Walking the Staffing Tightrope

Feb 25, 2002

Terry Mitchell, senior vice president and transportation division head for MonsterFirm, Inc., knew one thing: If the firm was going to make any real money, it was going to take a new level of top management focus on staffing. He vowed to himself that, once and for all, they were going to stop repeating the same old mistakes. So he sat down with the other key managers, Ali Deborah, the environmental division manager, and Taylor James, the land development/site engineering division manager, and worked out a plan for how they would handle staffing this year. Here’s some of what they came up with: Keeping tight control on whether or not to hire anyone. Everyone agreed that a good chunk of money was lost last year by being overstaffed. And the direct cause of that was a laissez-faire attitude toward hiring. Top management didn’t want to get in the way of the next tier down, so they let them hire when they wanted to. The result was poor utilization and the subsequent need for a layoff. They weren’t going to make this mistake again. All needs for hiring now had to be put in front of the CEO, and every week the executive committee was going to look at the current and projected workload before allowing any new staff to be added. Getting out in front of the needs. Everyone also agreed that they almost always made better hiring decisions when they weren’t rushed and the need hadn’t gone from urgent to dire. That meant making the staffing plan a part of the annual business planning process. Sure, it would never be 100% accurate, but having some idea of what types of people would be needed throughout the year would help them get out in front of those needs and find some candidates early on. Making the best use of the recruitment budget. Contingency-fee-based employment agencies were the biggest cost, and most of the time, the money paid to them was not well spent. The problem was that managers were late in hiring, and the needs were dire. And there wasn’t any effective company-wide recruitment resource to draw upon. They all agreed to either hire an in-house recruiter or contract with a national staffing company that could give them dedicated resources for hiring at a discount for signing an annual agreement. The other problem was relocation. Too many candidates were coming in from out of town when the firm was in a major metro area with literally hundreds of companies that could have qualified workers to recruit. Hiring the right people in the first place. The three division heads also agreed that too often the wrong people were hired. “Wrong” in the sense that they were too narrow in their capabilities to be used in a company with a varied project load, that they weren’t good communicators, or that they had lousy attitudes and were likely to have problems of one sort or another working in the company. In every case of a documented “bad hire,” the common threads were that they hadn’t stuck to what they knew they needed to hire in the first place and that the need had become super critical to meeting the demands of a job that was falling behind schedule. Closing on the offers they made. The company had a bad practice of making lowball offers and then trying to raise them as necessary to get the recruit to sign up. But it was an ugly process, and it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. They decided that this year they would make their best, most reasonable offer first and then not negotiate anything. Really being ready for the new employee. Too often new employees showed up and they didn’t have a workstation, didn’t have a phone, didn’t have an e-mail address, and more. The three of them agreed that this would be no more. It was totally avoidable— if they made the issue important for them to solve. The employee’s supervisor would now be the one to be sure the new employee felt welcome and important, and could be doing productive work by the end of his first day. Doing a post-employment check-up. Every new employee would be taken out to lunch by one or more of the big three managers (Mitchell, Deborah, and/or James) during their first 90 days of employment to make sure things were going well and problems related to their employment weren’t festering. The managers at MonsterFirm believed that doing these simple things would have to lead to a more successful year in 2002. How does your firm stack up on this issue? Are you doing what you should be? Write me, and share your thoughts.

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