A company’s needs evolve as it grows. Each step from small to big, from entrepreneurial to bureaucratic, from simple to complex, changes and adds to the work that must be done to keep the organization operating and thriving—and sooner or later, this necessitates the adding of roles.
Ideally, roles will be added, changed, or sometimes even removed to best serve the organization’s strategy. However, as a company embarks on the journey from one level of evolution to the next, structures or roles sometimes appear on the org charts that are more advanced than what the organization is actually ready for.
Are Your Roles Aligned With Your Goals?
For example, in a very small startup, one person might handle all marketing and sales tasks. As the company grows, this person might begin to manage a team. As growth continues, the sales and marketing team may begin to specialize: some members may do exclusively sales, others sales administration, contract writing, social media, or marketing communications. Eventually, this team may grow too big for one person to manage and need to be split into separate sales and marketing teams. And so it goes.
As teams proliferate or evolve into functions, they begin to take on identities of their own—and, sometimes, compete for resources not only with each other but with the organization as a whole. Each team or function can make a good argument for why they need additional resources. However, there is often a lack of cohesive logic for resource adds when viewed from the top. Poor resourcing decisions can result in short-sighted choices that can hinder the organization.
3 Principles for Adding Roles Strategically
The question about when is it time to add a role in an organization’s structure is a tricky one, because it’s not always evident when that time is right or what value the role will bring to the business—and most organizations lack sound decision-making guidelines for making resourcing decisions. It seems many organizations are playing catch up to the needs of the business. We frequently see this in really big companies that repeatedly institute hiring freezes because they don’t have good decision making guidelines or processes for managing headcount and resource adds. While a hiring freeze can sometimes be appropriate, it’s a draconian measure compared to finding ways for leaders in the organization to make good decisions about what is really needed.
The following suggestions can help leaders determine in a strategically aligned way whether, when, and how to add roles in their organization.
- Assess whether the pain really is unbearable. No matter how large the company, resources will always be at a premium. A good rule of thumb for positions in supporting functions is to only add a new position when the pain of not doing so has become so significant that the necessity of adding it becomes clearly evident. The reason for this is that no matter how nice it might be to have that role on board, support roles ultimately represent a cost to the business, rather than generating revenue.
- Design the work to add value. Just reacting to increased workload by splitting a role– for instance, as in the example above, into a head of sales and a head of marketing—may or may not be sufficient. Instead, consider how you might add roles and positions in a way that will facilitate work performance. This might entail really examining how each of those roles actually adds value and creates differentiation for the organization.
- Ask: can the cost basis support the addition of roles? Years ago I was doing some work with a very small startup company. One day, without warning, one of the owners went out and leased a significantly bigger office space than was needed. Those of us working with this organization were taken aback. The company still had very little revenue and was still reliant on investors to meet operating costs while preparing for their launch. The decision was made based on money which didn’t yet exist—a risky proposition for any company. Even in a large organization where it might seem like resources are plentiful, thought must be given as to when the right time is for resource investments to be made.
Ultimately, all of these suggestions come down to cost vs. value. While it can be tempting to rationalize splitting roles for the sake of improved support, these decisions always need to be considered carefully to ensure that resources are allocated in a way that best supports the organization’s strategic goals.