In Effecting Change, The Details Matter a Lot: Three Issues for First-line Leadership

A striking pattern was evident when reviewing the results of our CREW interventions. The more thoroughly employees implemented the program, the greater the impact. Further, the more thoroughly each individual participated in CREW activities, the greater that individual’s personal benefit.

Okay, that’s not all that surprising, but striking nonetheless.

A person with a significant impact on a workgroup’s thoroughness is the first-line manager. Improving the situation requires focusing on that person’s unique perspective. The pattern observed above suggests three important points about first-line leaders:

  1. They make the details happen. A first line manager has the most direct line to structuring employees’ day-to-day work patterns. CREW requires fitting a new activity into the life of a busy work unit. Although distant leadership has an essential role endorsing the organization’s commitment to collegiality, the first-line manager addresses the challenge of coordinating the actions that put that ideal into practice.
  2. They emphasize what they value. Most first-line managers have more than enough to fill their day. The time and energy demands of their work require them to make choices. Whenever they have latitude, those choices will tend towards emphasizing the activities they personally value. The depth of a leader’s buy-in to an initiative is a good predictor of its success.
  3. They appreciate support. First line leaders often operate beyond their supply lines. They look to organizational leaders and to consultants for meaningful support for innovation. Without something forthcoming, they may conclude that the initiative isn’t really all that important. At least, it’s not really feasible.

Leading change requires a broad vision. But broad visions may founder without someone putting the details in order. First line leaders have a special role in that process.

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