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Get More Direct Reports

Your employees are more autonomous than you might think.

The nature of your job, as a manager, has changed. “No longer is [your] primary function to aggregate work done by subordinates and control their activities; rather it is to foster teamwork and communication, while providing inspiration and direction,” writes leadership expert Ron Ashkenas in the Harvard Business Review. “In short, today the manager’s job is more about leadership than control.”

You’ve heard that before -; but have you acted on it? Ashkenas suggests increasing your direct reports. He cites GE’s success in the early ’90s -; when some managers had as many as 10 direct reports -; as evidence it can work. “Managers were forced to loosen their control-orientation and empower their subordinates -; because there wasn’t enough time in the day to supervise everybody as they had done in the past,” he writes. “So instead of checking up on people they began to add value in other ways -; through strategy development, increased customer contact, process improvement, and coaching.”

What we have, then, is a chicken-egg situation. At GE in the ’90s, an increase in direct reports triggered a rank-and-file empowerment. Today, the rank-and-file empowerment is the trigger. Think about it: In an era when entire companies are on internal social networks, the very concept of designating someone a “direct” report can seem dated. That’s not to suggest the 2013 organization is some hierarchy-free utopia lacking chains of command. But rank-and-file employees are, in fact, more autonomous than ever. Would increasing your direct reportsreally make your job more difficult?

As for what you have to gain -; that’s budget 101 and communication 101. “Instead of one manager having five direct reports -; each with three people reporting to them -; the middle layer could be eliminated and the manager would then have fifteen subordinates,” explains Ashkenas. “Not only does having fewer managers dramatically reduce costs, it also makes it simpler for ideas and information to flow up and down the organization….Jack Welch used to say that having too many layers in an organization was like wearing too many sweaters -; you couldn’t tell whether it was hot outside or not.”

This article was originally published at The Build Network.

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