When I was a teenager, I walked down the road to a neighbor, Farmer Wasdin, who had a fair sized farming operation. It was during bean harvesting season and he had hired a number of people to pick beans, ‘grade’ them, pack them in hampers, and then load them on a big truck for market. I asked Farmer Wasdin if I could get a job after school helping to pack the hampers and load them on the truck. Fortunately, he needed another farm hand and hired me on the spot. I felt so emboldened by his quick response that I asked him if he would also hire my brothers, Jim and John. Just as quickly, he said; “Campen Ben (which he like to call us Campen boys….Campen first, then our given name), one boy’s a boy, two boys a half a boy, three boys ain’t no boy at all.” I looked at him somewhat dumbfounded. As a teenager, it wasn’t the straight-on yes or no answer I was expecting! But as I got older, the lesson became more and more clear.
As a businessman, the truism of those words “one boy’s a boy, two boys a half a boy, three boys ain’t no boy at all” became more real to me as I hired and assigned various numbers of employees to accomplish specific jobs. This phrase became my internal “law of diminishing returns.”
When I feel I need to hire more employees, I ask myself these questions:
Do I really have enough work to justify another employee or can current employees absorb that work?
Would promoting someone internally and giving them more duties be a better option?
Am I set up to manage more employees?
Am I willing to take a “hit” in the short-term (or maybe the long-term) on my profits?
Do I really want to bring in an unknown element that may upset the “apple-cart”?
My basic philosophy is to run “lean and mean.” It is easier to get things done and keeps my current employees engaged at a high level. And - I imagine you can relate to this as we’ve all more then likely seen it - a position will expand into the time allotted. So if you have 20 hours of work to be done, a well-meaning employee can expand that into a 40 hour work week with what I call, “make-work.” (Make-work - activity that serves mainly to keep someone busy and is of little value in itself.) And that “make-work” eventually makes me do work that I don’t need to be doing and slows everyone down! When you run lean and mean, you cut away all the “make-work” and get down to doing what really needs to get done. And, I really believe your employees would much rather work hard at meaningful tasks than slog away at meaningless “make-work.”
Even with individual projects, I like a small team that can get the job done efficiently and effectively. Every extra person you bring in will add more time and more work to the process. Think about this: everyone wants his or her mark on a project. They want to participate and they want to look good through their participation. If you put too many people on a project, you risk your employees “stepping on each other” in negative ways. Too many employees involved on a project can easily turn into “one boy’s a boy, two boys a half a boy, three boys ain’t no boy at all.”
Let’s always remember, more doesn’t necessarily mean better. It could actually mean less. Farmer Wasdin was no doubt thinking the same thing when hired one Campen instead of three Campens to work in the bean barn.