Too busy to hire!

If you are too busy to hire, you are thinking about it the wrong way.

In 2016, the company I was working for hired a new Portfolio Manager who, let’s just say, knew how to manage portfolios. It’s not that other portfolio managers didn’t, it’s just that this guy really new how to work with business leaders to develop strategy, create ideas, and help shape those ideas into workable plans. He knew his way around process and how to align funding to that work, and he knew how to do it fast.

I was a manager in IT at the time, having weekly meetings with Project, Program, and Portfolio Managers. We’d spend an hour each week allocating team-member’s time to various projects, talk about risks, and help remove barriers to the various initiatives my teams supported. I was impressed when I first met him, but I had no idea how quickly the demand would grow.

The Chocolate Factory

About 4-6 months after he started, which is a rather short timeline in corporate America, I remember sitting across from him and he made the statement, “if you can’t bring on people to get the work done, I’ll hire them”. Admittedly I was a little offended by the statement, because as a new leader, that was somewhat of an encroachment. It also meant that I had found someone that works more efficiently than I do, or at least that’s the way it seemed.

That said, I was already feeling a bit like Lucy and Ethel in the classic Chocolate Factory. Work was coming faster than I could get people assigned and I was the new bottleneck. Looking back, I kind of wish it had been chocolate, at least occasionally, but it wasn’t. It was newly planned work that I wasn’t staffed for.

How Traditional Corporations Build and Deploy New Things

For those unfamiliar with how traditional corporations plan and assign work, here’s a little insight. There are variations, and some organizations have better processes than others, but in general this has been the flow for a long time.

  1. A leader gets an idea of what they need to provide a better service or product. Ideally this idea is based on an overarching strategy from the c-suite, but often it’s just an idea. Sometimes clever, sometimes not so much. If there is a lot of turnover, it’s often something that worked at a prior organization that they think will work in this new one they are in.
  2. A business case is formed. The business case highlights why the work should completed, a ballpark estimate of the cost and time, and most importantly, the value it will bring to the organization.
  3. A bunch of business cases get reviewed, let’s say in July, by various levels of the organization and finally the c-suite agrees on what business cases they approve for the following fiscal year. If you aren’t familiar with Fiscal year, it’s just the financial calendar of the organization. Often it coincides with the calendar year, but sometimes it doesn’t. If you want to know more, visit Investopedia. there’s a much longer version there.
  4. Six months pass and the new Fiscal year starts on January 1st. Capital dollars are released and new projects kick off with a bang. A good bang, hopefully.
  5. The IT teams and business teams begin working together on the project. – we won’t go into Software Development Life Cycles (SDLC) and Agile/Waterfall for now. Just know that lots of people are working together to deliver whatever that original leader wanted 6 months ago.
  6. Depending on demand, new contractors or FTE’s are hired to move things along faster. Side note: I’m aware of the mythical man month. I think the phrase goes, “just because a woman can give birth in 9 months doesn’t mean you can bring together 9 women to give birth to a baby in 1 month”. The same is true for Software Development.
  7. The project closes and the leader now has the product he wanted. The project could have taken 3 months, 18 months, or really any amount of time. If it’s 18+ months though, it probably wasn’t a great project unless they planned for it to be that long from the start.
  8. Ideally, the business case and its documented benefits are reviewed to understand if the benefit was really what it was originally thought to be.

In large corporations, all 7 of these steps are happening at once across dozens or, more likely, hundreds of projects. These projects are grouped together into portfolios, and then into programs,

Back to the Chocolate Factory

As an IT Manager, I wasn’t often involved in items 1 & 2 above. I might be asked to provide expertise from my functional area, and my teams may have been asked to estimate the work, but aside from awareness that it was happening, I wasn’t involved heavily in what was on the list until a few months or a few weeks before the project started.

End of year is always busy, trying to wrap up projects and to prep for the next year. It’s also a frustrating time of year because teams are tired, the holidays seem to happen every other week, and Capital tends to be a little tighter.

It’s kind of the same for a family with an annual budget. At the beginning of the year, it’s tax return time, raises and promotion pay kicks in perhaps, and spending is a little more free. At the end of the year, you’re overspent in some categories, so you may hit the breaks a bit on spending money on nice-to-haves. Until Christmas when you give up and make a crazy decision to put things on credit. <– I don’t think I’ve ever done that, but I’m tempted just about every year.

So when this new Portfolio Manager started, timelines shrunk and expectations changed. He wanted to start projects as soon as possible, and I’m still not sure how he was getting Capital dollars so quickly, but he was.

Hire, Hire, Hire

Too busy to hire! 1 Hiring someone takes time. If you are hiring a contractor, depending on your organization, you probably spend 10+ hours per Contractor: Creating the requisition for hire, working with HR/Talent Acquisition to review the types of skills you need, sifting through 15-50 resumes, shortlisting to 5-7, 30–60-minute interviews with your top 5, extending an offer, requesting hardware and security access, initial onboarding, and then soft handoffs to projects and team members. On top of that every resume looks identical. Plain text, same format, and most of what you are looking for.

For me, hiring a full-time employee took twice as much time at least, typically due to the breadth of interviews. For a contractor, I might have one or two team members also conduct an interview with the candidate, but for full-time candidates, I would typically setup 3 or 4 interviews with a broader group of team members. I’d spend much more time collecting and analyzing feedback to ensure I selected the right candidate for the long-haul.

Unless it’s your first few times, 95% of the hiring process is actually pretty boring. It’s a ton of paperwork and planning. So to the busy leader, it often get’s deprioritized and pushed back. I’m not sure in today’s economy you can push back hiring once it’s begun, but just getting started can be a slough. If you’ve been there, you know about the vicious cycle.

I’m too busy to hire, so I put it off. Then, because I don’t have that team member yet, I lean in to help the team, which makes me even busier. So I’m even more busy to hire, so I put it off. Then, because I don’t have that new team member yet, I lean in and help the team more. God forbid I end up needing 2 or 3 team members. Or worse, the position I need to hire is actually a leadership position.

It’s bad for you, and it’s really bad for your team. So what do you do when you are too busy to hire. Here it is…

Work harder at hiring and less harder at helping your teams.

If you need to work late into the evening to get that req (requisition) open, do it. The sooner you do it, the sooner you become less of a bottleneck. The sooner you do it, the sooner your team has the support they actually need. Get it off your plate as fast as you can.

I hired, and hired and hired

Looking back, I probably could have pushed back more in support of my teams. I probably could have let this Portfolio Manager just hire their own staff and try to change the organizational alignment to functional work – which, in hindsight, never would have happened. Instead, I chose to hire. Granted, it took me a few weeks to flip my mindset from defense to offense. That paperwork, yo, is so much work. My focus was mainly on contractors and I think over the course of the summer I brought on close to 15. It was grueling work, but it was my job.

A quick sidenote: if you don’t use it, you lose it!

I had to have this conversation, I think, with each one of the managers that reported to me. We’d get approval or funding to open a contractor req, or an FTE, and inevitably there would be delays. Most of the time it was that they (the managers) were too busy and just hadn’t gotten to it. Occasionally there was more to it, but not usually. In addition, in any organization, FTE (full time equivalence) is closely tracked, and decisions can be made very quickly on who gets the new FTE and who doesn’t. There was more than one case where a decision was made for a new FTE on one of my teams, or someone else’s, but because they didn’t move fast enough, the FTE position was moved to a different area. I think I may have done that to my own teams on occasion. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

And we’re back

I learned a lot about hiring. One of my prior blogs was on hiring contractors, which is worth a read if you’ve never done it: Candidate to Contractor – Avoiding Epic Fails. Many of those contractors became employees, and a few didn’t. My role as a manager was no longer the bottleneck, but I inadvertently moved the bottleneck and pressure to my already overwhelmed team members. As a new leader, my focus was more on manpower, than on efficiency. My teams helped me change my mind set in the years that followed.

That said, as a manager, you really need to think through the impact of your decisions to your teams, your colleagues and stakeholders, and to your organizations. This post is all about hiring when you need to hire and not putting it off. I’m not saying it’s always the answer, or even that it was the right answer for me at the time.

Gratitude from lessons learned

Regardless, I’ll be forever grateful for the lessons I learned from Subbu, John, Kiran, Cory, Vinay, and so many others. They were beyond gracious to me as a new leader. And I’ll never forget the lessons I learned from Randy, that new Portfolio Manager who came in hot, blowing out snot! Sorry. I think that’s a “How to Train Your Dragon” reference I hear from my kids all the time. There are other great Portfolio Managers I’ve worked with over the years, but when it came to increasing demand for my teams in a short amount of time, Randy was at the top.

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