HR should look at span of control to address concerns around turnover and employee engagement

It’s common knowledge within the HR industry that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. The daily interactions employees have with their managers set the tone for how they feel about the organization. Managers need to be leaders to motivate and support talent. Not everyone is naturally a great leader (though most leaders just need the right org culture fit to be great), but the amount of people they manage plays a big part in their effectiveness.

Span of Control can be a valuable metric to understand how your organization is structured. Understanding the structure will show how communication is flowing and where decisions might be bottlenecked. Additionally, the structure reflects on the supervisory burden. The greater the burden, the less effective leaders can be.  

Calculating the span of control looks at the reporting structure within the organization by reviewing the direct reports of managers. In a more complex organization, it might be beneficial to also look at indirect reports. Especially if approvals have to flow upward for decisions to be made.

Even more complex organizations with matrices will benefit from looking at the dotted line reporting structures. Matrix organizations are the most difficult to lead as there are two bosses to work with. Employees can feel torn between meeting two different expectations, which will affect their morale. It’s important to understand how many employees are impacted by matrices and their levels of engagement.

Span of control is important to understanding organizational structure

An easy way to look at span of control is to keep up to date org charts for all departments and levels within the organization. Visualizations are a great way to easily assess the information being presented. The bigger the tree, the larger the span of control and the less effective the manager at the top will be.

Don’t discredit also just tallying up the number of direct (or indirect) reports of each manager. Having a number to play with will allow you to create metrics and analytics around the span of control. Especially in a large organization, it will be easier to compare numbers to numbers, vs org charts.

There is a correlation between span of control and employee engagement. The larger the span, the lower employee engagement becomes. To find the sweet spot for how many direct reports a manager should have, look for the relationship between the performance of a team and how many people are being managed. Higher performing teams with higher employee engagement will provide a good benchmark.

One last important way to look at span of control is by analyzing it with turnover rates. First, calculate the span of control for each manager then calculate the turnover rates for each. Now, look at what the metrics are telling you. You will find a strong correlation between managers with high span of controls and high turnover. Minimizing a manager’s number of direct reports will not ultimately fix high turnover rates. But, it will lessen the supervisory burden for managers so that they have the time and resources to focus on implementing engagement solutions.

Analyzing span of control is an important HR metric to organization's success

There is not one standard for the number of people a leader should manage. It can vary greatly from organization to organization, depending on the industry. The sweet spot for span of control can even vary within the organization from department to department. There are a few key factors to consider to figure out the right number. Size of the organization, the type of work being done, organizational culture, and manager’s responsibilities all should be factored in.

Span of control is just one more method HR can use to become a strategic business partner for their organization. An HR dashboard can help as well. It can take your metrics, like span of control, and create easy to understand visualizations. It will let you skip all the work of manually crunching the numbers and go straight to the analytics. Sign up today for a free demo of our automated HR dashboard.

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