What it Actually Means to Have a Lean Workforce

What it Actually Means to Have a Lean Workforce

When you think about building high performing teams you’ll often find one thing in common: they are all running at a little bit over 100% ‘capacity’. Not under and not too far over. It’s a good thing ‘capacity’ is a straightforward concept. Oh no wait it’s actually a rather meaningless phrase that managers hide behind to shield their team from unwanted work.  

A high performing team should be judged on the performance per person rather than just the overall output i.e. if you bring in a new team member then output should increase proportionately. Seems simple right? So what about all those companies that grew super-fast but the output per person decreased significantly. You don’t usually get to hear about it because the PR machine is talking ‘growth’ or ‘expansion’.

The problem is, they could all be doing better. You get to hide behind success. Success gives you an excuse to stop self-reflecting, success adds justifications to everything you do, success makes companies complacent. And complacent companies get fat. Too many people and not enough productivity.  

The main reasons senior managers think ‘lean’ is immediate cash flow. If you can spend less and get more you are winning right? Correct. But there is a delicate balance to strike. Overworked employees will be more likely to leave, underworked employees will still be more likely to leave (through boredom, lack of progress etc.). When you think ‘lean’ think optimum efficiency. By that I mean a level of productivity and efficiency that you can maintain and scale.

When a company goes through rapid growth this balance is put at risk. Certain teams end up too fat and some too light. Too fat and your productivity or output per person decreases, too light and you risk losing people, which hurts productivity as you have to cover the gap and the train the newbie. Either way, productivity gets hit.  If you can grow fast without upsetting the balance then you really are winning and the growth will be much easier to achieve. 

Consider the team of 4 led by manager A. They each felt that they were a little too busy. Probably not enough excess work for a new full time person to take on but the manager hired another team member to keep morale high! Hurrah. Or so they thought. So now we have a team of 5. All working at about 90% ‘capacity’. One team member is getting increasingly bored and has grown frustrated at the lack of development opportunities. They leave. The manager doesn’t want to rock his carefully constructed boat so hires a similar replacement. A few weeks later another original team member is bored and frustrated. They leave. And are replaced. And so on and so forth for the rest of time.

Imagine the same team under a different manager. He Is Mr. Lean. 4 people working at over 100% capacity? Excellent! So efficient. However, after a couple of weeks he has the first resignation, before he is able to hire a replacement another goes. In his quest to keep things lean the remaining two people are integrated into another of his teams and the workload is shared. They are resented for increasing the workload of the other team - carnage ensues.

What if, in parallel universe, manager A had a crash course in management…The 4 team members feel like they have a bit too much work on. Manager A arranges a meeting to review the processes the team adhere to. They review these seeking to improve efficiency through automation and elimination of unnecessary steps. With a small investment in tech/systems this is a success and they are able to bring down the workload - not quite enough as the team still find themselves staying late once a week but it’s an improvement. Over the next few months the team is steady, challenged, busy but consistent. No leavers. No fallouts. They achieve a greater output per person than their parallel universe selves and didn’t need to hire anyone.

So before you hire. My question is. Do you actually need to?

Michael Walker (Walker Davies) & Larry Kotch (BrainBroker)


To find out more join us on Thursday 15th September for out talk "Building a Lean Workforce" where we will be joined by 3 expert panelists:

James Brown, European Director - Commercial, People and Technology

Nick Kennell - Principal Consultant

Ghilaine Chan - Consigliere | Plug-in COO | Business Juggler

--> Book your ticket here <--


Interview Better, Hire Better

Interview Better, Hire Better

Recently I've been hearing some stories from candidates about some of their more negative experiences with interview processes, particularly within the startup space. Yes, I get it, hiring and people power are not always the core skillset of a fledgling business, you feel that you have bigger concerns. BUT, if you can secure series A funding, you can interview a Junior Developer properly. No excuses.

Unfortunately, startups are following a worrying trend of testing skills without following up on how this person works with the team and gets on with the numerous other tasks that will crop up. The worst thing you can do is throw an irrelevant algorithmic challenge at a potential hire and then walk out of the room smugly sipping your flat white. You need to get to know this person. They are going to be instrumental in building your dreams/team/fixing the central heating . . .  

Here are my top tips every potential startup interviewer should bear in mind; 

1.    Can they do the job? You should already know . . .The CV or email of recommendation should have cleared this up before the candidate steps in the room. The interview is a conversation to confirm this and work out if this personality can fit in with the rest of the team.

2.    This needs to be a conversation, not an interrogation . . . There’s no need for this to be any more stressful (or even hostile) than it needs to be. Collaboration is key. Let them ask a whole host of questions and air their concerns. This seems time consuming but it will save you so much time and money in the long run.

 3.    Take them for a test run . . .No I don’t mean let them run the office for a day, but let them have a go at or at least talk you through how they would tackle a task that they would ACTUALLY do in their daily grind! This serves two purposes; you get to see them in action and they get a feel for the actual job. It’s a win win. Just make sure to get their genuine feedback as well as assess their abilities.

4.    Social media- Obvious? It should be . . .They will check you out before their friend’s even finished their verbal recommendation. Manage and actively promote your brand from the get-go. This means jumping on Glassdoor, Twitter etc through the eyes of a candidate. How are you coming across not just as product or service, but as an employer?

5.    Want to REALLY know what they’re thinking? Just ask . . . Interviews are often littered with irrelevant questions. Ask the big ones, find out about their ambitions, deepest darkest desires and above all their worries. This might involve some self disclosure to get them to open up a bit . . for example “I really struggled for motivation when slogging through the night a couple of weeks back, what advice would you have given me?”

 6.    Time . .  .No time to recruit? I’m starting to feel carnivorous again! This is probably the worst and the most frequent of the excuses that I hear across the land. Like all important tasks that you may not want to, but have to do, schedule it in the diary and give it the time it deserves. That includes the interview time. Plan and prepare your interviews and warn the other interviewers that it’s on the horizon. Don’t disturb them halfway through their day and make them ask moronic questions that every candidate will have a stock answer for Interviewer; “what are your weaknesses?”, candidate; “ Honesty, perfectionism, too much of a team player" or the classic: "I care too much”. Not enough to think of a proper answer...

Moving to an Internal Recruitment Model

Moving to an Internal Recruitment Model

Moving to an Internal Recruitment Model

HR teams and Hiring Managers want the same thing. World peace, George R.R. Martin to finish writing ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ and good quality hires made quickly. Where they differ is the cost. The one thing the Hiring Managers worry less about is the budget. They are asked to do a job and to do that they need top quality candidates to hire. 

I will outline a few of the potential reservations that Hiring Managers could (and probably will) have if you plan to insource your recruitment and give you a couple of tips to smooth out this process.

The need for speed.

We all know the downsides of working with agencies, you hear people complaining about them all the time. However, good recruitment consultants spend a lot of time talking to relevant candidates, keeping tabs on who is looking to move. That means they can act quickly. Threaten to take that away and you might have a protest on your hands. Not the chain yourself to a tree and shout kind of protest but maybe a disgruntled email or two with the light undertone of discontent.

Quality of candidates.

Hiring Managers are used to a certain quality of candidate from their recruiter. When you look to replace this model with an internal team their concern will be that the quality of candidate put forward will decrease. This would then make their job more difficult. It comes down to the standard resistance to change. They are used to what they have, it works for them. It's expensive so needs to change but without stopping them being able to hire top quality candidates without delay.

What you can do

Definitely avoid a hiring freeze; recruitment agency freeze or anything that involves drastically reducing the temperature. If you do that you create way more problems than you solve and will cost yourself a lot more money in the end. You will lose people as workloads increase because there are no new people. When you decide to defrost the budget and hire again you have to rebuild all the momentum you have lost and essentially start from scratch finding candidates - which takes a lot more time. 

Allow time for the transition. Insourcing is a project and it should be treated like one. That means setting a time specific plan whereby certain vacancies (the easer ones initially) are insourced - allowing time for talent pools to be built up for your harder to fill areas, these candidate pipelines don’t land overnight. You should continue to use recruitment agencies for your harder to fill roles and slowly bring all that activity back in-house as part of the programme. Your Hiring Managers should be informed of the plan, the timelines and should know how much budget they have remaining to work with. You can help them to prioritise accordingly. This is important for every manager but essential for target carrying managers i.e. Sales, who will be worried about the impact this can have on their numbers (and therefore their pocket money).

Get a couple of Hiring Managers involved in the insourcing project. There are always a couple of managers who have been around for ages that everyone trusts (or a couple of really loud ones). Bring them into the project as advisers, make them part of the process. Then they will support you when it comes time make the changes. This can make a massive difference and help minimise your change-is-scary headaches from other managers.

Finally, internal communications is super important. Get the managers comfortable that you will be putting the recruitment in the hands of well qualified industry experts. Let them know the screening will be even tighter than it was before and just as quick. Also, get a couple of hiring mangers involved in the interviews. 

So there's a few tips to help you on your insourcing mission. There are a lot more challenges to come so don't think this is the easy part!