Don’t Mistake FTEs for Expertise

Headcount, salaries, and FTEs are very much in the news for our industry. Pay levels for executives are being scrutinized. Team sizes are being questioned.

Many hands makes light work
Many hands makes light work

The notion of doing “more with less” is never one I’ve embraced, although most organizations have plenty of opportunity for incremental improvements from their existing team. In my years of consulting, I have found that team members are coach-able, social sector infrastructure is underfunded, and, therefore, organizations need to leverage the team they have.

The caveat, though, is that we shouldn’t mistake FTEs for expertise. That is, “more with more” may not be the case. This message has stuck with me in many ways. I’ve had employees who were more productive and effective in a few hours than some were all week. I’ve seen clients hire firms to “throw bodies at the problem” only to find that inexperienced (even if book-smart) contractors often make easily avoidable mistakes.

Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of an experienced crew. In our industry, where turnover is rampant and investment is too low, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Retain, retain, retain. Where you have a great person in place, reward and retain them. You’ve likely seen someone refer to “one year of experience, ten time” to refer to a professional that hasn’t really learned much year-over-year, generally because of job hopping. If you have a great team member, assume they will be poached and do something about it.
  2. Grow with impact in mind. A careful plan to add team members based on the impact and results that position will drive is essential. I completed a project for a large academic medical center that doubled their team size, but more importantly had a training, retention, and career development plan designed to keep and promote the best people. The reality is that fundraisers, in particular, need a few years to optimize their productivity, so build a plan that accommodates that reality.
  3. Don’t assume more people and hours equal productivity. Hiring a big firm to “do everything” will increase the hours available, yet the impact of those hours may be much less productive than you desire. Before assuming the “bigger equals better”, determine if your optimism will match the reality of the situation.
  4. Be smart with your “B” students. I’m a proponent of top performers and going the extra mile to retain them; my clients too often lose top performers for the cost of a 10% raise. Your next tier of performers needs special attention, too. Because they may be less desirable to executive search professionals, you have a chance to retain them and coach them into high levels of impact. Have a “stay plan” for folks designed to get them to want to be on the team as long as they remain a good performer.

Just adding lots of FTEs is not a great plan. When budget and approval are available, it can seem like a bonanza, requiring immediate plans to load up on people or engage a contractor. Do so cautiously. Put expertise (and retention of expert team members) first in those plans. True up salaries for long-standing employees whose results have been proven. Then, with retention concerns allayed, get yourself the most talented and experienced people possible, one FTE at a time.

 

One thought on “Don’t Mistake FTEs for Expertise

  1. This is a great post; thanks for saying what so often goes unsaid. I think your point about having a retention strategy in place for your proven performers is critical. It seems so often that organizations over-invest in under-performers when they would actually receive a greater ROI investing in the performing staff member. I read another interesting article from January 2015 on the Wise Philanthropy blog that interestingly pointed out the concept of building training and professional development opportunities into the FTE’s compensation package. I think that is a very interesting concept and certainly one that would attract the attention of top talent!

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