputation has never been more important. A brand firmly committed to investing in all employees’ development, including the frontline, and has clear evidence of doing so, creates a strong advantage for attracting and retaining talent.

DEI: The frontline employee group often best reflects the broader population and is the most diverse part of an organization on multiple dimensions (experience, culture, language, race, gender, orientation, etc.) An organization needs to look no further than its own frontline employees for accelerated progress toward DEI commitments.  

Key strategies for developing frontline talent

Get the basics right

First things first: make sure frontline workers have what they need to do their current jobs. A safe environment, fair schedules, proper uniforms, and good pay and benefits, just to name a few, are all non-negotiables. If your team is not getting these basics right, any development efforts with frontline teams are likely to fall flat.

Role models matter

People need to see success stories to believe in possibilities. Highlight employees who started on the frontline and moved up. These role models can inspire others and show them what’s achievable.

Frequent bench planning

Regularly check in with your frontline staff about their career interests and update them on opportunities. In higher-turnover environments, you will likely need more frequent conversations, perhaps monthly. Among more stable teams, two to four times a year could work. The key is disciplined consistency; the interests of a frontline employee can change over time. 

Bench planning serves the dual purpose of forecasting talent needs and identifying frontline folks for further development. This identification process is mutual – the employee expresses interest, and management agrees that the individual is ready for further development. This is especially important when working with frontline employees.

The assessment for readiness should:

  • Be completely transparent to all frontline employees to build trust in the process.
  • Require mastery of the technical skills for the current frontline role(s).
  • Evaluate additional skills that the organization has identified as strong indicators of success in a promoted role.

The readiness assessment can be completed by the employee’s supervisor and reviewed by the second-level leader. Training frontline leaders to use the assessment effectively, along with leaders’ commitment to do so, is critical. A leader should share the assessment results with the frontline employee, even if the employee is deemed not ready now so that they know the gaps to close.

Tailored development programs

Offer training that fits the unique needs of your frontline workers and prepares them for their next roles, such as first-level operational supervision. This might require flexible schedules or online learning options they can easily access. The goal is to provide highly relevant training for the next opportunity while minimizing any obstacles to their participation.

Strategic placement and support

When promoting someone, think carefully about placement in their new role. Avoid putting them in charge of their former peers, if possible. Easily accessible mentors and coaches help them adjust and succeed.

Measuring the impact

Investing in your frontline talent brings measurable benefits:

Better productivity and happier customers: A reliable internal talent pipeline means consistent staffing levels, leading to greater employee engagement and smoother operations – both of which are needed for higher customer satisfaction.

Lower recruitment costs: Internal promotions save money on recruiting and onboarding new employees.

Higher retention: When employees see a clear path for advancement, they’re more likely to stay.

A study by the Harvard Business Review found that companies with strong internal promotion practices had 50% lower turnover rates than those that relied more heavily on external hires. Furthermore, the National Bureau of Economic Research highlighted that internal promotions can improve employee performance and organizational loyalty.

Real-world benefits

In my experience, focusing on internal development significantly improved our staffing and reduced recruitment costs. During my restaurant tenure, our front-line turnover rate declined by over 50 percentage points while our restaurant management’s internal fill rate exceeded 80%.

We also improved our gender diversity at multiple management levels.  Role models and mentoring were especially effective in helping more frontline women pursue the management career path. 


Developing frontline talent is not only beneficial, it’s essential. Yes, it requires effort and discipline, but the rewards from greater employee commitment, reduced turnover, and a robust leadership pipeline are undeniable. By implementing these tactics, companies can tap the full potential of their frontline workforce and build a robust internal pipeline for future leadership roles.

This article is part of the Precision Matters series. In the series, HR and L&D leaders share their expert strategies for utilizing Learning & Development tools to craft precise, impactful business outcomes and foster organizational growth.

Paul Moskowitz
Paul Moskowitz
Paul Moskowitz is a forward-thinking Global Business Leader and Board Member / Advisor with deep experience in human capital strategies for the achievement of business goals. He is a transformation expert with a track record of success in culture evolution, executive compensation and succession planning, change management development and integration execution, corporate governance, talent management, labor strategies, and corporate social responsibility, including diversity, equity & inclusion. In C-suite leadership roles at large organizations, Paul interfaced closely with Boards of Directors, serving as a liaison between executive management and the Boards. His corporate roles include Executive Vice President, Human Resources at Sysco Corporation; Executive Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer at Dean Foods Company; and Chief People Officer, Pizza Hut USA for Yum! Brands. Paul serves as a board member for both commercial and philanthropic organizations and is currently a Growthspace Ambassador.

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