A Peerless Strategic Opportunity:
The First-line Manager20/1LM20

The evidence is clear: Employee satisfaction and like variables are significantly, even overwhelmingly, linked to the employee's relationship with her or his first-line manager. While first-line managers are considered to be of great importance, in my experience few companies truly obsess on every aspect of their care and feeding. In fact, my observations suggest that such things as first-line manager training regimes are often of questionable quality. This is a strategic mistake. More important, a lost strategic opportunity.

What follows is a long way from the "last word"—in fact it is the "first word" from me, and simply an indicative list aimed to stir your analytic juices.

Herewith, my First-line Manager20:

  1. The selection process for 1st-line managers (1LMs) should be as rigorous as that of, say, vice presidents. "360" evaluations are a must. Perhaps a selection committee should be appointed, which includes other 1LMs.
  2. New hires should be selected in part on the likelihood of subsequent promotion to 1LM, and this goal should be formally emphasized from the start of their tenure.
  3. 1LM slots that are open should not be filled until an appropriate (superior beyond a shadow of doubt) candidate is found.
  4. 1LMs should be given long probation periods—perhaps 6 months.
  5. New 1LMs should "shadow" senior 1LMs for a significant period of time.
  6. 1LM training programs should be evaluated far and wide, and, based on "best practices," a stellar/"Wow" 1LM training program should be developed. The "basic" course and intensive continuing-ed curriculum should aim to win "best in class" awards.
  7. 1LM designees should receive superior evaluations in "basic training" or be put on probation.
  8. Given the abiding importance of cross-functional communication and coordination and synergy, 1LM selection and training and subsequent evaluation should emphasize measurable performance on this dimension. (Poor marks on XF performance should be cause at any time for probation or, after fair notice, removal from the job.)
  9. Senior officers (including the CEO) and highly rated-regarded 1LMs should present parts of 1LM training modules, especially the "basic training" program.
  10. "People development" should be the central element of 1LM training. (The "people development" training modules should be award-winning.)
  11. Success as precisely measured in "people development" should be the central element of 1LM evaluation.
  12. "Business" training should also be a central part of 1LM training.
  13. 1LMs should be treated as the company's principal "culture carriers" and principal "change agents"—and be treated and trained and "used" accordingly.
  14. The abiding importance–Excellence of our portfolio of 1LMs should be considered a formal "core value" of the enterprise.
  15. A portfolio of "outside" training courses for 1LMs should be available during the entire tenure in the job.
  16. Every 1LM should have two assigned mentors, one from within the 1LM's department, one from outside. One of the two should be a fellow 1LM. The mentoring process should be carefully constructed, not "catch as catch can;" mentors should be evaluated on their results.
  17. 1LM reviews should be monthly during the probationary period, quarterly thereafter; these reviews should be carefully designed and rigorous by any standard.
  18. Every department head should evaluate her or his "portfolio" of 1LMs regularly; the quality and continuing development of the 1LM portfolio should in turn be a central element in the evaluation of department heads and division heads.
  19. A senior HR exec and a senior "line" exec (and perhaps an outsider) should formally evaluate the company's 1LM portfolio annually.
  20. After the 1st year of 1LM service, the 1LM should be trained for and become a mentor of new 1LMs. Henceforth, mentoring success or failure should be a central measure of the 1LM's performance.