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The Virtual Headcount
While the weather is too hot to think long thoughts, I’ll share some short and sweet nuggets with you. This one concerns mainly large organisations and I encounter it at least once a month.
A common thing that happens in every company is that teams request extra headcount. Depending on the team they may have a solid business case and real urgency due to external or internal changes. Or they might just want to expand their scope of work because they are ambitious and want to have more impact.
On an off note, a long time ago I asked my board member at the time for a salary increase. Of course I brought with me a treasure trove of data supporting that what I was asking for was a reasonable market rate. To which he replied “Jevgeni, nobody has ever brought me data supporting reduction of their salary”. I always remember that when someone asks for a raise or more headcount, and in all my career nobody has yet come to me and told me, “Jevgeni, I have these extra people that I don’t want” :)
But before I even start reviewing or challenging their business case, I’ll ask a simple question — “How do you intend to fill that headcount?”.
The problem is that having headcount is not the same as having people doing their jobs, you need to:
Get extra bandwidth from the recruiting organization in the medium term (as we are increasing overall plans)
Get priority ahead of other teams (often it’s a zero-sum game in short-term, as recruiting bandwidth is limited)
Find, onboard and train those people on top of the currently planned increase of team
Most commonly, once you review the actual ability to hire, it turns out that the headcount will in all likelihood be virtual in any timeline that matters, and unless there is a true urgency to move headcount from other teams, it’s best to just reprioritise the team’s work rather than hire more people.
Usually I’ll say “Look, guys, I can draw you any virtual headcount you want in the Excel sheet, but it won’t affect you real ability to deliver even one bit”.
So if you are leading a team in an organization constrained by hiring (which is almost every quickly growing organization), then make sure it’s actually possible to get more people before asking :)