I’ve written before about how headcount is destroying business innovation, and I’m not going to recycle the general themes therein for this thing. I’ll actually try to keep it pretty tight. Let’s begin with a personal story. (I was just thinking about this at the gym for some reason.)
I used to work for this lady Robbyn Footlick at ESPN. She was a good boss and gave me a lot of chances and opportunities at a time when my attitude probably didn’t deserve them, so I’m forever appreciative of her at the biggest level. Here’s one thing that always confused me about her at the time, though — but it’s confused me less since then. She — as in she herself — was a very busy person. She worked on the TV side, the ESPN.com side, and the ESPN The Magazine side. She had a bunch of irons in the fire.
Here was the essential dichotomy, though: she always assumed that because she was busy, everyone else was as busy as her. That’s often not true. Hierarchy is one reason (people higher up a chain get more e-mails, have more meetings, and are accountable for more deliverables). How people process “being busy” is another; some people can handle all the stuff lobbed at them and still leave at 4:55pm everyday. Some people can’t. People are different, you know? Snowflakes.
So, all the time … she’d argue for new headcount. “We need 3–4 more people to do all the work we have!” At the time, I thought this was insane. My main unit was 4–5 guys (all guys, ESPN style baby!) and none of us were heads-down, can’t-breathe, OMG-the-deliverables busy. But she kept saying that. I started thinking, “Damn, workplaces are insane.” (I still mostly think that.)
Then, as I got slightly older, I realized something about work:
People often assume their situation/condition is applicable to everyone else.
They don’t stop and think. So if they feel super busy, they assume everyone else is. (Same with boredom, I’d reckon. Actually, I’ve felt bored and assumed everyone else was bored, so yes.)
This is a major problem on the hiring side: if the senior-most member of a team thinks “OMG I AM SO BUSY” and then decides it’s time for him/her to hire a bunch of people, well, you know what happens then? You hire people without clarity on role/context/deliverable (because you essentially got the headcount around how busy you are) and then, if the person isn’t that proactive (most aren’t), the hire is a mess.
We oftentimes think of “the bad hire” as a person that comes in and lied about their skills, can’t hit their spots, has a bad attitude, etc. But what if — just what if — we started thinking about it differently? What if we started thinking about it as a person that was brought in for a role that probably doesn’t need to exist?
It’s kinda simple, in my eyes: if you think you’re super busy, that’s awesome. But rather than rushing to fill with a new hire, think about it this way: how’s your team looking? Could you reallocate some roles there and make it more effective?
For example, if you have someone doing social media and they’re mostly posting to the different channels and responding a few times a day, is that 40 hours/week? Or could they be doing something else?
There are countless other ineffective behaviors you could chase and determine. But you need to think along those terms. Stop thinking “I’m busy, so we need more people!” That’s not the answer. That just hits revenue and bonuses. Rather, think about re-allocating the time of the people that already exist. It’s often a much more logical solution.
My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.