Research from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that U.S. corporate hierarchies have become flatter over the past two decades. Not only have CEOs been increasing the number of their direct reports but the number of middle managers has been declining.

“The number of managers in a company who report directly to the CEO has increased from an average of four in 1986 to an average of seven today. Rajan and Wulf concentrate on divisional managers — the lowest management rank with profit center responsibility and the position most consistently defined in the survey — and find that the number of division heads who report directly to the CEO has increased by 300 percent. The number of levels in the management hierarchy between division heads and CEOS has declined by 25 percent.” (National Bureau of Economic Research)

This flattening of the organization and increase in the number of direct reports has also added to the workload of the typical manager. Globalization and telecommuting has made it possible for these direct reports to be anywhere. Now a people manager not only has to cope with having more direct reports but he or she has a much more difficult job managing those people when they are removed form daily physical contact. The same problem holds true for other managers such as project and product managers.