Develop a staffing strategy when making hiring decisions

If your organization's managers make staffing decisions exclusive of the overall organization, you could be fostering inefficiency. Here are the main points to consider when developing an overall strategy.

Think about the many places where staffing decisions come into play. In an average company, you have several managers at many levels who are all thinking about whether they have too much (or too little) work for their staff, what training they should provide, and whether they should hire employees or contractors. These can be project managers and team leaders, department managers, directors, or the CIO.

Hiring decisions are more complex than they used to be. Not only do you have to think about whether you want an employee or a contractor, but you also need to think about offshore options, diversity, and legal obligations. And once the person is brought in, you need to think about skills development, morale, retention, and the work environment.

Companies that have the most difficulty in hiring are those that make decisions on a case-by-case basis. These companies make staffing decisions based on what makes sense for a particular situation or team. But there's a difference between what makes the most sense for an individual manager and what makes the most sense for the entire organization. For instance, a manager may need someone to fill an opening. The manager may think that a contract resource will be required, since the need may not be long-term. That may be the best decision for the manager, but the company may have projects ending in other areas and people who need to be reassigned. So, from a company perspective, perhaps the best course of action would be to look for an internal transfer, even if the person is not a 100-percent, skill-set match.

If everyone makes staff-related decisions based on their individual needs, you'll typically end up being inefficient from an organizational perspective. To avoid this, your company should develop a staffing strategy.

The staffing strategy
A staffing strategy is established at an organizational level. If you asked to see one, you might actually find that your company has a formal document. However, as likely as not, you'll find that this information is not in a stand-alone document, but several components may exist in various policies and memos.

In general, your staffing strategy provides overall guidance on how you deal with staff. This includes how you identify new staff, the types of people you want on your staff, how you'll develop them, and how you'll retain them. The strategy must reflect current realities, but also set the direction for where you want to be in three to five years. To make it real, it must be followed and executed on a daily basis. For instance, if you have a strategy to allow employees to apply for openings first, you can't allow their current managers to block all internal transfers.

The human resources department should provide input into the staffing strategy, but it's not up to them to develop it. Once the strategy is developed, HR will be responsible for building some of the policies and processes to support it.

Staffing strategy components
The parts of a viable staffing strategy include:

Discuss any important and relevant conditions in the marketplace and other external factors that must be considered in this strategy. For instance, if you're a government agency trying to attract and retain high-tech workers, comment on this and the challenges that you face.

Alignment to organizational goals and strategy
A staffing strategy does not exist in isolation. It's one part of what is required to achieve your organizational goals and strategies and to fulfill your organization's mission. For instance, if you have an organizational strategy to outsource nonessential job functions, your staffing strategy must reflect this.

Filling openings
The beginning of the staffing process involves identifying candidates to fill openings. Your strategy provides guidance to managers for how candidates should be identified. This does not necessarily imply new hires. Your strategy should start by describing, in general, how you would like to fill staff openings. For example, you could require that all openings be posted internally before a manager looks for outside candidates. If your preference is to fill openings internally, there should be much more mobility in terms of employee transfers.

Staff balance
In this section, provide guidance about whether employees or contractors should fill openings. The question is twofold. First, what is the organization's preference in terms of the percentage of contractors vs. employees? Second, what should an individual manager consider when an opening exists? Here, you should provide high-level guidance. You could mention, for instance, how the decision is affected by the length of the work, the type of work, the responsibility level, and the confidentiality of the position.

Diversity goals
Discuss your portfolio's position on diversity. This could be in terms of mandates to the managers or just guidance. For instance, discuss how important it is that your workforce contains diversity in terms of gender, race, and culture. This diversity policy may, in turn, affect how you identify candidates and how the hiring process works.

Describe your overall retention strategy. This includes the levels of turnover you're willing to accept and the lengths that you'll go to retain staff. For instance, will you consider counteroffers for your best performers if they decide to leave? Discuss how much management time should be spent on trying to ensure that the staff is happy and challenged.

Employee development
Discuss your overall philosophy for developing staff. This includes growth in professional, business, and technical skills. Every employee can't know everything, but this section provides guidance to managers about the emphasis on employee development, how proactive the managers should be, and the responsibility of each employee in his or her personal development program.

Work environment
Describe any aspects of the overall work environment that you feel are important from a staffing perspective. Again, you're giving guidance here; you're not describing policies in detail. For instance, you could discuss your organization's stance on discrimination and intimidation or your philosophy of how people should be treated, how conflict should be resolved, or how managers and employees communicate. A staffing strategy doesn't provide detailed answers about how managers deal with specific situations. It should provide the overall framework so that managers will find general guidance on all of their staffing questions and needs.

The staffing strategy typically doesn't change much from year to year, unless there's a major change in how the company is thinking about staffing—for instance, if the company is going to outsource work. Each year, however, the staffing strategy is driven down to a staffing plan. The staffing plan provides specific guidance on open positions, the number of employees and contractors, the training budget, and specific retention initiatives. Your organization will be much more effective and efficient if all of these staffing decisions are based on the guidance of an overall staffing strategy that ensures everyone is moving in the same direction.