3 reasons to stop counting heads

big city
Tom Haak

Several times people have said to me: it is remarkable what you have accomplished with such a small team. Sometimes this means: why did you keep your team so small, you should have done a lot more, but most of the time it is a genuine compliment.

Of course I will not say it is not true, but I want to give it some background. It does not make sense just to look at the results, then look at the number of heads on the payroll and then look at the manager in admiration.
Three reasons why we should stop counting heads.

1. The quality of the individuals in the team is very important

The output of A-players is considerable higher than average. Not 20% higher or so, but it can be 5-10 times higher. This is not so easy to measure in a corporate HR-team, but I am convinced this is true. Let’s be modest, and assume that a top HR-professional is able to deliver triple results. This means a team of four A-players can deliver output as if they were with 12. And even more, as a team of 12 will lose time with coordination, meetings and supervision.

Advice 1: Only hire A-players.
Advice 2: If an A-players turns out to be a B-player: say farewell (always in an elegant way).

2. The quality of the team work is important

You can have a team of four A-players that deliver poor results, because the teamwork is poor. The composition of the team is critical. Creating an A-team is not easy. The ideal team consists of people who work very well together and who are complementary at the same time. Team selection and team composition is an under developed area in HR, recruitment and selection are generally targeted at individuals.

Advice 3: Spend more time on team composition.
Advice 4: Keep A-teams together
Advice 5: Try to hire A-teams, not only A-individuals.

3. The quality of the network is a determining factor

It is too narrow to look at the individuals on the pay-roll. The A-players in the team generally are part of an A-network and are able to develop their network further. The relatively small HR-team I was part of was able to realise high quality projects and programs also because of the quality of the network. Starting a new project goes a lot faster if you can rely on A-level partners in your network.

If you have a difficult issue, the solution is a lot easier to find if you can call some knowledgeable friends in your network.

Advice 6: Try to measure the quality of the network of the people you hire.
Advice 7: Treat your partners in your network as you treat your clients, or even better, as your friends.

So overall: yes, you can accomplish a lot with a small team. If you want to be the best, you should aim to attract A-players who can together form an A-team and who are part of an A-network they can call upon.

Just looking at the headcount on the payroll does not make a lot of sense. Not only in HR.

Further reading

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