Span of Control or Span of Care?

Organizational hierarchy is often described as a Span of Control. I’m not an anthropologist or sociologist, but it doesn’t seem to be a far stretch to say this phrase and mindset comes right out of Taylorism back in the Industrial Age.

Photo by Redmind Studio on Unsplash
Photo by Redmind Studio on Unsplash

What if there was an overt and intentional shift for an organization to make the change in not merely the language of Span of Care, but in the realities that come with this kind of shift? What would that look like?

In my opinion and experience, it at least includes:
- Employee reviews that focus on how valued the employee feels over how much stuff they did. Employees who feel valued deliver greater value.
- Management focusing on 1) removing blockers/impediments and 2) upskilling employees (coaching + education + training) instead of telling employees what to do (or how to do it). Eliminating low-value work frees employees to focus on and deliver high-value work.
- 1:1s where the manager/leader doesn’t surprise the employee with the agenda but instead sets the expectation that the 1:1 is far more for the growth and value of the employee than for the manager/leader to dole out new work and inspect ongoing work. Making 1:1s about listening to the employee builds greater trust all around.

A span of control assumes people need you to tell them what to do and that you need to inspect to make sure they’ve done it.

A span of care assumes you as a leader are more interested in who each employee is as a person delivering value than in how much stuff they do for you.

The difference is neither subtle nor similar; they’re opposite approaches in many ways because the belief of span of control is focused on what’s in it for you whereas the span of control is far more focused on what’s in it for them, and empowered, happy, engaged employees will always deliver the greatest value over time.



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Anthony Coppedge

I lead the vision for how business agility is infused in Digital Sales at IBM. I relish the chance to sabotage mediocrity.