Foster the People

Team at Work

There is a tendency among many organizations to hire fewer staff than are able to satisfy actual workload demand. For example, organizations that operate on some kind of cycle often staff to some estimation of the mean of that cycle. That is, they acquire a staff that satisfies demand at a level between peak season and slow season. Organizations that do not experience this kind of demand fluctuation, may just keep the staff low all year to ensure that the organization is squeezing every drop of productivity out of them as possible. The logic being that this ensures that money is not wasted on personnel when there isn’t enough work to keep them busy and the organization is getting their money’s worth on the high cost of human resources.

But in truth, this common practice of staffing below the annual aggregate demand is misguided. For one, it assumes that the possibility of overpaying on people is more costly than not responding appropriately to demand. Secondly, it assumes that the quality of output is always proportional to the level of effort people put into their work (i.e., the harder someone struggles to do a good job, the more productive they will be). And finally, hiring below (or even at) demand misses the opportunity for strategic planning, tactical development, and creative thinking. That, in turn, misses the opportunity for progress, improvement, and meaningful growth.

Hiring one group of people to focus exclusively on the operational side of the house and a completely different group to focus on strategy is foolishness.

A more effective method of staffing is to hire enough people to not only satisfy maximum operational demand, but also strategic demand. People working in any organization should have the time to consider how to make things better for the organization and take action accordingly.

Hiring one group of people to focus exclusively on the operational side of the house and a completely different group to focus on strategy is foolishness. No one knows the work better than the people doing it. They should be included in the conversation when it comes to how to move the organization forward, but in order for them to be meaningful contributors, they must also be provided with the proper resources. Those resources are professional development that will give them the knowledge, skills, and abilities to think critically and take initiative, and the time to consider how best to apply those KSAs.

For those organizations on a seasonal cycle this means acquiring a staff that is able to meet the demand during peak season, and during slow season their time is devoted to development and strategic planning. Organizations with a consistent demand can staff beyond operational demand so that staff will have sufficient time for professional development, strategic planning and actions.

Efforts to save on costs by reducing staff while demand remains constant or increases is unlikely to be successful. Any actual savings that may be created will quickly be eaten away by the costs associated with high turnover and burnout rates. Any person disengaged from a larger mission who is forced to try to satisfy a demand that is untenable, will quickly get ill or need time away when they are overworked, and the resulting financial losses to the organization will be reflected in high leave reports and the costs associated with unhealthy turnover. What may not be quite as apparent, however, is the fact that the work they are producing will not be as effective as it could be. Just because they are putting in the hours and struggling to meet that high demand does not mean they are being productive. Far from it. Quantity does not equal quality.

Ultimately organizations that try to minimize their staff will never realize their true potential. They will forever miss the opportunity to develop an engaged and productive workforce. On the other hand, those organizations that hire and develop people to be valuable contributors who are invested in the future of that organization will come out on top.

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