Last week I wrote about staffing up quickly, and Julie Hendry remarked that the key lesson there for her was about matching capability to demand—if they don’t match you can expect to have problems. Following up (again at her suggestion; thanks Julie for your authoritative editorial voice) I thought I’d set out a picture that I sometimes use when hiring, which also addresses the capability/demand alignment.
It’s a slightly naff analogy, but I often see recruiting staff being like a fitting pieces into a jigsaw puzzle. If you’ve got a team, and you need to bring in one additional person, then it’s very difficult. You have to find someone not just with the right skills, but their strengths, weaknesses and personality also have to complement the existing members of the team. In the jigsaw puzzle analogy, all their edges have to fit exactly the hole you have in your team.
On the other hand, if you’re hiring for several people in similar roles then you’ve got more flexibility. You’ve got a gap in your jigsaw puzzle that is larger than one piece. The first person you hire only has to match some of the edges, and when they arrive they leave a slightly smaller hole. The next person has to fit into that remaining smaller hole, but again they may not need to cover it entirely. The process continues until you’ve got everyone on board except the last remaining hire. Now you’re back to your original problem: you have to find the right person to fill the last gap, and they have to fit perfectly. But for all the hires until then you’ve had some flexibility, getting less so as each new team member is found.
Of course all analogies break down eventually. The people in your team are not rigid jigsaw pieces. You can use the people-gap as an opportunity to shift team members’ responsibilities, giving them career opportunities and yourself some more options for the shape of the gap you need to fill.
Also, you can potentially avoid the “last remaining jigsaw piece” problem by never hiring just one person. Instead of only starting the search when you need the person, it’s ideal to always be able to hire when the right person comes along (to some limit, of course). By giving yourself some staffing headroom you allow yourself to set higher standards of who you say Yes to. Of course, this ideal is very hard to pull off in a cash-constrained organisation (i.e. most organisations), but we should not forget that possibility.
In general I find the jigsaw analogy is useful to me to set and communicate expectations around hiring.