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March 26, 2008

How Many Employees Should a Manager Supervise?

Filed under: Performance Management2:36 pm

There’s certainly no right answer to the question. It definitely depends on the nature of an organization, types of positions involved, role of the manager, and a number of other things. But the subject comes up periodically in HR literature, often driven by consultants and professors who observe business trends but may never manage staff. Managers, naturally, have their own ideas about the number of employees they can successfully oversee. A recent (3/24/08) Wall Street Journal article “Overseeing More Employees with Fewer Managers” revisits the issue. It notes that for some time the optimal number of people to manage was thought to be somewhere from 7-10. But the advent of flatter organizations, electronic communication (e.g., email, voicemail) and increased use of technology may permit oversight of a much larger number. At least some people think so as they suggest that as many as 30 employees can be effectively managed. Those who advocate such an increase note that such a shift also requires a change in business practices and management style. It may require such things as greater use of pay for performance, training, cascading of corporate goals, team goals and accountabilities, and more communication. This issue can clearly be controversial and raises a number of significant questions and concerns.

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