Having worked in the digital space for nearly two decades now, and being through periods of immense growth as well as massive downturn (Yes, I was there for the bubble and burst way back around 2000) there’s one mistake I have seen companies make countless times when they were in the midst of major growth: the tendency to overhire.
It usually looks something like this: a company enters a period of strong growth, either just as they are launching, or as there’s been a change in the market that’s allowed them to grow at a rate considerably more accelerated than what they are accustomed to. Amidst a combination of excitement, fear (that you may not be able to keep up) and a few pairs of rose-colored-glasses there is a tendency to bulk up the team in anticipation of the growth, oftentimes planning the hiring to go along with the growth trajectory. What I’ve seen happen in most of these instances is that the need for additional bodies is a little less than was anticipated, and you end up either looking for work for people to do to keep them busy and engaged, or you end up having to let people go.
In times of growth, while you definitely need to continue to grow the size of the team, you also should focus on ways to help the current team members grow with the company. Make sure you’re hiring top talent, with the ability to learn and grow with the company, and when you do you’ll often find that you can scale through a smaller team (and through some strategic adjustments). And also remember, as you hire on more people, you’re going to probably need to also hire more people to manage them – which can lead to massive bloat of the team – and additional strain on the company (often leading to problems, which can arrest your growth!)
My approach to hiring is this: Hire as many people as you need, and not any more. I’ve made the mistake myself in over-anticipating the future needs for more people, when instead I should have been focusing more on process and scalability through a combination of my current staff, a few carefully selected hires, and the use of freelancers and contractors.
It can be exciting to experience a period of hyper-growth, and in times of excitement we sometimes let our reason fall by the wayside – thinking too far into the future, about an unknown world that we really don’t have enough information about to make the right decisions. When you find yourself in these circumstances, by all means hire more people as you truly see need but be careful not to build out too many predictions for what your future needs will be, as reality is often considerably different than our initial projections may anticipate. (Tip:, I recommend talking with your team regularly to see how they might see needs arising as well – they’re the ones on the front lines doing the work every day so they are closest to knowing what is needed, and how they can possibly help as things mature … plus you also don’t want to burn them out.)
Long story short – try not to get too swept up in making sure you have enough people in place to support your growth. It’s a fine balance between hiring the right amount of people, hiring too many, and not leveraging your current staff to their full potential. I’ve seen quite a bit of money wasted in hiring too much talent too quickly – and teams put through tremendous stress as it leads to future downsizing (or right-sizing, if you will).
If you are experiencing periods of unexpected growth and need to stay caught up with the demands the growth is putting on your company, but don’t want to risk hiring too many people too quickly, look at the freelance economy for help. Places like Upwork and Fiverr are a few good places to start. Call consulting firms. Look for freelance strategists (like me). Or do what’s worked for millions of other companies: call up a temp agency.
Bringing in this additional talent on a non-permanent basis will not only help you solve the immediate problem, but also help you gauge your true needs so you can make the long-term hiring decisions that are right for your company.