Span of Control: How Many Employees Should Your Supervisors Manage?

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Span of Control How Many Employees Should Your Supervisors Manage supervising employees effectively ideal span of control

How many employees do your supervisors manage? Has your organization considered the effects of what narrow or wide supervisory and managerial spans of control mean for your employees and the levels of support and empowerment they receive on-the-job?

Have you considered how your decisions regarding the number of levels of reporting in your organization and given to your supervisors and managers influence job satisfaction, communication practices, and your overall organizational culture? The structure of your organization matters for these reasons and more.

Defining span of control

Span of control refers to the number of subordinates that can be managed effectively and efficiently by supervisors or managers in an organization. Typically, it is either narrow or wide resulting in a flatter or more hierarchical organizational structure. Each type has its inherent advantages and disadvantages.

Narrow Span

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Have more levels of reporting in the organization, resulting in a more heirarchical organization
  • Supervisors can spend time with employees and supervise them more closely
  • Creates more development, growth, and advancement opportunities
  • More expensive (high cost of management staff, office, etc.)
  • More supervisory involvement in work could lead to less empowerment and delegation and more micromanagement
  • Tends to result in communication difficulties and excessive distance between the top and bottom levels in the organization

Wide Span

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Have fewer levels of reporting in the organization, resulting in a more flexible, flatter organization
  • Ideal for supervisors mainly responsible for answering questions and helping to solve employees problems
  • Encourages empowerment of employees by giving more responsibility, delegation and decision-making power to them
  • Tends to result in greater communication efficiencies and frequent exposure to the top level of the organization
  • May lead to overloaded supervisors if employees require much task direction, support, and supervision
  • May not provide adequate support to employees leading to decreased morale or job satisfaction

Optimal span of control

Three or four levels of reporting typically are sufficient for most organizations, while four to five are generally sufficient for all organizations but the largest organizations (Hattrup, 1993). This is consistent with ERC’s survey findings as well. Ideally in an organization, according to modern organizational experts is approximately 15 to 20 subordinates per supervisor or manager. However, some experts with a more traditional focus believe that 5-6 subordinates per supervisor or manager is ideal. In general, however, optimum span of control depends on various factors including:

  • Organization size: The size of an organization is a great influencer. Larger organizations tend to have wider spans of control than smaller organizations.
  • Nature of an organization: The culture of an organization can influence; a more relaxed, flexible culture is consistent with wider; while a hierarchical culture is consistent with narrow. It is important to consider the current and desired culture of the organization when determining.
  • Nature of job: Routine and low complexity jobs/tasks require less supervision than jobs that are inherently complicated, loosely defined and require frequent decision making. Consider wider for jobs requiring less supervision and narrower for more complex and vague jobs.
  • Skills and competencies of manager: More experienced supervisors or managers can generally be wider than less experienced supervisors. It’s best to also consider to what degree supervisors and managers are responsible for technical aspects of the job (non-managerial duties).
  • Employees skills and abilities: Less experienced employees require more training, direction, and delegation (closer supervision, narrow); whereas more experienced employees requires less training, direction, and delegation (less supervision, wider).
  • Type of interaction between supervisors and employees: More frequent interaction/supervision is characteristic of a narrower.  Less interaction, such as supervisors primarily just answering questions and helping solve employee problems, is characteristic of a wider. The type of interaction you want your supervisors and managers to engage in with their employees should be consistent with the control they are given.

In addition, special consideration should be given to the direct reports of executive and senior management levels. Typically, the number of direct reports for these individuals are lower than supervisors and managers as too many direct reports at these levels can complicate communication and lengthen response time for crucial decisions.  

Sources:

  • Bell, R. R. & McLaughlin, F. S. (1977). Span of control in organizations. Industrial Management.
  • Davison, B. (2003). Management span of control: how wide is too wide? Journal of Business Strategy.
  • Gupta, A. (2010). Organization’s size and span of control. Practical Management: Transforming Theories into Practice.
  • Hattrup, G. P. (1993). How to establish the proper span of control for managers. Industrial Management.
  • Juneja, H. Span of control in an organization.

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What to Do When Managers Behave Badly

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What to Do When Managers Behave Badly

A new national study of leadership uncovered that many managers and senior managers lack the behaviors required to be good leaders. This calls into question: what if our managers are behaving badly with our employees, and what should we do about it?

In many organizations, managers behave badly, negatively affecting employees and the workplace environment, and putting their companies at risk. Bad management behavior can range from minor to major offenses, but can be destructive, eventually chase away great employees, and sometimes even cause a lawsuit.
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10 Things Successful Supervisors Do Differently

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how to be an effective supervisor how to be a supervisor becoming a supervisor 10 Things Successful Supervisors Do Differently

We've all had good supervisors and bad ones, and chances are we remember the characteristics of both pretty vividly. The good ones probably stick out as people who have made a positive impact on our work lives and who made us more successful in our careers. The bad ones probably showed us the type of supervisors that we don't want to be and the mistakes we don't want to make.

Outstanding supervisors can create a profound ripple effect in their organizations. Their behavior, integrity, and treatment rubs off on others for the better. Not only do supervisors directly impact their team members, but they indirectly affect others. The people they supervise and manage frequently move on to lead others, often in a way that emulates how they were supervised.

Here are ten things that successful supervisors do differently.
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10 Employment Laws that Supervisors Need to Know

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10 Employment Laws that Supervisors Need to Know

Supervisors and managers have a shared responsibility with HR in making sure that their interactions and relations with employees are compliant with federal and state employment laws. Here are ten (10) of the most important employment laws that supervisors need to be aware of and the major responsibilities that supervisors typically are responsible for in ensuring compliance.

1. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Purpose:

To prohibit job discrimination in the workplace

Overview:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act covers an employer who has fifteen (15) or more employees and prohibits discrimination against any individual on the bases of race, religion, color, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), sexual orientation, parental status, national origin, age, disability, family medical history or genetic information, political affiliation, military service, or any other non-merit based factor. The law also protects individuals from harassment in the workplace.

Supervisor Responsibilities:  

Supervisors must treat all employees and applicants consistently and equally, without regard to their race, color, religion, gender, national origin or any other characteristics that are protected under law. Supervisors are not to base any employment decisions on these protected characteristics, cannot deny opportunities to an individual because of their characteristics, and cannot retaliate against an employee. Supervisors are to treat all employees respectfully and avoid unwanted/unwelcomed behavior that constitutes harassment.
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The 5 Most Common Pitfalls of Performance Reviews

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Performance reviews are important tools that managers can use to boost employee performance and productivity to higher levels, but often fall prey to some common mistakes. As your organization prepares to review employee performance in the coming months, we recommend avoiding these 5 pitfalls.

 
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4 Questions Every Manager Needs to Answer

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Successful, effective performance management by managers essentially boils down to simply answering 4 key questions for your employees.

What is expected of me?

Managers have an obligation to tell employees what is expected of them in terms of job responsibilities, projects, and goals or objectives. After all, how can you hold employees accountable without telling them exactly what you need and clearly defining what they are supposed to be doing? This question should be answered at the beginning of the performance management process each year and whenever expectations or responsibilities change. Specifically, managers should clarify and define three types of expectations:

  • what employees should do on the job (responsibilities, duties, key projects, etc.)
  • how employees should do the job (behaviors, attitudes, competencies, etc.)
  • results to be achieved over a specific timeframe (such as deadlines, goals, levels of performance, etc.)

How am I doing?

Throughout the year, managers must provide honest and accurate feedback and coaching to help employees understand how they are doing and progressing, as well as to assist them in staying on track with their performance. Feedback should include an honest assessment of employees' strengths and weaknesses and could be achieved through regular one-on-one meetings with their supervisor, formal mid-year or quarterly check-point meetings, and a final end-of-year evaluation discussion.

Although informal feedback is crucial, over the course of the year, managers should meet formally with employees a few times (at least twice) to revisit their progress on key projects and goals, address performance problems, and create conditions that help motivate employees in achieving their goals.

Don't expect your managers to take the initiative on coaching and feedback without some structure. Some managers can thrive with this informality, but many others can't. Teach them coaching and feedback methods and require structured interactions to ensure that employees receive the support they need.

Where can I improve?

Where organizations often miss the mark with performance management is viewing the process as merely a judgment and administrative record of employees' performance. While evaluation is fundamental to the process, performance management also seeks to develop employees' performance and potential to increasingly higher levels.

Based on their on-going assessment of performance, managers should identify opportunities for employees to develop their potential and discuss those periodically with employees. These opportunities may be improving performance deficiencies, attending training, focusing on skill development, or taking on new projects/assignments.

At times, the performance management process also involves answering the question "Where am I going?" in terms of discussing potential career paths and internal mobility and the requirements for moving into higher and different roles in the organization, particularly if these opportunities are tied to performance in their current job.

What’s the big picture?

Incorporating your mission, vision, values, and strategy into the performance management process helps focus your employees on the tasks, projects, and behaviors that matter most to the organization and its growth - especially if your performance management process is aimed at helping your organization meet its objectives and furthering its mission. Equally as important is to discuss how these components link to employees' performance and why certain tasks and goals are important to the organization's success. Consider...

  • integrating your mission, vision, values, and strategy into the performance review form
  • cascading goals from the top of the organization to individuals
  • continually discussing how employees' goals and responsibilities are tied to the organization's goals and objectives

When viewing performance management through the lens of these important questions, your managers can answer the questions that matter most to your employees and that are most important to their success.

Additional Resources

Performance Management Practices Survey
This survey explores performance management practices among Northeast Ohio employers and gathers information related to performance reviews, performance criteria, role of the supervisor in managing performance, and other performance management issues.

Performance Management Consulting ERC offers expert support for performance management projects including performance review form development, competency development, performance management system development, and more. For more information about how we can assist you with your performance management initiative, please contact us at 440/684-9700.

Performance Management Training ERC offers a variety of Performance Management topics based on your needs including performance review discussion/delivery/documentation, coaching, goal-setting, and feedback. Programs can be geared toward different audiences, including: HR Managers, managers and supervisors that deliver performance reviews; and employees that are involved in the discussion.

3 Things Managers Do That Disengage Employees

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Engagement is often viewed as just an "HR thing" when in fact, managers play an even more important role in engaging employees day-to-day. Managers, however, may not realize how their actions engage or disengage employees and how that affects their team's performance and productivity. Here are 3 things managers do which can unintentionally disengage employees.

1. Devalue

Unfortunately, feeling undervalued is a common problem in the workplace and it affects engagement considerably. Instead of focusing on performance and creating value, employees who feel devalued spend their energy trying to defend or prove their value and typically underperform in the process. There are a number of common reasons and situations that could cause an employee to feel devalued, such as:

  • not being recognized or acknowledged for a job well done, or ignored
  • being passed over for a promotion or transferred/assigned to a new area
  • feeling under-challenged or that they are working below their capabilities
  • receiving a lower than expected pay increase, performance rating, etc.
  • being unfairly treated or denied a request for leave, additional flexibility, etc.
  • not being listened/responded to or asked for their input

Managers usually don't intend to make employees feel devalued, but the absence of acknowledgement and the effects of how they treat other employees or the decisions they make can inevitably backfire and leave employees feeling undervalued and disengaged.

2. Distrust

Trust is also vital to employee engagement. Loss of employee trust in leaders or their managers can create havoc on engagement. Disengaged employees who lose trust in their managers spend more time wondering what truths their managers are trying to hold back from them or questioning their manager's honesty, than creating and driving results.

Managers can lose employees' trust in ways that they may not realize. Saying one thing and doing another is a major reason that trust can be broken. If you promise something to an employee (even if it was years prior), they expect you to follow-through. Keeping your word and being consistent is the best way to keep employees' trust.

Micromanaging or over-controlling how tasks are completed and limiting employees' autonomy can also create distrust. If employees feel like you don't trust or believe in their capabilities, they may reciprocate and not trust you. Trust is a two way street, and you must be willing to give trust to gain it.

Other ways managers create distrust inadvertently are by publically criticizing employees or drawing attention to their weaknesses, keeping secrets and withholding information, making changes without honestly communicating why, telling half-truths, not practicing what they preach, and sugarcoating problems or situations. Every manager makes one of these mistakes at one time or another and the negative effects can be difficult to reverse.

3. Disconnect

Employees become disengaged when they don't have a good connection with their manager, or when a positive dynamic with their boss changes. For many employees, their boss is one of the most important people in their work-life. As a result, positive, supportive relationships between employees and their managers play a critical role in engaging employees.

When employees and managers stop communicating with one another regularly or when a positive manager-employee relationship turns sour, a disconnect can occur. Being able to resolve and manage conflicts with employees is a skill managers need to maintain their relationships and connections with employees.

Sometimes disconnects happen without managers realizing it. For example, managers can commonly grow apart from employees with significant tenure or those that don't need as much development. Also, managers can often find themselves operating in a vacuum, busily engaged in tasks and projects, but failing to make time for their people. They may become invisible to their staff or a particular employee. They may also not spend enough time trying to develop rapport with employees.

Connecting, developing trust, and valuing employees are three key ways managers can drive engagement. In the ongoing quest for an engaged, productive, and high-performing workforce, managers must realize how their everyday actions or lack of action can disengage employees and give them the skills and insights to create an engaged team.

Additional Resources

Management & Leadership Development

ERC offers a range of courses to develop supervisors, middle managers, and leaders including popular topics such as communication, conflict resolution, time and priority management, emotional intelligence, and performance management. 

4 Ways to Become a Manager Employees Want to Follow

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Are your managers people who your employees want to follow?  Do your managers regularly encounter resistance and wonder why they can't achieve the results they want or why their employees won't follow their lead? More importantly, are employees just following managers because they are the boss, or because they are genuinely inspired and motivated by their leadership?

"Why won't they listen and follow me?" is one of the most common frustrations managers have. Few realize, however, that it takes more than just authority, a position of power, and demands to get people to truly follow you and engage in your vision. Engaged followership is also not something that happens overnight. It takes days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years to position yourself as a trusted, respected, and emotionally intelligent leader that people take pride in following. You earn your followers with your words, actions, and attitudes.

How do you become a manager people want to follow? Start simple. Ask employees these questions on a regular basis.

How are you?

This question conveys that you care not just about the work, but about employees as people. Naturally, employees follow managers who care about them and will resist managers who show indifference to their needs and interests. Managers who take time to have intentional conversations, demonstrate an interest in the people who work for them, and learn about employees as individuals, gain followers. Care elicits trust and trust breeds followers. Here's a quick self-check to determine how well you are showing you care about your people:

  • Do you know your employees' spouses and children's names?
  • Do you know your employee's birthday? 
  • Do you know what your employee does for fun?
  • Do you know what your employee's personal goals are?
  • Do you know what your employee's personal challenges are?
  • Do you ever go above and beyond to help employees with something non-work related?
  • Do you ever call or visit employees to see how things are going at work and personally?

How can I support you?

Do you convey that employees are at work to serve you and help you reach your goals, or do you believe that you are there to serve them and help employees reach their objectives? Asking this question shows that you are focused on serving employees and their needs and not just yourself. Conversely, when employees sense that you are just trying to use them as a means to an end, they usually won't follow you.

Great managers who are followed are those that serve their people by resolving problems and going to great lengths to support their people. They view their role as servants to their followers and not their followers as servants to themselves. This mindset radically changes their behavior as managers. They become more concerned with how they can meet their employees' needs and prioritize those needs above their own.

How can I help you succeed?

People want to work for a winning team. Employees follow managers who make the right decisions and lead them in the right direction. Exceptional managers pave the way for employees' success - not their failure.  They get people from point A to point B.

In order to do this, managers must be effective at managing work and achieving results through others to gain the respect of their followers. Managers who are able to lead and coach their teams and employees with effective problem solving, goal-setting, planning, and management of the work, have team members who want to follow them.

Similarly, managers who help their employees and their teams do better gain followership. Managers who show their employees the right way to work, help them develop their skills and capabilities, redirect them when they do something wrong, and build a competent team gain followers. People follow managers that make them better employees.

What do you think?

People want to follow managers who are interested in their perspectives, suggestions, and involvement. It makes them feel important and purposeful. When invited to contribute to a new project, be involved in creating a new product/service, or asked to provide their views on an issue, employees feel empowered. Managers who consistently ask employees for their opinions, ideas, and involvement and consider a diversity of perspectives can gain lasting followers.

Don't ask these questions just once or even a few times. Keep asking them of your employees (perhaps in different ways) over and over again. They will make employees feel cared for, empowered, worthwhile, and supported -- and those positive feelings will inevitably help turn an average employee into an engaged follower.

Just Promoted to Supervisor? Here's What to Know About New Manager Training

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Every organization faces the challenge of new manager training: transitioning an employee from team player to team leader. This transition from employee to supervisor is one of the hardest an employee must make in their career. After the promotion occurs, what should you do to make sure the transition goes smoothly and that your new supervisor is successful in their new role?

One best practice is to approach the transition like you would on-board a new employee. Would you expect your new employee to learn by trial and error? Probably not. Like a new employee, anticipate that new supervisors need both initial and on-going training and support to perform their new role and responsibilities. Similar to on-boarding, the more you develop your employee upfront, the less redirection is needed later. Here are some suggestions.

1. Clarify expectations and priorities.

Most new supervisors have little clarity regarding what their priorities and expectations should be in their new role and aren't prepared to be effective in their new role. As a first step, spend time discussing their new responsibilities and performance expectations and how these have changed from their previous role.

2. Discuss your organization's management philosophy.

Every organization has management norms and a certain style of leadership that supports its culture, so it's important to discuss with your new supervisor how your organization expects employees to be managed. This helps ensure that employees are supervised consistently throughout the organization.

3. Schedule them for new manager training sooner than later.

Schedule employees for supervisory training as close to the time of promotion as possible or even prior to the transition, particularly for softer skills (i.e. communication, conflict management, etc.). Make sure new supervisors are set-up with the most critical baseline skills they need to be successful on the job. This will minimize common new supervisor mistakes.

4. Brief them on managerial procedures.

Administering a performance review, conducting a write-up, handling employee leave, or dealing with a grievance are just a few of many complicated issues in which your new supervisor has never been exposed. Make sure supervisors are knowledgeable about correct procedures to handle these issues and can access the proper paperwork and guidance.

5. Coach them on critical conversations.

Your supervisor will soon find themselves in tricky situations such as dealing with an underperforming employee, high-performing but dissatisfied employee, employee who comes to work late, or a team that isn't working together. These situations require difficult conversations and often require new manger training. Consider counseling and role-playing with them on the right and wrong things to say in these conversations and how to handle and mitigate common employee problems.

6. Provide time to interact with other managers.

One of the best ways for your new supervisor to learn the ropes of management is to spend time with other experienced managers and excellent leadership role models who can encourage and guide them, listen to their challenges and frustrations, and help them learn through their own experiences.

7. Encourage self-awareness.

It's unlikely that your newly promoted employee has ever considered how their interpersonal style helps or impedes their effectiveness. As soon as they start managing people, however, the quirks of their interpersonal styles (how they deal with conflict, their communication preferences, their personality, etc.) become apparent. Provide tools to help them become more aware of their style and behavior and flex it to meet others' needs and become a more effective manager.

8. Redirect their natural reflexes.

Every new supervisor experiences some natural reflexes—including the urge to do the work themselves and impose their ways of doing things on others without building consensus or asking for input. New supervisors will need to be encouraged to fight their natural reflexes to go back to the tactics that made them successful in their prior role.

9. Suggest resources.

Recommend books, tools, articles, blogs, job aids, and other tools for your new supervisor to access in order to become a better manager. Better yet, create a library of these resources at your organization. This will also help your other managers in their on-going management development.

10. Observe their transition to identify additional areas of development.

In their first few weeks and months on the job, observe how their transition is going. Specific issues to observe may include how much (or little) they are delegating, how they are interacting with their employees, and their team's performance. Talk to the new supervisor and employees on the supervisor's team to gather additional feedback. If you notice issues early on and correct them, it's unlikely that they will escalate.

You can never fully prepare managers for all of the challenges they will face, but by providing training, guidance, and support to supervisors before they hit the front-lines you can set them up to succeed as new leaders.

Interested in learning more about training your supervisors?

Submit your contact information and receive instant access to a video highlighting our process and a brochure featuring our courses, delivery methods, and success stories.

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4 Signs of a Struggling Manager

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Employers frequently find themselves unaware of struggling managers before they end up causing deep-seated issues in departments like turnover, distrust, disengagement, and under-performance. Here are 4 observable and measurable ways that you can determine whether your managers are struggling on the job before it’s too late.

1. Morale shift.

Take a look at the morale of the department and you can tell who is an effective manager and who isn’t. For example, are employees engaged or just going through the motions? Do employees seem happy? Has there been a marked shift in attitude? Do employees feel valued and appreciated? Is there a strong team atmosphere or is collaboration lacking? That’s not to say that other organizational factors may not influence morale, but a manager can strongly influence morale even in spite of these factors if they are doing their job right.

2. Level of interaction.

How often do managers interact with their employees to communicate, provide feedback, thank or praise them, and learn about them as individuals? Do you ever see managers working side by side with their employees? If one-on-one interaction does not occur at least weekly (or better yet – daily), this may be a symptom of a problem. Be wary of the manager that hides out in their office for hours at a time or spends 90% of their time in meetings as they are probably not spending enough time interacting with their employees.

3. By the numbers.

Numbers usually illuminate a struggling manager better than anything else. For example, how many individuals have gotten recognized by their manager in the past year? What do promotion and internal mobility rates look like within the department? Are employees reaching their goals? How many employees received improved performance ratings from last year? What was the average pay raise or bonus in the manager’s department or work group? How much time are employees spending on development? These are just a few of many numbers and HR metrics that can tell you which managers may be less effective than others.

4. Work systems.

The most prevalent way that you can identify who may need help with management is by taking a look at their systems or symptoms of system issues. For example, if employees are confused about expectations, directions, or work assignments; working plenty of extra hours or overtime to get their job done; or report not having the resources to get their jobs done, there’s probably a problem with the manager’s systems of managing work.  Similarly, if employees don’t seem challenged, act bored, or feel micromanaged, there’s likely an issue with the manager’s approach to delegation.

So before management problems get the best of your organization, be sure you’re observing and measuring these things to determine whether some of your managers could do their jobs more effectively.

Additional Resources

Supervisory Series

This series provides participants with practical skills, tools, and strategies to advance their supervisory skills, enhance their effectiveness as supervisors, lead employees with confidence, and execute results. Specifically, participants will learn how to lead and manage change, build and work with teams, and manage generational differences and diversity. They will also explore the skills of problem solving and decision making as well as managing day-to-day work through delegating, planning, and managing time.