Paul Hersey

How many managers does a company really need?

too many managers not enough workersIs there an ideal percentage of managers in a company? Yes, but it depends on the situation.

“The organization chart will initially reflect the first system design, which is almost surely not the right one.  As one learns, the design changes.  Management structure also needs to be changed as the system changes.” – Fred Brooks

So how many managers does a company really need?  In the Human Resource arena this is called analyzing the Span of Control; this means the number of employees that directly report to a single manager.  On one end you can have a narrow span where each manager has few employees – this results in very close supervision and allows for greater coaching and mentoring one on one.  This is useful in situations where either the employees or the team is new, or where the tasks are highly specialized and require frequent interactions.  On the opposite end is a broad span where each manager has many employees – this model has less direct oversight from the manager and is usually used when managing simple repetitive tasks and/or an experienced team.

The trick to picking the right span of control model, is to fit the model to the task and the people performing the task. Which means there is no one right answer. 

Situational Leadership

In the 1970’s Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey developed what they called the Situational Leadership Model.   This is a four box model that matches the leadership style and span of control needs with the task and competence level of the people performing the task.

“Effective leaders need to be flexible, and must adapt themselves according to the situation.” – Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey

situational leadership chart 1Leadership Style

S1: Telling – Is the most basic of leadership styles. It is used when managing a new and often repetitive task where the employees are likely to be novices.  In this quadrant the manager can handle many employees as their role is simply telling the team what, how, when to perform the tasks.  The manager can oversee the entire group at once.

S2: Selling – In this quadrant, the manager is still working with employees that are on the more junior experience side.  But now, the role has changed from just getting the work done, to training the employees to become more proficient, learning why the work is done the way it is, and gaining their buy-in to the process.  The manager will have a smaller team so they can invest time coaching, mentoring and selling the process.

S3: Participating – The manager now moves from directing how the work is done as in the prior two quadrants, to partnering with the employees to develop the best methods.  These managers will have smaller teams as they invest significant time discussing methods and drawing out ideas from their employees.

S4: Delegating – In this final quadrant, the manager can once again can handle a larger team as the highly experienced team has been delegated responsibility and authority to perform the tasks and make decisions about the best methods to accomplish the tasks.  The manager’s role is once again to monitor the entire team’s results.

Keep in mind that employees can move amongst the quadrants as they take on new opportunities where they have less experience.  That is why this is called situational leadership – the right style and right span of control depends on the situation.


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