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The Secret Supply of Resources August 20, 2011

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Process engineering.
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Here’s another situation that every manager will surely encounter. The team’s workload has increased, and people complain that it’s become overwhelming and far beyond their capacity. Most team members struggle along, but at least one person comes to the manager and appeals for help: “We can’t do it. We need more people.” The manager might say that there’s a formal hiring freeze, or some other limit on expenses that effectively prohibits an increase in the department’s headcount. Regardless, the manager explains that there’s a long lead time required to recruit, hire, and train new people, and it could be months before there’s any real impact to the average workload.

At that point there may be a suggestion to transfer headcount from another team. Often this comes with a scornful assessment of that other team’s responsibilities, workload, or work habits: “Those guys aren’t doing anything important, and they aren’t working nearly as hard as we are,” or words to that effect. Again, the only solution proposed is to somehow, somewhere find more people. When I’ve heard this plea, it always seems that people are surprised that I don’t have some secret supply of headcount that I can draw from that will provide immediate relief.

Of course there may be legitimate situations where the manager should try to expand the size of the team, whether through hiring (whether full-time employees or short-term contractors) or internal transfers. However what’s really valuable to the business is figuring out how to handle increased workload with the same resources through some combination of kaizen process improvement and re-prioritization of tasks. This understanding is what differentiates emerging leaders in the team, the people who don’t just bring problems to be solved, but also propose solutions to those problems. These are the people who realize that the first place to look for help is within.

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