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  • John R. Durant

Too Busy To Hire? No!

If you've allowed yourself to be too busy to fill the open spots on your team, you’re planning to fail.

As luck would have it, a couple of days after I started writing this article, Scott Adams posted a Dilbert cartoon that fit the theme quite well. Mr. Adams is good at finding the humorous and ironic side of common challenges in the workplace.

We’ve all seen the scenario where open roles on an overworked team go unfilled because the hiring manager is too busy to review resumes, orchestrate interview loops, and evaluate candidates. However, the truth is that we have greater control over this than we may think. By seeking help, properly delegating as much as possible, and setting up the interview process for success, you can create the space you need to keep your team staffed and healthy.

Manager selecting a candidate
Filling team vacancies is of utmost importance

It is a fact of business that even with a team vacancy, the expected outcomes up the management chain rarely change. The downward pressure to maintain workloads irrespective of local team variations is endemic to any organization of even modest size. Of course, it’s not easy for line-level managers to keep their teams at 100% all the time, and changes in team composition are inevitable as people grow and organizations evolve. Wise managers understand that the director or VP to whom they report also experience pressure to deliver on their organization’s commitments irrespective of the normal flow of employees in and out. Because they understand this, they stay on top of keeping the team staffed and healthy. But some allow themselves to fall behind.

The tragic workflow toward an epidemic of unrest

The unfortunate scenario typically unfolds something like this:

  1. A vacancy on the team occurs at a critical time. (Is there any other kind?)

  2. Until the spot is filled, the manager cobbles together a stop-gap solution (including pitching in on IC tasks) to keep deliverables from slipping.

  3. Distracted and overwhelmed, the manager allows strategically important things to hit the floor.

  4. While the manager is preoccupied, the team is also less protected from scope creep. This plunders the team's capacity. Quality declines, more things hit the floor, and the team becomes burned out and frustrated.

  5. Anxiety and frustration on the team grows past the tipping point. Productivity suffers, and, sensing that an awful day of reckoning is coming, some team members choose to leave before harsh judgments are pronounced.

  6. At this point, the team is in tatters, and the manager must answer for the destroyed delivery dates, plummeting quality, diminished outcomes, and epidemic of unrest.

As all of this occurs, anxious stakeholders ask, “Why are you not filling these open headcount?” The manager exasperatedly exclaims, “I’m too busy!” If exhortations to complete the team go unheeded, the endgame is sadly consistent: the team falls into disarray, projects are blown, morale declines, and a formerly solid manager could even face potential dismissal.

You have more control over these outcomes than you realize!

If you have ever been in this agonizing situation, then you know how crushing the demands can be. Therefore, get the most out of the time you do have, and move swiftly to fill open spots with skilled people who fit your culture. In addition to delegating duties to free up your time, Here are things you can do around hiring and managing to keep you out of harm's way:

  • Make sure you know what the team needs and what you want in the open role. It could be that you need someone quite different from the person who recently left. Quickly get the role properly defined and scoped (this is often something you can delegate for the first draft).

  • Dedicate time to pre-screen candidates. Literally put an appointment on your calendar for this, and inform those around you that these appointments are inviolate. There is simply no way around fitting important things into your schedule. Delegate everything you can so you have the time. Period.

  • Protect your team! Stay watchful and contain and trim the scope of anything your team commits to do. Whoever you report to should be your ally in this. If you do not have this support, it is indicative of a larger and more chronic issue. The imposition of unreasonable mandates on the team is likely what led to a role vacancy in the first place. If you don't have this kind of support above you, a crucial conversation with your own manager is way overdue.

  • Communicate. Keep all of your stakeholders aware of team health, hiring efforts, and any help you need. One of the most common mistakes dutiful managers make is failing to ask for help.

The way forward

Many times during my career I have faced the difficulties I'm describing here either personally or within my organization. Managers who are successful for longer periods of time are effective at "managing up" and making sure they have support from the person they report to and from stakeholders around them. They are also effective at delegating duties so that they can focus on the things that they alone are authorized and qualified to do, such as making the final call on who will fill team vacancies. And, although I know this tactic will not be popular with everyone, it's sometimes necessary to pull an "all-nighter" and get many things done. Even in these later stages of my professional life, I still find those nights rewarding. Above all, be aware that you have a lot more control over how busy you are than you may initially feel. Ask for help, delegate, and do not delay replacing departed employees.

© Growthsight, LLC 2021


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