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Clarifying Workforce Needs with Span of Control

While job leveling helps HR and company leaders assess their workforce needs, evaluating the span of control within an organization allows leaders to more efficiently and effectively manage business needs and deliver growth goals. There are two main types of span of control; let’s take a look at the benefits and considerations associated with each control span:

A narrow span of control means a manager has fewer direct reports; conversely, a wide span of control means the manager has more direct reports. Each control span has pros and cons and can vary by department and business needs. For example, Software Engineering managers may have broader control, whereas leaders managing Product Managers likely have narrower spans of control.

  • A narrow span (fewer direct reports) could create more development and advancement opportunities for managers. However, it could lead to less empowerment and more micromanagement.
  • A wide span (more direct reports) empowers managers by giving them more responsibility. However, it may lead to them burning out (overloaded) and may not provide adequate support to employees (leading to decreased morale).

Before evaluating the spans of control for different departments, it's essential to perform job leveling across the organization. That way, you'll accurately know the management job levels currently in use at your organization, and it will facilitate identifying workforce gaps between management levels.

Evaluating Span of Control

To determine your company's span of control, identify on average how many direct reports there are by management job level. Look at which department or functional area seems to have the highest and lowest manager-to-employee ratio and determine if it makes sense for the business.

When evaluating each manager's capacity and span of control, consider the complexity and skills of the team members that the leader is overseeing:

  1. Complexity

    1. Process - Is there a standard structure/process for their direct reports?
    2. Variety of work - How similar or different is the work of the team members?
    3. Time - What percentage of the manager's time is spent doing their work vs. managing their employees?
  2. Skills

    1. How much experience and training do team members typically require?
    2. How much independent discretion are team members using?
    3. Are the team members' skills unique and/or difficult to find in the market?

For example, within the Sales function, if you have ten employees reporting to a Manager vs. three employees reporting to a Senior Manager, potentially shift the more experienced employees (or those with the more special skillset) to report to the Senior Manager to balance the teams and make the most of the Senior Manager's capacity.

As we look at an average span of control snapshot of Kamsa clients in the tech industry, we see manager-to-employee ratios of 1:4, which means, on average, there are four employees to 1 manager:

  • All Departments

    • Globally: 1:4
    • United States: 1:4
    • Europe: 1:5
  • Software Engineering

    • Globally: 1:5
    • United States: 1:5
    • Europe: 3:20

For Software Engineering departments, it was a slightly higher number of employees to a manager, at a 1:5 ratio. Conducting a span of control assessment reveals and allows companies to see how it’s impacting their company’s culture - e.g., a more flat management structure typically reveals broader control, while a hierarchical culture is consistent with narrow spans of control.

Evaluating the span of control can benefit an organization, such as promoting employee growth and development and better defining team responsibilities. As organizations grow and establish more distinct functional areas, they should identify responsibilities and accountabilities within teams across various departments and ensure that roles are aligned to an organizational structure that best supports their ongoing business strategy. For example, as a company grows, they often transition to more specialized jobs that require additional defined functions or processes.

Similar to how each company's compensation philosophy is unique to their company values, their approach to the span of control should also be unique to their business needs. Understanding what is under each manager’s scope and how it aligns with business needs allows companies to assess and ensure there is not too much on a particular team or leader’s plate. Effectively aligning a company’s span of control approach has far-reaching benefits that extend into more effective communication and better decision-making processes, all of which ultimately support higher employee satisfaction and more intelligent growth.

About Kamsa

The team at Kamsa are experts at establishing career paths and building compensation programs for companies. Our hybrid (technology + consultative) approach to providing reliable, global market data (over 80 global data cuts, with 2,000+ jobs) equips leaders to make holistic & informed compensation decisions.