Justifying More Staff: Avoid These 9 Mistakes

Increasing headcount


One of our most popular articles here at MRH discusses a basic strategy that we’ve used to justify an increase in staff.  And it’s no surprise: based on our research, 50% of managers say the biggest challenge they face is the size of their staff.  We’ve said it many times, but will mention it again.  Between salaries, benefits, insurance and other employer liabilities, people are expensive.  Which is why getting more people can be tough, especially when the economy is anything less than booming.  So, like it or not, increasing the size of a staff is often difficult for managers to do.  But it’s not impossible.  By putting sound rationales together and making your case, it can be done.  However, before you walk into the boss’s office to plead your case, make sure you avoid these classic mistakes.


1. Not Stretching What You Currently Have

If you go into a board room, or into a Senior Vice President’s office to ask for an increase in headcount, do a reality check.  Make sure your current staff is not working a straight 40 hours a week and taking a leisurely lunch every day.  Like it or not, to justify more staff, you need to show that you are pushing your staff to keep up.  Does it mean everyone should be working 80 hours a week before you ask for help?  No.  But it does mean that you need to have made every attempt to max out what you currently have.  Doing so not only shows you’re creative with how you run your team, but also that you can be trusted to put added staff to good use.


2. Not Prioritizing Work Effectively

When the Director calls you into his or her office to talk about your request for hiring more employees, be prepared to be asked what your team is working on.  Equally, be prepared to demonstrate you’ve deprioritized some work that is not critical.  Stating that you need more staff because you have a lot of high priority work waiting, while your employees are known to working lesser important tasks will undermine your cause.


3. Having No Supporting Data

The last thing you want to do when you are asking to increase your staff, or trying to justify more resources, is doing so without any data.  Data helps you demonstrate that the understaffed condition is a systemic trend, and not just a short-term spike in workload.  It’s critical that you have some form of data and information already in hand to back up your request for more staff.  Asking to hire more people, without a data-drive rationale as to why, is essentially management-suicide in some organizations.  Whatever data you choose to present – and there are many options – should be in direct support of the need for staff.

What Data Can I Present To Make My Case for Increasing Staff?


Here are some Examples:

1. Working hours of current staff, which show everyone is consistently working extended hours.

2. Quality issues, suggesting increase inspection or process oversight is needed.

3. Increased volume of shipments, which explain why more staff is needed to fulfill and prepare orders, or support customers.

4. Increased number of patients, which requires additional nursing support to provide proper care.

5. Decreased time for each task, which can lead to quality problems.

6. Under-spending on critical research, which may indicate a lack of focused or dedicated support

4. Inability to Explain What’s Changed

One question you should almost certainly expect when you ask for more resources is “What has changed, such that you need more staff?”  You need to have an answer to this (which is where your data comes in!) in order to gain initial support.  If you are unable to explain what has changed or why your current staff is now insufficient, you’re going to be turning an uphill battle into a vertical climb.  Find a way to present some sort of Before and After comparison.  Being able to clearly articulate what’s changed not only shows you’re prepared and have thought it over, but it also shows you are in tune with what is going on in your organization, and know when things are off.


5. Lacking Specifics on the Type of Staff You Need

After the initial ice-breaking conversation about requiring more staff, the next question you’ll be asked is “So what kind of staff do you need?”  It’s a natural question, right?  You need staff, OK, so what are you looking for?  Your answer should focus on skill sets and experience.  What background should the added staff have; what experience or knowledge do you seek?  Does your team have any particular skill gaps that are causing issues?  One thing you certainly cannot say is “I just need somebody, anybody.”  While that may certainly be how you feel, be careful what you wish for.  Be specific with what it is you need.


“Data helps you demonstrate that the understaffed condition is a systemic trend, and not just a short-term spike in workload”

6. Unable to Explain What You Will Have Them Do

When asking for an increase in staff, you also need to be prepared to explain how they will fit within your team or department.  What work will be assigned to them?  What benefit will the increased capacity give you, and more importantly, give to the business?  You should be prepared to answer this line of questioning with specifics.  Do not say “Well, I would just have them take calls like the rest of the Customer Service team.”  Instead, suggest that one of your growing customer’s really needs a dedicated account representative.  “Our sales to Ellep’s Electronics is growing rapidly.  I really need a dedicated person to support them, just like we have one for Waterson Digital.”


7.  You Are Unable to Explain What Is Not Getting Done

By the time your staffing level becomes a real problem, your team will have already narrowed its focus onto things like the day to day activities, and less on the long-term success of the department, or the business.  For instance, if your team of technical specialists is being stretched thin, they will likely be supporting the most pressing needs and critical projects.  As a result, they will have abandoned things like Research and Development (R&D) and related work in support of the next generation of products.  Be sure to paint a clear picture explaining how the resource problem is impacting other activities that are critical to your business.  Many times, the person with the authority to authorize a new hire is only aware of the main projects.  Take the time to enlighten him or her about the other, lesser-known but just-as-important work your team needs to support.

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8.  You Cannot Explain “Why Now,” or the Future Benefit

When you’re trying to justify an increase in headcount, be sure to emphasize the benefit the business will see in the future, and how added staff is needed to get there.  For example, if you have a plan to open up a second practice or branch in another city in a two years, perhaps the added staff now will help position you to have trained personnel ready to go when the time is right to open the office.  Alternatively, if you have several employees nearing retirement, you may need staff to help train and learn from them so their knowledge is retained within the company.  If you are unable to address the timeliness of the hiring need, you may likely have your request deferred, or declined altogether, until the need becomes more pressing.


9.  You Ask for the World, and Then Some

Finally, once you’ve convinced the Board you need to hire more people, and you’ve articulated how it will benefit the business, don’t trip up over the last hurdle.  When it comes to identifying the number of people you need to add, be realistic.  If you run a team of 8 people, don’t ask for 7 more.  Ask for what you need and can substantiate, within reason.  Once they’ve been hired and you can demonstrate the value they’ve brought to the organization, go through the process again, with new data in hand that shows a further increase is necessary as part of the organizations’ long-term growth.


The Takeaway

Like it or not, most requests for hiring more staff are initially met with a challenge.  Why do you need them, what do you need?  Why now?  What will the business get for the increase in people and costs?  Don’t take it personally – your boss isn’t doing his or her job if they don’t push you.  Just be prepared with carefully constructed and well-thought-out reasoning.  The process to getting a new hire approved can take time, so just expect it.


What Questions and Challenges Have you Faced when Asking for Resources?  Leave a Comment and Share!


Looking for More on Justifying Resources?  You Might Like:

How to Justify Hiring A Specialist

3 Ways to Plan Your Resource Needs

How to Make A Skills Matrix for Your Team

Justifying a Need to Train Your Staff



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