When my family and I were trekking in the Kumbu, the Mount Everest region in the Himalayas, we hired my dear friend and climbing guide, Pema Dorje Sherpa. He is an energetic and charismatic man and we loved his stories. He was responsible for planning how much food to take, how many porters were needed to carry supplies, and where we would stop to rest or sleep. He basically coordinated all the details of the trip so we
could stick with hiking.
Trek coordinators like Pema usually hire porters from local villages. These men are paid to carry heavy loads on their backs. As I observed other hiking parties, I noticed that they had a lot more porters than Pema had hired for our adventure. Although we didn’t have as many porters, our group had more yaks. One day, I asked Pema why he used yaks rather than porters. Yaks were more expensive, ate more food, moved slower, and couldn’t climb the high mountain passes. Having so many yaks meant the group had to take the valley routes, which required a lot more travel time. What kind of business sense was that?
Pema thoughtfully answered, “Yes, that’s true, but they don’t get headaches. They don’t complain about sore eet. They don’t whine and gripe. They don’t beg, work the clients for tips, or swindle handouts, and I never have to fire them.” As the trip progressed, I realized the wisdom of Pema’s philosophy. This little lesson shaped my thoughts about how I do my hiring. Let me explain.
Several years ago, I sold several of my businesses and shut down a couple of others. In working with one, it came to a point where a good part of the team had been dissolved. Consequently, I was required to jump in and, for a short time, handle aspects of the business that were previously taken care of by others. I was dismayed as I discovered that I was able to complete tasks that I had previously hired five people to work on.
I might not have done some things with the same level of accuracy as they were doing them, but they took me far less time. While running a one-man show was not a long-term solution, I was, in large measure, able to do the job of five individuals. What I would have given for a yak! I’ve seen this situation frequently. It is vital that you keep your business lean and only hire enough people to cover the tasks at hand.
One of my heroes is a man named Ray Noorda, the charismatic leader of Novell, Inc, in the 1980-1990s. One of networking technology’s pioneers, he had a philosophy that, for many years, bothered many people at Novell, including me. He was heard to say, “It’s spring cleaning, whether we need it or not!” Every spring, Novell would lay off 15 percent of the employees, regardless of the financial status of the company. The longer I’ve been in business, the more I’ve come to understand the reason behind this action. This was his way of systematically keeping the company lean and effective.
More than just streamlining, this spring cleaning gave him an excuse to get rid of all the deadwood drifting around the hallways. It sounds harsh, but no matter how vigilant you are, growing organizations accumulate more dead wood the larger they get.
Many of you have seen employees playing video games or surfing the Internet while they think the boss isn’t looking. As a general rule, you can always run much leaner and have happier, more satisfied employees when the company is running efficiently. Everyone likes to feel that they contribute. Doing busy work is both draining and demeaning. Don’t have employees who get stuck with that kind of work. Around here, the team hears me say, “Slow to hire, quick to fire.” Make a lean, effective team.
My personal preference is to have no more than 15 employees. To maintain that level, I will outsource certain aspects of the business. After hitting that 15-person threshold, I find that we lose the intimacy we enjoy in our small-business environment. On top of that, the team begins to lose energy. In my work at Novell, I was always fascinated by the company’s startup story. A small team of five individuals named SuperSet created 90 percent of the famous network operating system, NetWare. Once the core was created, Novell went about hiring thousands of additional engineers to write and maintain the remaining 10 percent. That just isn’t necessary. The brutal reality is that employees will expand their work to fill the workday, often wasting money, momentum, and time.
Porter’s Points – Don’t Hire Stupid
- Always run a little lean in the organization. It’s okay if some of your specialists take on one or two general assignments.
- Whether you set up a schedule or not, always be sure to know when it’s time for spring cleaning.
- Decide now what limits you will put on hiring. Perhaps your idea will grow bigger than Rich’s 15 employees; if you think it will, decide what your action will be. Growth must be deliberate, not accidental.