Gabriel Manjarrez
Expert Contributor

The Right Time to Optimize

By Gabriel Manjarrez | Tue, 09/08/2020 - 13:00

Let me start by stating the obvious: Unless you are a sociopath, firing any employee – even the most incompetent – is an uncomfortable decision for any leader, generally disruptive to the company, and doubtless a traumatic event for the team member whose name is on the header of the email invite which includes their direct supervisor and someone from HR. It is something no one looks forward to.

Having said that, odds are that you aren’t running a nonprofit with the goal of keeping every employee happy. Even for the most empathic and socially aware of us, our organizations must optimize the use of resources and ensure that every peso spent is driving maximum value. Here is where our current crisis comes in. Generally, I wouldn’t say you need to wait for a global pandemic with millions dead and tens of millions infected to take a good look at your resource allocation and staff skills, but that’s the card we’ve been dealt so might as well take advantage of it.

Any crisis, this one more than most for the vast majority of businesses, creates enormous stress in any operation. It is time to take that stress and apply it towards your success. As with all bad things, this too shall pass. So how are you taking advantage of the situation to make sure you survive its passing and thrive? One key way, which I wrote about in this newspaper a few short weeks ago – or maybe an eternity?– was the changed attitude towards permanent work spaces. Clearly that is an obvious result of this particular crisis, but the changes were driven more by external regulatory forces than by internal decisions. On the HR side, this is all internal, and the best time to do it is now. I am not speaking about just headcount reduction, rather about ensuring the right people are there doing the right things. It might involve eliminating some departments, firing some folks and also hiring some new ones and creating new areas or functions. There are 4 very important forces playing in your favor to optimize your workforce during this time:

First, if you are like most organizations, you are not operating at or anywhere near 100% capacity. That means you have slack in the system and can do without those 2-3 people in every area (at least!) that you have ‘in case demand increases dramatically and we have to get all hands on deck’. If you are not currently in high demand, i.e. making face masks or home gym equipment, you will not be anytime soon; further, in Mexico this is particularly expensive since there is no legal recourse of unpaid furlough for anyone that you do not need immediately. Mexican labor laws have required you to continue to pay all your employees throughout this time period, and so every surplus employee becomes even more painful when payday and social security taxes roll around. Take a hard look at every department: you know you have accumulated excess capacity in all of them, so now is the time to make the list of the bottom 10-15% performers and give them a fairly compensated, dignified, farewell. During reduced demand is also the time to review all your functions, like remodeling your kitchen while you are on vacation to minimize disruptions. You have areas and functions that are no longer key, processes that you should have digitized long ago, and new workflows you know you need but just have not had the time to do. Perfect moment right now, but the start of it is via evaluating and cleaning up your executing team. 

Second, the world post-COVID will be different for your company. Exactly how different will depend on your line of business, but different for sure. Given how you believe your business will look like then, which of your current employees would you rehire to help you grow and thrive in that new iteration? And which functions would you actually rehire for? Because staff weaknesses and bloated processes are easily overlooked in times of plenty, many of your staff/functions might have already been obsolete in a more normal 2020, and without a crisis to force this thinking they would most likely still be there in 2021. Now is the time to go to those key managers, directors, and individual contributors; imagine them applying for their jobs in your post-pandemic business. Those that you cannot imagine rehiring at that time, you should not have working with you now. And what about their actual jobs? It is also the time to rethink and rewrite those job descriptions and either eliminate or rehire for your 2021 vision.

Third, because there has been a lot of panic-firing and many more business closures than you would see in any other year, you will have an oversupply of options to choose from. No more panicking about firing your mediocre finance manager because it would take you 6 months to replace them. Salary pressures will also decrease commensurately, so you will likely not be forced to bid beyond your budget to get top talent. 

Lastly, because remote office work is truly here to stay, many of the jobs that you thought you had to hire locally can now be performed remotely and thus significantly expand your hiring pool. Lives in Guadalajara? Monterrey? Puebla? No problem and no expensive relocation packages to negotiate, either. Having that flexibility was mostly unthinkable before March, and plays to your advantage now and in the future.

If you are one of the lucky ones whose business did not have to close during these unprecedented times, then make sure you’re one of the winners once this ends. Optimizing your workforce for the post-pandemic future is the single most important first step towards that goal. Your vision to succeed in the future will have to be executed by whoever is there alongside you. Is your current team the one to do it?

Photo by:   Gabriel Manjarrez