Span Control

Shrinking Your Span

The solution to span-of-control problems is to hire more managers. You may be able to maintain head count, though, if you reorganize your hierarchy so fewer people report directly to you or to other beleaguered managers. You may find, for instance, that some underworked managers have only two or three direct reports, while others have seven or eight.

Despite the presumed precision of mathematical tools like Graicunas', the fact is that span of control is a judgment call. It's hard to accurately assess the conflicting pulls of cost control and work-load balancing. Some management experts say new communications technology and modern organizational designs make old ideas about span of control obsolete. And you can't blindly delegate your duties to others. You'll need to select and possibly hire and train managers to take over supervision performed by you or others. Choosing poorly could worsen things. You'll also have costs, primarily for training. Experts recommend managers receive at least half a day of training on span-of-control issues and practice.

On the other hand, there's the real possibility that paying attention to span of control could usher your business into a new era of rapid, sustained, profitable growth. You could even find running your business easier and more fun. Although her agency's billings have increased from $20 million to $64 million since she trimmed the number of people reporting to her, Harpell finds her workdays haven't kept pace. "Now," she says, "it's rare for me to work more than 10 or 12 hours per day."

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Span Control.

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