How managers can move their organization from reactive emergencies to planned activities
Angela Testa, senior vice president of operations at American Campus Communities, strengthens operations without compromising a healthy work environment
When I worked as a plant manager, my operations manager came to me and asked for permission to hire four more people to help keep up with demand. He said he couldn’t keep up with the work and needed extra help to manage the workload. I denied his request. Why? Because he came to me with an emotional request rather than a fact-based, data-driven business case as to why we needed to add headcount. Leadership cannot make business decisions based on emotions. Adding headcount only makes sense if it increases the value to the organization and offsets the additional financial burden.
Whether the task at hand involves people, purchases or projects, the most important element of any strategy involves gathering the essential information that will help managers build a solid case and ultimately deliver success.
Managers making the business case for adding staff are more likely to find success by taking several proven steps:
Write it down. Put down in writing the work that is not getting done because the department does not have the proper resources. A strong case might be as simple as the percentage of overtime the staff is averaging. In some cases, the premium dollars spent on overtime covers the cost of an additional employee. Consider the amount of money the organization might be losing by not having a fully staffed team. Also, make sure to include things that are not getting done that a new person could do and the anticipated short- and long-term benefits to the staff and the organization.
Consider costs. List the total cost, including benefits. Focus on the way the benefits will outweigh the costs. For example, how soon can you expect the new position to pay for itself?
Spotlight staffing. Give details on reporting structure and the way the new position will affect and interact with existing positions. Leadership must be crystal clear as to the benefits and emphasis placed on communicating with existing staff to help maintain morale. Bringing in a new resource at a higher salary, grade or position can cause morale problems for managers and supervisors.
Look for trouble. To succeed, managers need to anticipate and address objections and problems, and be prepared for resistance. When building the business case to increase headcount, managers need to ask the same questions they would expect management or staff to ask. By preparing for this type of pushback or objections, they will be ready to answer them intelligently and confidently.
Keep it short. Managers should try to keep everything to one or two pages, ideally using bullet points. Make it easy to skim and make critical points standout. Do not assume everyone will read a long dissertation. The document should be an executive summary that makes the case for additional resources. The time will come to discuss the reasons in greater detail, but for now, keep it short and simple.
Follow up. I find it amazing how many managers give up when initially told no. If the need is real, then keep moving forward. If the first go-around does not show enough need or stress the pain points effectively, reformulate and gain support.
The operations manager who wanted to add staff took my advice and came back with a well-thought-out plan and justification. He made the case that deliveries were falling behind and that the only way to keep up with demand was to mandate overtime and supplement with temporary help. He and I agreed to add three people — though not the four he wanted.