On the hiring vs. efficiency schism

CEOs want growth but also efficiency

What I am about to write is by no means scientific. I don’t have a lot of facts to back it up or anything. It’s mostly anecdotal from a series of places I’ve worked. Apologies in advance that this isn’t “data-driven marketing” or anything, but perhaps you’ll still read it anyway. It’ll be short, I promise.

Here’s the essential argument:

  • The primary role of a CEO is to make sure a given company is maximizing financial returns. (You can argue with that at various levels, but most CEOs probably see their jobs that way. If you disagree with me on this, OK — but read this.)
  • Oftentimes, senior leadership and CEOs will be (rightfully) concerned about the efficiency of their hiring. I’d argue that, at most offices I’ve ever worked in, most people don’t know what other people do aside from maybe an umbrella term. (“She does the mailing list … I think?”) So there’s a concern around hiring, especially in leaner times. Do you really need two people for social media? I dunno. Maybe not. But … maybe. (This varies by org, of course.)
  • At the same time, the entire American business environment has always been set up around big numbers and the ability to report them back to “partners,” be they clients/customers or staff (“internal partners”). So most senior leadership teams generally want to be seen as a place that’s hiring, that’s growing … because for a number of reasons that looks good.
  • The thing is, a standard hiring process is a goddamn mess (lookie here and here) and — with the exception of big hires — senior leadership isn’t really that involved, usually. So they want the numbers to be bigger in terms of headcount, sure — but then they’re trusting a broken process to do it properly. And most of what you hear from them is about the financial imperatives of filling headcount, which terrifies the middle managers into making sure they backfill quick quick quick and not necessarily with strategy.

Alright, so here we come to a fork in the road.

Senior leadership = wants efficiency in hiring and effective hiring decisions.

Senior leadership = wants to be seen (or be able to tell people) that they’re growing, thriving, adding, building.

Senior leadership = often tasks the hiring process itself to lower tiers who don’t necessarily question its inherent elements. Then shit like this happens to people like me.

Now, I understand no CEO/senior leader wants to fire someone — unless they’re a real train wreck — so I don’t think they should go around saying, “Well, we don’t need 11 people for Corporate Communications…” But at the same time, this consistent pull for a senior leader between “4 people could probably do this job, instead of 10” vs. “We need to be growing and attracting others!” is a real boondoggle, right?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Generally, people in senior leadership roles have too many meetings, the results of which usually end up being that some other group/department/division/person has to do more stuff. “Hey Bob, you know all that shit you do everyday? Well, we’ve met and decided you need to do more of it. Thanks, buh bye.” The answer never seems to be that they need to take stock of their meeting time and assess the return on all that discussion. I know you’ve written about the efficacy of meetings before, but I see this relating to it.

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