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5 Business Critical Skills Frontline Needs

Frontline workers have had a huge role to play in the grocery sector over the past few months. As delivery drivers, customer service representatives, and security guards, they’ve been the critical front face of our organizations. But how can you enhance their skill sets to make them your main competitive advantage?

In this article, people development company Insights explore how you can unlock the superpowers of your frontline superheroes and maximize their impact – all through embedding self-awareness in your workforce.

5 Business Critical Skills Frontline Needs

5 Business-Critical Skills Frontline Needs

In this article, you’ll find out…

  • The 5 key skills frontline workers need right now
  • Why self-awareness can enhance performance
  • How to make learning accessible in your workforce

Table of contents

Pandemic Perceptions
Introducing self-awareness
Effective Teamwork
Managing Change
Understand Customers
Conflict Resolution

In this article, we’ll be examining how you can empower your frontline superheroes to unlock their superpowers and show up at their best each day. We do that through the lens of self-awareness, because when it’s only when people understand how they show up that they can play to their strengths. Hope that you can use some of the learning to make an impact in your organization.


Not all superheroes wear capes. But a lot of them wear masks, especially over the past few months. We’re not talking about the usual sorts of superheroes, the kind that is clad in spandex and seen on the big screen. Because even they’ve found themselves impacted by the pandemic, with delays to filming and worldwide cinema closures paying testament to that. No, in recent times we’ve found our superheroes in more unexpected places.

We found them in grocery stores, like delivery drivers, customer services representatives, retail assistants, and security guards. They, along with doctors, nurses, teachers, carers, and much other public-facing staff, found themselves on the frontline.

With the pandemic still having a huge impact on the grocery industry as a whole, we now need to ask ourselves what these incredible people need from their learning and development teams to be resilient, effective and feel supported in their roles.

How can you, as leaders and decision-makers in the grocery sector, enable them to be the very best they can be? Well, just like any other superheroes, our grocery sector workers need – you’ve guessed it – superpowers.

In this article, we hope to support you to recognize the strengths in your frontline teams and find out how to empower them to get the most out of themselves. Because when they show up to work each day, they show up not just as themselves, but also as the face of your organization.

“The big message is that the frontline worker is one of the main competitive advantages. We need more focus on how to maximize that potential.” – Forbes

Pandemic Perceptions

Let’s be honest: if any sectors emerged successfully from the pandemic it would be the grocery sector. However, while it cannot be denied that many organizations have seen a huge uptick in their bottom line as a result of the unprecedented demand during the pandemic, it’s not all been good news stories.

Grocery stores have had a very public role throughout the coronavirus crisis, but with that public role comes great responsibility. While the biggest grocery stores have seen huge increases in their net perception over the past few months (with some seeing a net increase of nearly a quarter) they’ve also experienced negative press stories surrounding the enforcement of coronavirus rules in their stores. Businesses can tip out of favor and customers can take their custom elsewhere, and so the grocery sector cannot be complacent.

The other question is whether the sector is doing enough to support its frontline workers. Are they? Well, according to some reports, the answer is no. One international study across workers in the UK, US, and Australia, reports that nearly two-thirds of the frontline grocery store and retail workers feel left behind by their employers in terms of COVID-19 communication and preparedness. Grocery workers polled lower than other frontline staff surveyed and reported feeling less safe, less supported, less trained, less knowledgeable, and less confident than the average frontline worker, according to the study. Furthermore, they also felt like they hadn’t received adequate training – with only 27% of grocery workers saying they’d been trained for new tasks and roles as needed.

Employees in the grocery sector are having to deal with several issues that didn’t exist pre-pandemic. Panic buying, ensuring customers are socially distanced, and a huge increase in demand for delivery are just a few. We’ve also seen various confrontations centered around masks, with one foundation even offering training in de-escalating conflicts over masks. As organizations, we’re asking frontline workers to take on a huge amount right now. A huge amount. So we need to invest in them too. It’s not enough to roll out training to leadership teams and think that’s a job done; we have to step up for our frontline staff as they’ve done for us.

Introducing self-awareness

At Insights we believe that if you really want to see changes within your organization you have to start with its most important asset. And nope, that’s not profits or process, it’s your people. However, you can really only leverage the impact of your people when they understand themselves better, through developing self-awareness. At Insights, we introduce that idea of self-awareness through the simple language of color. So what exactly do we mean by ‘the language of color’?

Well, we believe that everyone leads with one of four color energy preferences, Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow, Earth Green, and Cool Blue. Each of these color energies shows up in a slightly different way and has different strengths and weaknesses. Equipping people with the knowledge to understand how they show up is incredibly powerful. And when you unlock self-awareness in your frontline staff you empower them to bring their best self to work, and that’s a real game-changer.

The four-color energies

  • Fiery Red: Purposeful, determined, strong-willed, competitive, demanding
  • Sunshine Yellow: Enthusiastic, sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, persuasive
  • Earth Green: Mentoring, patient, collaborative, encouraging, relaxed
  • Cool Blue: Cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal

Over the next few pages, we’ll be covering the five key skills that frontline workers need right now. Those are resilience, effective teamwork, managing change, understanding customers, and conflict resolution.


“When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience.” – Jaeda DeWalt

The last few months have been a struggle for everyone and as ‘lockdown fatigue’ continues to take hold, it’s understandable that our resilience feels at an all-time low. However, for frontline workers, the issue is more pertinent than ever.

According to this article in The Guardian6, research conducted by the UK’s University of Gloucester into the health and well-being of frontline workers during the pandemic found that “[supermarket workers] had higher levels of burnout and lower levels of well-being than both other types of frontline workers, and population norms.” In line with everything we’ve touched on so far, that’s not unsurprising. But what steps can we, as learning and development teams, take to counteract it?

Well, it’s widely noted that “self-awareness is fundamental” for resilience7. Insights Group CEO Andy Lothian wrote a thought leadership piece on resilience in a virtual world8 earlier on in the pandemic, but the message also rings true for the front line. “People who truly understand themselves are more capable of doing the right things right. Self-aware people know what they’re great at, where they fit into teams, when to challenge and when to sit back, where they can be of the most use, and how to turn their ideas into new realities.”

So how does that look in terms of the four-color energies? Let’s take a look…

Most resilient when Least resilient when
Fiery Red They have their own area of responsibility There’s no direction or bigger goal
Sunshine Yellow They can be creative in finding solutions Their ideas are repeatedly pushed back on
Earth Green They can build meaningful connections Their work doesn’t align with their values
Cool Blue They can put their laser-like focus to good use There are disorder and a lack of structure
So how does that look in terms of the four-color energies? Let’s take a look

When it comes to stimulating resilience in their teams, tapping into what makes people tick on an individual level is key. It can’t just be a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s also about creating a culture where people feel comfortable being themselves and can share ideas and bring their preferred working style with them to their role – however that may look.

It’s also widely proven that people are more resilient when they have social support. Making sure teams feel connected is of huge importance to creating resilience, which leads us nicely onto our next chapter…

Effective Teamwork

One key part of developing self-awareness is in understanding not just your own communication preferences, but those of others too.

When frontline staff recognizes the skills that they bring to the table – as well as the individual strengths and skills their colleagues bring – that’s when they can get the most out of themselves and their overall team. However, they can’t do it alone. The support of everyone from store managers to the C-suite is needed. Because frontline staff can only really be empowered if they’re enabled, by the higher-ups, to do so.

As is noted in this article9 by Harvard Business Review, “Great leadership isn’t about pressuring people to do their work. Rather, it is about inspiring your people to want to do their work well, so they can perform adaptively.”

They cite a great example where leaders were asked to acknowledge the key skill – or “professional superpower” – of each member of staff on the team`10. By doing this, they acknowledge both the individual strengths within the team, while also making it easier for colleagues to collaborate and skill-share with each other. But how does that approach work about the four-color energies? Let’s find out…

If the team had a lot of Sunshine Yellow energy you might find they think big and bring lots of new approaches to solutions… but it’s also possible that they may over-promise or struggle to distill these ideas into workable solutions. Add in the analytical nature of workers who lead with Cool Blue energy, who can provide clear facts and structure, and suddenly everything looks a lot different.

The same thing goes for Fiery Red and Earth Green energy. The drive and task focus of Fiery Red is brilliant, but if it can be balanced by the calming nature and community focus of those who lead with Earth Green energy, it’s even better. The key takeaway is this: all four color energies are needed in great teams.

Of course, it’s tricky to do this in a sector with different shift patterns, limited time for meetings, and little space for the usual kinds of team bonding exercises, such as away days. However, a little goes a long way. From allocating mentors to new staff to build bonds and share best practices, taking time to share the team wins – however small – or by simply drumming up the frequency of saying thank you, there are always ways to develop higher performing frontline teams in the grocery sector.

“A champion team will defeat a team of champions.” – John McGrath

Managing Change

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” – Wayne W. Dyer

According to one report11 that surveyed over 500,000 customers in the US, satisfaction with grocers has dipped throughout the pandemic. With numerous pain points at play, this isn’t overly surprising; what was once a routine activity has now become a lot more fraught.

The ever-fluxing nature of the pandemic has also resulted in changes on the frontline. A huge increase in home deliveries, the closure of deli counters in a UK-wide supermarket chain, and then move into more ‘no contact’ self-checkout facilities are all examples of where the day-to-day role of an individual may have changed overnight. In any job, that can be difficult.

Let’s be clear: it’s never just leaders that need to be equipped to effectively handle change – it’s everyone. Why? Because while change is a constant these days, not everyone will respond to it in the same way. Some employees may thrive on the pace of change and be energized by being able to adapt and flex in different roles. For others, the opposite may be true – they might be confused or frustrated by frequent changes, especially if they’re poorly communicated or ordered from head office without due consideration given to individual circumstances. But when frontline workers understand themselves better, then they can be better prepared to respond to change.

Change by color energy

Fiery Red

Superpower: They’ll jump straight in

Those who lead with a preference for Fiery Red energy are task-focused, so they’ll quickly map out an action plan and demonstrate results – fast.

Sunshine Yellow

Superpower: Their enthusiasm is infectious

They’ll encourage everyone to come on that journey with them. If they’re pitching the benefits of change, you can’t help but buy-in!

Earth Green

Superpower: They focus on the people impact

They’ll make sure that everyone feels heard – they’ll put people first and aim to create consensus before they take action forward.

Cool Blue

Superpower: They won’t rush in

They will ensure that everything is done carefully and methodically – they’ll analyze the situation and decide the best approach.

The most important takeaway is this: line managers can harness all of these different individual strengths. After all, as this LinkedIn article12 notes, “In a time of crisis, we tend to fall back on who we are at our core – our strengths.”

You might not be able to make everyone ‘like’ change, but having a better understanding of how people may respond to it can be used to your advantage. What different approaches could you incorporate? Do you need to recruit some of your team to help positively communicate the change? Should you create time for discussion so that everyone can share what they think? Could you ask some of your team to utilize their skills to support the rollout? Considering all of the individual responses is key.

Understand Customers

According to LinkedIn, emotional intelligence was one of the most in-demand skills last year13. But what is it exactly? Well, emotional intelligence is about having a better understanding of what you feel and why you feel that way, as well as, crucially, having a better understanding of others’ perspectives too. It’s been identified as being an important component of self-awareness, and vice versa14.

As we’ve seen with technology, personalization is a big part of creating a great customer experience – and it’s something that more and more organizations are incorporating into their marketing and customer retention strategies. But it’s not just about apps, emails, and tech of course.

How can your frontline staff bring that element of personalization to their customer conversations? Well, not every customer is the same, and being able to tune into their personal communication style is critical for getting the most out of your customer’s conversations. That’s the smart thing about self-awareness; once you understand your own communication preferences you can also apply them to others. Let’s dig into that a little deeper…

Let’s think about a customer with a preference for Cool Blue energy, for example. When they ring up a customer service helpline or appear in a face-to-face environment, they’re going to show up in a certain way.

They’re probably going to be pretty formal in their communication style. They might be well-prepared with some key pieces of information that they want to put to this frontline member of staff. They may also have a lot of questions. How effectively frontline staff can manage and resolve this situation is dependent on them being able to ‘read the room’ and understand what this individual is looking for.

With nearly eight in ten Americans15 saying that they wouldn’t shop with a retailer ever again if they encountered bad customer service, getting this right can’t be underestimated. We’re living in stressful times, and people aren’t always showing up at their best. However, by keeping the focus on customer care and personalization we can try to make those interactions more positive for everyone.

“Make the customer the hero of your story.” – Ann Handley

Conflict Resolution

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties: you alter the difficulties, or you alter yourself to meet them.” – Phyllis Bottome

As we touched on earlier, frontline staff in the grocery sector are now having to manage several emotionally-charged scenarios that simply didn’t exist in previous years. Enforcing social distancing, restricting the number of customers in-store, limiting the number of purchases customers can make of specific items, and ensuring customers are all wearing masks, are just a few examples. It’s not surprising that these situations can quickly escalate, but the statistics on the subject are really quite alarming. According to an Usdaw survey16 of 5,000 retail staff conducted in 2020, 61% of shopworkers reported abuse during the pandemic, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

While of course, several security measures need to be put in place at an organizational level – and possibly even written in law – it’s also helpful for frontline workers to understand what they can bring to these challenging conversations. When communication with customers becomes fraught, what can they do to help diffuse it and create a positive outcome?

That’s when they can lean on their personal communication style. For each of the four-color energies that may be slightly different. Let’s take a look at that in a bit more detail on the next page.

Conflict resolution by color

  • Fiery Red energy: their strength is being able to handle difficult conversations robustly – and map out solutions.
  • Sunshine Yellow energy: their persuasive and upbeat manner and big idea problem solving can resolve issues quickly.
  • Earth Green energy: their natural empathy and desire for consensus can be effective in quickly cooling down heated exchanges.
  • Cool Blue energy: they draw on their level-headed communication style and preference for keeping conversations grounded in fact.

For line managers, being available to support staff through conflict is key. Encouraging transparency, support, and a clear escalation framework for these kinds of situations is critical. However, it’s also important to empower individuals to develop a better understanding of themselves, so they know how to play to their strengths in a conflict situation. When people know what they’re good at – and what they’re not so good at – it means that they can be much more in control of the situation. In challenging circumstances, that may just prevent escalation.


According to McKinsey’s research17, “64 percent of customers choose to buy from socially responsible brands”. This is an interesting figure, as a few months ago we would probably mostly associate a socially responsible brand with one that offsets its carbon footprint or committed to limiting the amount of plastic packaging on their products. Those things remain incredibly important, of course, but the pandemic has also made us prick up our ears and tune more closely into the social responsibility organizations have to their people and, in particular: their frontline staff.

Social responsibility towards your staff shouldn’t just be about firefighting; providing PPE and putting safety measures in place. It should also be about making sure your frontline workers are treated with the same consideration as any member of your team. It’s about empathy, inclusivity, and empowering your workers with the skills that enable them to do the best possible job they can. And it’s only by doing this that you can unlock their ‘superpowers’.

That’s why we’re so proud of our digital learning tool, Insights Explore. It’s been specifically designed with frontline workers – who don’t always get that level of investment – in mind. Created as a learner-aid to self-development, it enables all staff to reap the benefits of learning and development training in a self-led, mobile, and accessible way. It introduces the memorable four-color language and supports frontline workers in understanding their communication preferences and how they show up to others – all without the need for classroom time.

We also can’t ignore the commercial value of doing this. By putting the spotlight on your frontline staff you create a real competitive advantage for your organization. In a time where industry giants are falling and the impact of the pandemic continues to press down hard on all of us, we all have to be savvy about where we spend our budgets. But when we’re talking about future-proofing your business, what could be more important than future-proofing your frontline?

Five superpowers frontline staff can leverage right now

  • Resilience: Self-awareness is fundamental to resilience – particularly in a sector that has higher levels of burnout than others. However, it’s also up to leaders to create a climate that will enable resilience.
  • Effective teamwork: Creating a great team is about recognizing the diversity of strengths in that team. When these skills and qualities are openly shared and discussed, great teams are made.
  • Managing change: You can’t make people ‘like’ change, but you can equip them with everything they need to make it as positive and productive an experience as possible. And that begins with self-awareness.
  • Understanding customers: Great customer service is more important than ever, and by tuning into individual customer needs and offering a personalized experience each time, frontline staff will come up trumps.
  • Conflict resolution: Unfortunately conflict has been a real issue in the grocery sector, but when individuals know how to play to their strengths in a conflict situation that can be a real support.
  • Insights Explore: All of these superpowers can be leveraged through self-understanding. If you want to find out how our digital tool, Insights Explore, can jump-start self-awareness in your frontline workers get in touch today.

Source: Insights