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How much time does it take to manage someone?

There's a magical secret weapon that can unlock infinite potential in your managers.

What is the single most powerful tool you can give your managers to empower impactful, meaningful, transformational people leadership?


Time is the biggest game changer for people managers

Even though this simple resource marches eternally on, I think we’re all familiar with how often it feels in short supply. Here, we explore exactly how much time you should be allocating toward people management, and why it matters oh-so-much.

Reflect on how you support managers

❓ How much time do you suspect managers are spending on people management duties vs. their own independent contributor work?

❓ Is “time to manage” built into the scope of your manager's roles?

❓ How much of a manager’s time do you think should be spent solely focusing on people management duties each week?

How the “10% Rule” can save your managers

Today’s managers tackle more on behalf of their direct reports than ever. They’re being asked to define team vision, navigate new hybrid and remote working norms, and motivate through increasing economic uncertainty and rampant layoffs.

Managers are not only doing more with less, but they’re also rebuilding trust, engagement, and psychological safety on shaken teams. But you, clever reader, are one step ahead of the game. You’ve done the hard, necessary work of determining core competencies and defining clear expectations, so you can now clearly articulate exactly what goes into being a great manager at your organization. Confession time? I always lead with those two specific activities for a reason. Why? Because once you’ve identified competencies and expectations, it’s downright impossible to deny one very important truth:

Managing people takes 10% of their time per direct report

Yet, so rarely do we account for it. In my work researching, developing, and scaling excellent people management for growing teams, I’ve developed a guideline I call The 10% Rule.

The 10% Rule: At least 10% of a manager’s time per direct report should be allocated to people management tasks, admin, preparation, and skills development.

Yes, that's 10% per direct report.

This equates to:

  • If you manage 2 people, 20% of your time at work (roughly a full day each week) should be spent on people management activities.

  • If you manage 5 people, 50% – a full half – of your time at work should be spent on people-management activities.

A manager fist bumps her coworker in an office setting. She has dark hair, glasses and a black blouse. She is feeling great because she reserves 10% of her time to effectively manage her direct reports, and her leadership supports that.

I recently shared this rule with Luke O’Mahoney on an episode of his podcast "the PX Espresso Hour" and I could actively see the wheels turning in his head.

A former Head of People who also managed a team, he shared:

“I just had a realization about why I struggled so much as a people manager. I wasn’t putting that time aside at all. It was something I was doing on top of everything else. I really kick myself now for the amount of 1:1s and check-ins I canceled because I needed that time back for something else. And the knock-on effect that would then have on the people who were reporting to me. A 10% rule per person would have really saved me. And would have given me the ability to push back up on the expectations that were being pushed down on me, which is most of the reason why I wasn’t finding that time.”

Feeling seen in Luke’s reflection? I know I did. He perfectly articulates why the 10% is so darn important not just for managers, but also for the individuals who report to them. Allocated time for people management drastically impacts both parties for the better.

All this said, some of you have already arrived at a troubling math conundrum: what about those managing 10 or more people? This brings me to the second part of The 10% Rule:

Light bulb icon indicating that managers should have no more than 7 direct reports.

Managers should have no more than 7 direct reports at any given time

(maaaaaaybe 8).

Any more, and they won’t have time to infuse their team experience with the functional or industry-specific expertise that they need to shape teamwide success.

Also, managers with more than 7 or 8 reports will burn out - and quickly. I've seen it time and time again.

So, to recap, The 10% Rule states:

  1. At least 10% of a manager’s time per direct report should be allocated to people management tasks, admin, preparation, and skills development.

  2. Managers should have no more than 7 or 8 direct reports at any time.

In my experience, these two guidelines can have an outsized positive impact in any organization within six-months of implementation. I'd be remiss not to address the elephant in the room.

The 10% Rule is simple, but not easy

Putting it into place means assessing headcount, reallocating workloads and possibly reworking the org chart. Not to mention, gaining buy-in from the leadership team, including your CFO. That is no small task. Of course, we’d never leave you hanging - because theory is great, but action’s what matters! We’ve laid out a quick activity that will help you assess what lift exists in order to implement The 10% Rule at your organization.

snorkel icon indicating a deep dive into your company's culture

Assess your company's current time allocation for managers

Today’s exercise is a quick n’ effective way to see whether your managers have the time they need to support happy, productive teams.

All you need is 20 minutes and an org chart.

  1. Pull up your company’s org chart or whatever resource you use to see reporting structures.

  2. Do an audit of reporting ratios and answer the following questions:

    1. How many managers have 8 or more direct reports?

    2. How many managers have 7 or less direct reports?

    3. What is the average # of direct reports across the company?

  3. What similarities do managers with more than eight reports share?

    1. Are they part of the same org or department?

    2. Do they manage employees of similar tenure or position?

    3. In what ways are they different?

  4. What other employee experience data could you overlay with the number of direct reports a manager has? Considerations include:

    1. Employee Performance

    2. Employee Engagement

    3. Employee Retention

Bonus Insight: If the idea of allocating 10% per direct report is a non-starter for the org currently, then try starting with 5%. Some time is better than no time and often the positive results with help you make the case for reaching for the full 10% in the future!

What did you find in your assessment? Review our training opportunities for managers and reach out if you need help with where to go next.

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