The Great Employee Support Debate

Should the workload and capacity of the employee to deliver assignments on time be the deciding factor for who is assigned a junior employee for support? Or should the decision on where to add a new hire relate more to which department brings in the most money?

Hiring new employees isn’t just a matter of what your company as a whole needs, or even what a department needs. It’s a matter that needs to be decided at the level of the individual employee. Which employees are such outstanding performers that they could perform even better, or grow even more, with additional support? When you hire a new employee, you also are investing in the employee who will be the new employee’s manager. From what I have seen in my own career, that seemingly obvious point often is lost on some department heads.

Instead of giving additional support to the employee who is performing the strongest and who leads the business unit with the greatest potential for growth, the additional support is given to the employee in the department who is notperforming well—the one who can’t keep up with the workload or who doesn’t have the skills to do everything the job requires.

Where do you think it makes the most sense to spend the money on additional support? Should the workload and capacity of the employee(s) to deliver assignments on time be the deciding factor for who is assigned a junior employee for support? Or should the decision on where to add a new hire relate more to where in the department the most money is coming in? Alongside awarding additional support to strong performers is the need to award the additional support to the place in the department where the most money is being generated, or where there is the greatest potential for money generation. Awarding additional support to employees who are failing to keep up with the workload, or who are not able to master the skills needed for their jobs, is backward thinking in my mind. It’s pumping more money into a failing endeavor, rather than directing the money to the person and business unit that is performing the best. The analogy it makes me think of is putting money on the horse that is behind in the race rather than the one who is leading the pack.

Like many other aspects of corporate life—from hiring to promotion—decisions about where resources are directed can be impacted by bias and prejudice. In many cases, these prejudices are unconscious. I once knew of a department head who considered himself a forward-thinking, progressive person, but nevertheless displayed an obvious bias toward middle-aged white men. The picture in his mind of the ideal corporate executive was a conservative-looking white man in his fifties or sixties. Perhaps for that reason, when the opportunity to add a junior employee in the department arose, he provided a supporting employee to the white man in his fifties instead of the younger woman. It didn’t matter that the woman’s business unit was larger, stronger, and had greater potential for growth, or that the woman had been on staff longer and had proven herself a high performer who could deliver anything that was asked of her. The department head wanted to give the man the advantage of the additional resource. He didn’t expect the man to learn the same skills the woman had been expected to learn. The junior employee would take care of those things. And he didn’t want the man bogged down with the same minutia the woman was regularly bogged down with. He wanted to free the man for greater development opportunities.

When you invest in a junior employee, the manager also gets invested in for further development opportunities. The manager is freed from lower-level tasks to be exposed to higher-level work. For that reason, it’s important to consider the impact on the managers receiving the additional support. Making a hiring decision that doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint isn’t the only danger. The equal, or greater, danger is the impact on the high-performing employee who was overlooked in favor of the lower-performing employee who got the new hire as an additional resource. That high-performing employee may become demoralized and choose to look for a job at a company that will award them greater career development opportunities.

What does the hiring decision-making model look like at your company? I found this article from Inc. on key questions to ask before you hire a new employee. Like most hiring decision-making advice, however, it does not explore the impact of new hires on the people who manage them. How do you ensure the hiring decisions in your company devote resources to the employees who have the greatest potential and are most deserving of freedom from lower-level tasks in favor of higher-level development?