Bruce Tulgan

So what do you do if you really want to be a hands-on manager but you just have too many employees to manage? I’ll have managers say to me, “I have 72 people; how do you manage 72 people?”

The first question I ask is: Do you have a chain of command? Or are you really managing 72 people? Because if you have managers who are supposed to be managing some of those 72 people, then what you have to do is focus on those managers like a laser beam and manage how they manage.

What if you don’t have a chain of command? Well, maybe you need to create one. I think you should try very hard not to create unnecessary layers of management. But if you really have 72 people or even 32 people, you simply can’t afford to be the only leader on that team. You can deputize folks or have some of your inner circle who function as informal leaders on the team.

If you don’t deputize people then ring leaders will spring up instead, and the ring leaders are often the squeaky wheels who are mediocre performers who think they are the high performers. Or sometime they are squeaky wheels who turn their heads and say to everyone else, “Hey slow down, you are making me look bad.” You don’t want ring leaders. You want to choose who your deputies are going to be. So if you don’t have a chain of command, you might want to establish one.

What do you do if you can’t establish a chain of command? Well, your only option is to make choices every day. Who are you going to focus on today? If you really have 30 people you manage, how many can you focus on each day? Maybe you can focus on five a day. That means you can hit 25 in a week (hit is a metaphor). But that means you can get to everybody, more than once every two weeks. What if you met with every person who calls you their boss for 15 minutes every two weeks? I bet that might be more than you are managing already. So if you have that many people and you have no chain of command, you have to make choices every day.

But here’s what’s not an option: You can’t go hide in your office and do paperwork and pretend that’s managing.

Publication date:12/08/2008