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Employee Lifecycle
How To Create An Efficient, Sustainable Growth Hiring Plan

With the risk of dating this article, a lot of companies have been laying off large numbers of workers recently

While some of these are due to the economic downturn or revenue issues in general, many of these layoffs were ways to make companies “leaner”. Makes me think—where was this thought when they were creating their hiring plans?

There has been a race (in the tech world in particular) to say and show off how many people companies have hired. While that is great, very often you see people being hired in roles that are doubling in two different departments.

Eventually, if something even tiny goes wrong, they’re the first ones to go. Not to mention that the duplication of responsibilities across different roles can result in tensions and employee dissatisfaction.

I’ve been in a few situations where I’ve seen this before hiring and have had to fix the lack of communication between leaders.

This is why a good headcount planning/hiring planning strategy is incredibly important. Be it annually, semi-annually, or quarterly, getting all the team leaders together to discuss and understand how each team will grow and develop is key to sustainable growth.

Here I’ll take you my method for creating an efficient, sustainable hiring plan.

Definitions and some historical context

Before defining what I mean by hiring plans, I’d like to give a historic overview of how the area has developed with some technical definitions and differences between other similar terms.

Workforce planning

Historically, as part of the Human Resource function, the HR leader would work with executive leadership to define what was known as “workforce planning”

Now when you hear workforce planning you might think of prolonged meetings to develop a comprehensive and complicated business plan, covering anything from new hires to promotions and succession planning, in line with business objectives.

This is probably why it lost popularity. It seems a bit too onerous on both HR and the business and, because of how comprehensive it is, it naturally builds rigidity into the plan overall. This meant that sometimes companies felt like they are not agile enough to respond to market fluctuations—especially for smaller companies.

Talent planning

Then there is talent planning. Sometimes the term is used synonymously with hiring planning but, classically, it’s more focused on talent development and management. 

Talent planning spans the whole candidate-to-employer journey, but it looks at the journey from the perspective of how you plan for the person in the role. 

Usually, the steps are:

  • Planning (workforce or hiring)
  • Attracting
  • Developing
  • Retaining
  • Transitioning (out or upwards).

It often looks at things like processes, tools, and learning opportunities talent has while in their role, so it is a bit more operational. 

It is also quite narrow in that it only looks at how to guide employees through the talent management pipeline.

Hiring plan/Headcount plan/Recruitment plan

A hiring, headcount, or recruitment plan is when you look at what the needs of the business are now and over the next three, six, or twelve months and then you create a plan around how you will meet those needs via people. 

Often, the easiest way to identify the need is to look at gaps in skills and experience. Creating an org chart to go with the new hiring plan helps visualize reporting lines and working relationships.

Eventually, this helps the talent acquisition team plan ahead for things like when to open the roles, how much resource to allocate, and work out prioritisation for the teams.

Often, hiring planning is considered more of an operational plan rather than a purely strategic one. This is because it should always be grounded in delivery within a specific budget, time, and resources, and it’s less likely to contain expansive analysis.

This is a crucial part of any new year/quarter/other period hiring, but it can be a bit too surface level if it’s on its own and not created in line with a workforce planning scheme.

To summarise:

Workforce planning —a comprehensive and expansive analysis of the current and future workforce.

Talent planning—is more part of talent management

Hiring plan—an operational plan on who the company needs and how to execute the hiring.

workforce talent hiring infographic

Moving towards a Sustainable hiring plan

The three options above each have their own place within a company. But, often, the way reality works is that companies don’t have the time or resources to go through all of these plans. This is especially true if the company is a startup running a very lean operation.

This is why I’ve created a hybrid of the hiring plan and the workforce plan—picking up areas of both where you can make the hiring plan a bit more expansive and strategic and keep the workforce plan snappy and actionable.

The way I run this is by running a hiring planning session with every leader in the company for the next 12 months (could be less) and we walk through things like gap analysis and job creation.

Throughout that process, I ask questions that bring us into the realm of workforce planning. I seek to understand the wider business performance currently and business needs, and then think about whether any skill gap is coachable for the current team.

After that, it’s important to collate the headcount from all the different leaders together (including the job descriptions) and start identifying where some teams potentially may be hiring duplicates. 

This is something to watch out for in the following teams:

  • Sales <> Marketing
  • Engineering <> Product <> IT <> Data
  • Finance <> Business Operations <> Data
  • HR <> Finance
  • Finance <> Procurement (if not within finance already).

For example, I once had to step in when Finance wanted to hire someone to head procurement but the supply chain team was already looking for someone to head up procurement!

As soon as Finance approached me to allocate the role to my team, I looked through the job description and recognised that it was the same job and highlighted this by bringing the leaders into a room and discussing it. 

Often, these situations are because one team feels like they aren’t getting enough information or bandwidth from another team and they think that hiring someone to bridge the gap and take over will help (but it never does).

As the company grows, each functional leader will likely be overseeing a larger group and the People Partners responsible for each area will run these exercises separately, feeding back up the chain to the C-suite on what they may need as headcount. This is called bottom-up planning. 

Often, the actual decision-making is top-down, where the C-suite will review the headcount together (likely up to a certain level, juniors and operational staff may go into a “volume hiring budget”, which operates on estimates) and decide the overall headcount plan. 

So the exercise above is scalable but, as the company grows larger, there are more people involved in the making of the hiring plan rather than just the Chief People Officer.

Walkthrough of the hiring planning process

The hiring strategy process flow goes something like this:

  • Working out how your team will contribute to the company goal
  • Identifying the skills/experience needed to get there
  • Assessing specific skill needs/gaps
  • Identifying strengths of the current team
  • Assessing if the skill gap is coachable for the current team. If not—create the positions
  • Work with HR/Talent Acquisition to create a job description
  • Work with other team leaders to discuss your ideas for hiring this person so there’s no overlap
  • Create a plan on when you need to hire and how you will do it.

Questions to ask while making a hiring plan

As mentioned above, what drives a hiring plan to become a more sustainable and strategic version is to ask the right questions.

Most line managers should be able to answer the following questions in a manner that helps you and them understand the most important aspects of their hiring needs and the scope and urgency of a role.

Q: What resources/budget do you have (if you have one)?

Let’s face it, this is very much the deciding factor here. If you go through the entire checklist and discover that you won’t be able to find the person you need with the budget you have, you will be able to go back to Finance/C-leadership to discuss this with the answers from below.

If you don’t have a budget, keep in mind the expense so you can advise finance. You may need to make tradeoffs on things like certain skills or seniority to fit a smaller budget.

Q. What will this person do here? What are the specific outcomes we expect of this role in the first 6 months/12 months/more?

I recommend talking about specific outcomes so that there is really a focus on why this person is needed. This is how you avoid hiring for skills only (i.e. “Oh this person’s skills would be nice to have in the team”—doing what?).

Q. Who will they interact with the most internally? Do we need their input in the hiring process or during the formation of the job description?

There are very few roles nowadays that don’t interact cross-functionally in the company. Getting outside opinions can broaden or narrow the role, but it’ll make it a better fit either way.

For example, if Finance wants to hire someone for Data, what is the current Data team not providing them with?

Q. Is there an overlap between the person in this role and anyone else in the company? If so, to what degree is there overlap and what are the differences making this role necessary?

Continuing with the example from above, if Finance hires a Data person, they will need to work with the Data team. But is it appropriate to have so much overlap, or can the Data team spare capacity to provide Finance with the information they need? Or, should the Data team just hire the person to keep the reporting lines clear?

Q. What experience and/or skills will the best candidate need to achieve success in the role?

This is so you and the hiring manager have some idea about what you’re looking for. Ideally, there should be some criteria that are a “must-have” and some that are “nice to have”. 

This should further cement the need for the role and start you thinking about the urgency. You should avoid being too nebulous e.g. if all you can think about is people that are good with communication and self-motivation, you may need to go back up to the outcomes. Of course, being overly prescriptive is also a hindrance.

(I cover this some more in my article on candidate sourcing).

Q. When is the role needed—yesterday, in 3 months, in 6 months?

This is where we start thinking about the urgency of the role. This will help you and the talent acquisition team plan when a role should be posted, what is the urgency, and how many resources to put into it right now.

Q. What happens if we don’t hire the person in 6 months?

This is more of a mental exercise to really think about the urgency. It’s easy to say “well we won’t achieve our targets” and be done with this prompt. 

Really take your time to think about what will happen if you don’t have this resource but the demands of your team remain the same. This is how to truly get the urgency of the role.

In my career, I’ve only had one manager tell me “Hey Mariya, my role is not urgent but wanted to give you the heads up that I need this resource in 6 months and it’ll be a tough one, so let’s post it now.” It brought tears to my eyes—be like that!

Q. Who can/will take up the mantle in the interim?

Again, this helps assess the urgency of the role and also gets the line manager thinking about creating a stretch goal for someone internally or making it part of their development plan. 

I’ve seen many a time when hiring is the first go-to, but, once we get to this question, we discover there are a lot of under-utilised people in the team already.

Q. What is the career path (if any)?

This is something any manager should think about when they look to hire anyone. Sometimes the answer is that there isn’t one because it’s a super senior role already (e.g. looking to hire a C-level role). 

Other times, however, it’s because the company needs this person only for a fixed amount of time when they look at it carefully. If so, perhaps getting a contractor is a better fit than a permanent staff member who’ll then be idle after the project.

Related read: Contractor vs. Employee: Pros And Cons, And Which To Hire

Q. Do you have the time to hire right now/when will you have the time?

Hiring should take a fair bit of the weekly calendar and, the more urgent the role, the more time someone should be prepared to dedicate to the recruitment process.

Job posting, checking the applicant tracking system, posting on social media, screening resumes, and interviewing all take time. 

Other things I also see people forget to factor in for time include feedback (top talent requires good feedback), background checks, and onboarding.

Often, discussions I have with hiring managers looking to scale teams quickly revolve around their team having the capacity to run a great onboarding process for all new employees.

No Q. what about company culture-fit?

Note that in none of the above I talk about "company culture fit”. This is because I’m of the firm belief that this can be really limiting at this stage and can be a source of bias.

Focus on things like behaviors, skills, and experience fit of the ideal candidate and you will avoid all your new hires looking like they came out of the same mold.

Armed with the answers to these questions, go back to your leader or leadership and discuss the hiring wider plan.

If you have a dedicated hiring team/resource, be prepared to debate the urgency of your role with other teams which have equally or more urgent roles. 

The answers to the above questions also have the benefit of guiding both the selection process and the hiring decision down the line so they are doing double duty!

Checklist

checklist graphic

Most companies operate on an annual or semi-annual strategic hiring plan, so here is a checklist of what you should verify and plan for by the time the hiring period you have planned for starts.

  • An overall hiring plan for the company
  • A space for each team to hire throughout the period for the different roles they have
  • You have verified with cross-functional stakeholders about the role you're adding
  • You’ve answered all the questions in the section above
  • You’ve started creating job descriptions with HR/Talent
  • You’ve started thinking about how to hire this person (the interview questions or tasks in the hiring process)
  • Once you have posted and started hiring for the role, you start thinking about what the next iteration of your team looks like for the next round.

Caveats to avoid

If you follow the above you should develop a lean and sustainable hiring plan which will help you and your team achieve your goals and contribute to the overall company objectives.

However, I cannot stress enough that all of this is a way to avoid mis-hiring or over-hiring—not to justify crunching your current team!

I’ve seen situations where hiring managers do not understand, or think they don’t have the time to plan, so they make rash decisions that either lead them to overhiring or not hiring at all (“Because it’s too much hassle, Mariya!”). 

The latter means that the extra work will fall onto current team members that are perhaps already at full capacity or not trained to take on these tasks. This is the surefire way to burnout your team.

I remember once having to advocate that our Director of Warehouse should not be cross-trained in technical customer experience (CX). 

On the face of it, it made sense to that leader because the person was in the right timezone and they had a lot of idle time as there wasn’t a lot to do in the warehouse. However, I argued that: 

a) The person will need to be trained up in something they were not hired to do (in some jurisdictions that is a legal issue too). 

b) This will take up more CX team’s time than it would for them to cover those tickets for a bit while we hire a person in the timezone.

c) This will be the most highly paid CX person anyone has ever hired 

d) Perhaps the supply chain team has other projects in mind they can work on, and their skills are better suited to make them work at capacity.

When you put it the way above, it really doesn’t make sense to try and burn out two different teams to try to save on hiring one junior customer experience associate.

Closing thoughts

A hiring plan takes time. It can be labour intensive, and it can make you think of things you don’t have ready answers to. However, that shouldn't stop you from going through the process and trying to go a bit deeper into the planning to make it more sustainable and accurate.

As if right on time, just as I was writing this article, a friend reached out to me with the following story. 

They were in discussion with a company that liked their skills but, over the course of almost 9 months, kept changing the roles my friend was being considered for. 

This is a waste of everyone's time and likely an indicator that they really didn't have a plan in place when they engaged my friend in a discussion. 

It makes me think that they saw their experience and fell for the trap of “We’d love to have someone with that experience on board” without knowing what they would do with them.

Eventually, they ended up abruptly pulling out of the process, wasting everyone’s time and leaving a bitter taste.

I wish I could tell you this is a one-off example of a particularly bad candidate experience, but it’s not. It seems to be the norm in this “hire first ask questions later” environment that we’ve bred. 

I’ve been part of these scaling efforts myself—doubled even tripled teams in a year—but I’ve always tried to be the voice of challenge in those rooms. 

This has helped the teams I’ve worked with have a clearer goal in mind so that they can, in turn, give the right candidates the best candidate experience and maintain a great employer brand.

Hiring goals should be treated just like any other goals—every minute you spend planning before you execute like mad is at least a few minutes you don’t spend backtracking and wasting.

I’m not saying that this means you will never make people redundant, but it’s always healthy to question yourself from time to time, to check if you’re on the right path.

To you, hiring and firing may eventually end up looking like numbers or line items but, to people, this is their livelihood.

Some further resources to help you hire the right talent when you need it:

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By Mariya Hristova

Mariya is a talent professional turned HR generalist with experience in large corporates and start-ups. She’s seasoned at recruiting all over the world across many different industries, specialising in market entries, expansion, or scaling projects. She is of the firm belief that recruiting is first and foremost a people profession, so the focus should be on the people!