Do You Have Too Many Direct Reports?
Most leaders can at some point relate to the issue of having too many direct reports. As organization structures grow and change, it’s a common struggle for most every leader I’ve worked with. Especially as you advance and take on bigger and bigger roles. The fact of the matter is that you can only provide clear and effective one-on-one leadership to a handful of people. Beyond 7-8 direct reports, it becomes difficult to give the attention and development they need and want.
Eventually, you’ll need to reduce the number of people who report directly to you. I often hear leaders in this situation express concern that the shift will result in someone being angry or disappointed. While that is usually true, it doesn’t mean that the change isn’t necessary. The more important question is how will you handle it? Here are a few thoughts to guide you.
- Acknowledge their disappointment. When faced with a change, people’s first reaction is to ask “how will this impact me?” Try to understand what is at the core of their reaction and acknowledge the real disappointment that comes with this change.
- Discuss the rationale. Explain the strategic rationale behind the change. Be very clear that it was operational and not personal. Make sure to tell them well in advance so they have time to process the change and can take the steps needed to transition to a new structure.
- Work to continue the personal connection. They may be disappointed that they will no longer have a direct reporting relationship with you. But that doesn’t mean they can’t have a strong connection. This is especially valuable with leaders whose support and alignment you still need. Make a commitment to be proactive in staying in contact for at least a year. Continue to have routine conversations and open dialogue. It may not be the same cadence of involvement as before, but the connection will remain intact.
Don’t avoid reducing the number of direct reports you have for fear of disappointing your team. Acknowledge when you are spread too thin to be an effective leader and then be intentional about how you make the change.