Don't Hire Like Amazon: How to Hire Right and Avoid Layoffs
Even enormous companies aren’t immune from the effects of unforeseen strategy shifts. Take Amazon, which is has now shed hundreds of positions in Seattle and throughout the world. Yet, at the same time that Amazon’s laying off, it’s adding personnel to other departments. According to an Amazon spokesperson, "We continue to grow as a company and hire in Seattle, the U.S. and internationally. We have more than 6,000 jobs open in Seattle today and more than 17,000 worldwide (corporate roles only)."
Still, the retail behemoth's aggressive hiring plans don't negate the fact that many employees are now out of a job (although the company says it is attempting to match those impacted by the layoffs with open positions elsewhere). The implication, it would seem, is that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean pragmatic. In other words, bringing a smaller number of carefully selected people on board early might have been enough for Amazon -- and any other company facing the same challenges -- to avoid having to cut jobs later.
I’m not speaking from a hypothetical back seat. When hiring, I myself bring in bright candidates who share my vision and will execute goals without micromanagement. And, what I've found is that less can be more if you have the right people in the right places. Three efficient, high-quality writers in my business can perform the job of six mediocre ones. The minutes and hours I save dealing with three superstars more than outweighs the higher salaries and strong benefits I need to offer to keep them around.
In business, everything boils down to return on investment, including a team’s size. Athletes get it: The Stanley Cup (for hockey) doesn’t go to the most talented player, but to the most talented group that operates as a single unit with a laser focus. Similarly, if your company wants long-term success, a small, tight-knit team will help you weather storms, pivot when needed and bring you opportunities.
Chances, risks and rewards
Originally, I was a one-man operation working out of my home office with the help of three contractors. After an acquisition in 2011, I recognized it was time to scale. However, I didn’t start bringing in employees right away; I stayed lean and mean until the business met my revenue goals.
By increasing the size of my team slowly and thoughtfully, I maintained at least one person who specialized in every vital business area.
This was hardly a strategy unique to me: The team that started mattress-in-a-box company Casper put the same thought into the company's start. Each of the five team members brought different skills to the table, from experience in mattress sales, to graphic design, to marketing and brand-building. And even though the team was small, the co-founders hit their one-year revenue projections after just the first month.
Of course, being small isn't always easy. Switching from project to project can create hiccups. With limited resources and time, small groups need to dedicate themselves to efficiency. They must work hard to master their roles, to minimize bumps, delays and interruptions. Sometimes, that requires people to wear several hats to ensure knowledge and coverage; in other words, things are chaotic and stressful. But, with time, companies with small teams can use those challenges to continuously improve without bringing on more staff.
Building a small, spectacular team
If you’re an entrepreneur at the beginning of your journey or are planning to broaden your scope, consider the core advantages of moving forward with a small team. Then, follow some steps to keep yourself on track:
1. Before hiring, be honest with yourself. Even if you’re not an introvert like me, you are probably more effective when you have time and space away from others to innovate and contemplate. Prior to hiring, figure out the types of personalities you cannot -- or will not -- work with, whether you are a strong manager and whether you need a “face that runs the place” as your second in command.
It’s tough to be sincere and admit your weaknesses, but the sooner you do, the better you’ll be able to flesh out a complementary team. Some innovators have great success relying on tools like the Harvard Business Review-recommended Deloitte’s Business Chemistry system to build a cast of players who have the skills successful companies need. From possibility-driven pioneers to challenge-drawn drivers, the Business Chemistry system gives you a visual understanding of what you lack and what you need.
2. Take a breather before making hiring decisions. Rushing is a surefire way to take on more than you can handle, so practice some patience. For each role, determine the type of person best suited to fill the void. Then, figure out whether you can afford that ideal candidate. If you can’t, you’ll have to look internally. That’s certainly wiser than making a bad hiring decision and having to start over again with a wounded -- and potentially fractured -- team.
In fact, it’s better to have a psychologically safe team environment than to enlarge a team for the sake of growth, according to Google. For years, the company studied work teams as part of Project Aristotle. What researchers discovered was that the wrong person could mess up a team’s innate intuitiveness and belief in thought equity.
3. Get to know your team players. Logically, small teams will come to be like families simply because everyone knows each other. You can facilitate and speed up the team-engagement process by encouraging discussions outside of workplace boundaries. As a leader, the more you know about the people you’ve entrusted with your company's well-being, the likelier you'll be to discover hidden talents.
For instance, a seriously amazing programmer might harbor a secret desire to design. Similarly, a hot rainmaker could have a dormant penchant for social content marketing. By fostering organic interaction opportunities, you can discover each team member’s drivers. Plus, you can boost the trust your people have in you as a leader. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that CEO street cred took a 12-point nosedive last year. Be the executive who bucks this scary trend.
No matter what you’ve heard from well-intentioned mentors and friends, scaling a business doesn’t mean driving up the number of people on your payroll. Hire sensibly at the earliest stages, and you could end up hitting major goals without overloading your team roster.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.