Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Article excerpt

Q: Like many others, my company has been restructuring recently. I am a department head and, although our overall headcount has fallen slightly, the new, flatter structure means that the number of my direct reports has almost doubled. How can I maintain my effectiveness?

A: 'Flatter structure' sounds appealing - less hierarchy, fewer levels from top to bottom, so potentially better communication and more opportunities for autonomous work and career advancement. The trouble is that swapping to a shorter vertical line and an extended horizontal one doesn't always work very well, for a number of reasons, of which not having enough time for genuine management activity is predominant.

The late John Harvey-Jones flensed the number of senior reports he inherited as CEO at ICI down to five - which, as he was fond of pointing out, was the size of legendary Greek fighting units. While you may not perceive yourself to be engaged in a war, some of the same elements of success apply, for example, clarity of direction, shared purpose, good communication and trust. Trying to achieve this degree of coherence with more than five or six people reporting to you is, as you have recognised, a very tall order.

The other problem with a flatter structure is that it tends to suggest that all your reports are of an equal level of skill and experience, which is highly unlikely. Each person who reports to you is an individual with his or her own strengths and challenges, and requires separate and individual management attention. Rather as the saying goes in relation to being fair to each of your children, you succeed in treating them all the same by treating each of them differently.

Your high-performing, more experienced reports are likely to want (and need) less time with you and the new structure may allow them more empowerment than previously possible. To establish an appropriate level of self-management with these people it is desirable to agree on the scope of their responsibilities, the matters that need to be escalated to you and the manner and frequency with which you will be kept in the loop on what's happening in their areas. This should preclude you from being accused of micromanaging or your self-managing reports from failing to feed back important information.

Overburdened senior managers tend to fall into the trap of having contact only with self-sufficient reports when something's gone wrong, thus missing out on the more positive contribution such people could be making to their organisation, for example, in terms of innovation or in building culture and values. …

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