Who, what, why? Assessing staffing needs

Evaluating your current staff and staffing needs is likely something that you do on an ongoing basis, but it’s a particularly useful exercise to go through when a team member leaves the company. Too often, managers have the knee jerk reaction of simply finding a one to one replacement, thus foregoing the opportunity to make the team better and stronger, to foster professional growth, and to make impactful changes to both processes and the makeup of their team.

Here are some ideas on how you can assess your needs and identify opportunities.

Doing enough of, not enough of, too much of

I recommend starting a spreadsheet with three simple columns:

  • doing enough of
  • not enough of
  • too much of.

Start with yourself, as this can be an eye-opening exercise. Categorize everything you do on regular basis into these three columns. You can even add another dimension and rate the level of each entry. For instance, you may have “Respond to RFPs” in the “doing too much of” column, and now you can assign a value from 1 to 10 to capture just how much “too much” time you’ve been allocating to RFPs. You can even take it step further and color-code each entry to create a visual of how much you enjoy (or don’t enjoy) this task or how well you think you’re doing the task.

It can be as simple as the example below:


Take a few hard looks at what you’ve captured. Now look at the “not enough of” column and ask yourself why you feel that each of those items are being neglected and what needs to happen for you to be able to move those tasks into the “enough of” column. Next, move on to the “too much of” column. For each item, ask yourself “Am I the best person to do this? What type of person is best suited for this? Do we currently have someone on our team who could make this part of their role? If we created a new position that included this particular responsibility, what else would their job entail?” Once you’ve gone through this exercise for yourself, ask your managers to do the same and discuss the results in your check-ins. Have each team member complete the exercise themselves for one of their one one ones with their managers. Be clear about the purpose of this initiative. It’s to make the company stronger and to harness each person’s strengths and interests, but it is not a guarantee that everybody only gets to work on the things that they enjoy the most.

High-level department snapshot

While the previous approach can be pretty elaborate, creating a high-level department snapshot is a quick way to get your staffing assessment started. For each department, create bullet points for the following categories:

  • Pain points and challenges
  • Strengths and opportunities
  • Changes to consider

It’s important to tackle the last bullet point only after you’ve given serious thought to the first two items. And once you get to “changes”, be sure to think about processes, policies, and initiatives as well. Sometimes, adding a new employee is not the answer. For instance, implementing a new app to facilitate collaboration, finally deciding to say no to certain projects, offering training to one or more individuals, or even simple things such as new seating arrangement can make a significant impact and solve some of your challenges. Obviously, when you do see the need for a new position, evaluate if it would make sense to fill it internally or if you need to bring in someone from the outside. I love to find opportunities for existing team members to stretch themselves and grow professionally.

Individual strengths, interests, passions, goals, and weaknesses

As a manager and coach, it is your duty to observe your team members and to continuously identify their unique superpowers, their passions and interests, goals, and their weaknesses, and to collaborate with each person to optimize their performance and maximize their happiness. In order to keep your assessments top of mind and current, and to have a log that allows you to go back in time and see a person’s progression, it can be helpful to keep a history of your entries rather than overwriting them each time. What you’re looking to find here is alignment between the team member’s goals and the company’s. How can you best leverage someone’s strengths? If a particular weakness is an obstacle towards achieving alignment, is there something you can do to in terms of coaching and providing resources in order to alleviate the weakness, or would it make more sense to shift certain responsibilities to someone else? Be sure to ask your team members to provide a self-assessment as well – it’s another great way to structure on of your check-ins.

Don’t be afraid of a switcheroo

As I mentioned before, sometimes just throwing a new hire into the mix is not the best option. Always focus on an internal assessment first. Look for opportunities to harness your team members’ strengths and empower them to rise to the occasion. Don’t be afraid to switch things up. In fact, you may even be able to pull a switcheroo and have two or more team members trade positions. For instance, in one of my previous companies, I switched our Support Manager and our Network Administrator, as their personalities were much better suited for each other’s roles. It doesn’t always have to be a one on one switch, either. Sometimes, you can revamp several positions. Be committed to providing adequate training and to be forgiving when things don’t go as smoothly as expected at first. If you have the right people on board, they’ll learn. Always remember that you can teach people how to do something but you can’t teach them how to be.

What about you? What are your tips for assessing staffing needs?

The diversity challenge

In my previous post, I mentioned that company culture was not about a specific demographic, but about how each person lives and breathes the company values. Too often, the concept of “culture” is misinterpreted. Sadly, a lot of times, people confuse it with a homogenized environment in different aspects, such as race, gender, alumni, and age. The truth is that diversity can be one of your biggest assets, as it makes your team members more adept in interacting with different people and it allows you to leverage each person’s unique strengths. So what can you do to create a highly functional, diverse team? What can each team member, regardless of their role, do, to harness the benefits of diversity? In this post, let me put special emphasis on age diversity, since this has become somewhat of an elephant in the room.

Have an open mind

A great start to making diversity work for you is to make sure that you as a manager have an open mind and that you also foster not just tolerance but the full embracing of differences. Why not make open mindedness part of your company values and have it displayed front and center in your office? In addition, consider ways in which you can help team members get to know each other better. For instance, at Hannon Hill, we have “hot seats” with the new hires. It’s important for new team members to show their personalities and for existing employees to show their interest in getting to know them. Questions may range from “what’s been the biggest surprise in your first week of working here?” to “what would be the title of your autobiography?”. If you’re a manager, you’ll want to pay attention to who is asking questions and shows curiosity.

Educate yourself

If you’re not willing to learn about people who are different from you, you are hampering your own personal and professional development and your company’s. When I started working with an increasing number of millenials, I made it a priority to read at least one article a day on how to work with them, what motivates them, what scares them, and how to create an environment in which they thrive. I expect my team members to read, watch videos, and listen to audiobooks in order to always get better at their craft and that includes being able to understand, embrace, and ultimately leverage differences. Be sure to make clear to your team members that this is what you expect of them.

Have story sharing sessions

In one of our manager workshops, we went through a very impactful exercise: presenting our timeline. Each person was free to share whatever they felt comfortable with, and the idea was to present a timeline of the highlights and lowlights in their career and, if they so choose, their personal lives, and the lessons they learned from each. You wouldn’t believe how eye-opening it was, and the exercise certainly enhanced our appreciation for our teammates, and our admiration for and empathy with them.

Talk about differences

I understand the good intentions when people say “I don’t see color/gender/age”. But doesn’t that mean that you don’t see each person for the unique individual they are? Wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge each other’s different backgrounds, personalities, and experiences and talk about them? I recommend fun exercises like personality tests. 16Personalities is a free test that only takes about 10-15 minutes. Discuss the results. Ideally, follow up with another exercise, such as having a small group present a concept (or even a sales pitch) to someone on the team with a specific personality type.

Accommodate preferences when and where it makes sense

Don’t use your background or personality type as an excuse for acting a certain way. Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stretch yourself and go to networking events. Just because you’re “not a morning person” doesn’t mean that it’s you should not make sales calls early in the morning. Be sure to make this clear to your team. That being said, accommodate your team members’ preferences where it makes sense. For example, if your millenial software engineer prefers a schedule that allows him to take a break for a couple of hours in the middle of the day to pursue his passion and it doesn’t affect other team members or the desired output, consider giving your team member this flexibility. Or if one of your team members wants to take a day off to celebrate a specific holiday, allow it if it doesn’t negatively impact other people’s work.

Focus on strengths

“Oh, those millennials are so entitled! They have no idea about the real world!” The number of times I’ve heard this statement is equal to the number of times I’ve been supremely frustrated with its narrow mindedness. Instead of immediately focusing on stereotypes, which often have a negative tendency, challenge yourself and your team to look at the positives of each characteristic. So when you hear “millenials are entitled”, think about how to find the best trait in this and how to make it work for you. What about “millenials are confident and fearless”? How can you leverage that part of the equation? When you hear “Baby boomers are stuck in their ways”, think “they bring so much discipline and hard work to the table. How can we best leverage that?” You get the picture.

Involve HR

Finally, make sure to have ongoing conversations with HR. Laws, rules, and best practices change all the time, and your human resources pros make it their mission to stay on top of it. Talk to them about your initiatives. Ask them what you can or can’t do. Be open to their feedback.

You would be doing your team members and your company a disservice if you didn’t focus on embracing diversity. Consider this a diversity 101 post and stay tuned for more to come.

What about you? What are you doing to embrace diversity?