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To Drive Business Success Invest in Your Managers First-level managers have a direct and outsized impact on organizational effectiveness.

By Jim Barnett Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Arguably, the first-level manager is ground zero for both engagement and results. It is here that individual contributors-turned-managers prove their mettle, cutting their teeth on all things managerial and positioning themselves for success in the organization. When they execute well, they're valued as leaders who drive positive success in their teams and throughout the organization.

As the primary influencers of employee engagement and performance, the first-level manager has a direct and outsized impact on organizational effectiveness (an organization's ability to meet its goals). In fact, recent data suggests a clear correlation. According to a study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and Halogen Software, "77 percent of respondents said frontline managers are important in helping their organization reach its business goals."

Related: The 10 Golden Rules of Effective Management

Despite the strong influence of managers on goal achievement, organizations have been inconsistent in making an investment in their development. In fact, the HBR survey found that only 12 percent of respondents felt their organization invests "sufficiently" in the training and development of first-level managers. The misalignment is clear -- and so should be the concern for CEOs and HR leaders. How can organizations take steps to provide more effective training and development to managers?

Team-specific data: A critical resource.

Fortunately, organizations may already be sitting on top of a good portion of what they need to help first-level managers succeed: data. Access to people data is growing by leaps and bounds as organizations begin to collect employee data and feedback on a more continuous basis -- sometimes even in real time -- through connected HRIS systems and more frequent engagement surveys and performance assessments.

The first step to helping managers achieve their potential is to provide them with data on their team's engagement level -- the fuel that drives their performance. Too often, however, team-specific results have been kept at the executive and HR levels and not passed on to managers. Organizations opt instead to share organization-wide results -- a far less effective tool for acting locally and improving team-level engagement and performance, and one that often requires HR teams to be more hands-on in the team-level improvement process than necessary.

By providing managers with team-specific data, organizations can empower managers to take charge and have a real and immediate impact on their employees' engagement and performance. Coupled with analytics, team-level data provides a detailed measurement of the team's health, allowing managers direct insight into unique areas where their teams are excelling and lacking. They can formulate action plans to capitalize on the successes and improve on the missteps, tackling one thing at a time.

Once armed with data and the ability to create a plan for acting on it, the next -- and most important -- step is for first-level managers to constructively discuss the findings with direct reports. This is another area in which CEOs and HR leaders can begin to help, providing the coaching and support that help managers lead constructive discussions and build action plans. The transition from individual contributor to management can be awkward, as new first-level managers are expected to lead, critique, coach, promote and resolve conflicts among their former peers. However, the transition can be made smoother when an organization takes on the right mindset and provides proper training in communication and leadership skills.

Related: 4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Gain More Leadership Training

The following three tips emerge as action items for CEOs and HR leaders to improve the ability of first-level managers to build stronger, more successful teams that drive business outcomes:

1. Buy into radical transparency.

Take the great leap forward to provide your managers with all the data that's available about their teams. This includes engagement levels and employee feedback on manager effectiveness. Today's best leaders see feedback as a gift and not something that is threatening. Attempts made by HR or leaders to protect managers' feelings by not sharing team-specific data prevents them from unlocking the potential of their teams to grow, to be more innovative, and to improve organizational outcomes.

2. Encourage action over scorecards.

Once managers receive team-level data, impress upon them the importance of taking action to make improvements. Every organization -- in fact, every manager -- will do this differently, and that's OK. Encourage them to focus on one or two things and make small improvements every month or quarter. Provide them with tools to create targeted action plans and to learn how to develop in the areas of focus. Most importantly, reinforce that your leadership and HR teams are a resource for support throughout the process.

3. Train managers to be masters of conversation.

One of the best ways to improve manager effectiveness is to help them improve the quality of conversations they are having with their team members. Build a culture of conversations by coaching them to lead frequent, high-quality discussions with their employees. Provide guidelines like timeframes, agendas and suggested questions to keep the conversations informal and to encourage candor. These frequent conversations create a more transparent environment, increased employee engagement, and ultimately, improved performance.

Related: 4 Ways to Make Middle Managers Better Leaders

With an understanding that their role directly influences organizational effectiveness, it makes sense that first-level managers should be equipped to drive team-level employee engagement and performance. Make the necessary investment in your managers to provide the training and development they need to create an environment that fosters retention, growth, and innovation. It's the most critical investment you can make to create an organization that thrives.
Jim Barnett

CEO and Founder, Glint

Jim Barnett is the CEO and co-founder of Glint, a people-success platform on a mission to help people be happier and more successful at work. He believes in conscious leadership, authenticity and the power of purpose-driven work.

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