Don't hire

Most job specs are awful. They have a “main responsibilities” section filled with vague generic bullet points listing things you’ll never actually do, followed by an interminable disjointed list of “essential” skills and experience that will never actually be needed. Have you ever wondered why this is?

Spoiler: It’s because the role isn’t necessary, and the company shouldn’t be hiring for it.

Hiring is the worst thing you can do. I don’t mean hiring bad people, I mean hiring any people. Hiring people makes your company bigger, which means less consensus, more communication overhead, greater division of knowledge, more time with your best people mentoring or managing instead of doing, more time in meetings, and so on. Your delivery speed drops and you start tracking DORA metrics and hiring Agile Coaches or Scrum Masters or Delivery Managers to try and fix things. Which it won’t. It compounds the problem, because the root cause is that you hired people.

“But we’ve got more work than we can cope with.”

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but hiring people doesn’t make this better; it actually makes it worse. The amount of work you need to do doesn’t stay the same as you get more people, it goes up because you have more people so the expectation goes up. However, due to all the problems with more people you deliver sublinearly as you add them, so the amount of work you need to do appears to grow superlinearly. The solution to having too much to do is to do less, not to hire more people.

“But we need to grow the business.”

So grow it with the people you have. The great thing about not hiring people is that you need to grow it less. Let’s say, hypothetically, it’s going to cost you £120k/annum to hire a new person, and you make 3% margin on whatever it is you’re selling, which is pretty common across a range of industries. If you hire that person, you now need to grow the business by an additional £4M/annum just to cover the cost of hiring them. Unless you actually know how that person is going to contribute that £4M, and then some, don’t hire them.

“But I know how they’re going to contribute that £4M.”

Okay, great, in that case go and hire somebody.

No, really. Forget what I said above. If you know what the new person needs to do for you and how they’ll contribute value you otherwise wouldn’t get, go and hire them.

Thankfully, your job spec won’t be one of those crappy ones with a ton of vague generic responsibilities and interminable disjointed skills, because you actually know what they’re going to be doing, and you know which skills are really needed and which can be learned on the job. As a result, it’ll be much more likely attract the types of candidate you’ll want.

© 2013-2021 Greg Beech. All rights reserved.

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