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  Are You Hiring Enough?
Staffing levels are a perennial challenge for employers. While it is important to hire enough people, it's also important not to hire too many people. Increasing emphasis has been placed on selecting the right people for the right job, on competency, and other vital factors in the recruiting and hiring process. The number of people hired and assigned to particular roles can have a huge impact on productivity, morale, employee tenure, workforce stability, and profitability.

Over the past few years, during the slowed economy, employers have taken every measure possible to control payroll costs--including severely reducing staffing levels wherever possible. Consequently, remaining employees have had to pick up a lot of slack, struggling to accomplish tasks that previously had been handled by larger teams of employees. While productivity numbers have understandably increased, making management look good, other aspects of business operations--perhaps more important--have been damaged.

When staffing is insufficient to achieve results to the satisfaction of management, customers, and the workers themselves, morale and profitability both suffer. Customers have suffered over the past few years, sometimes tolerating poor service, sometimes complaining to no avail, and sometimes taking their business elsewhere. As economic and consumer confidence conditions improve, customers will be less tolerant. They'll expect, no--demand, to be served. Employers must listen, adjust staffing to meet requirements, or suffer the consequences.

Kmart's Catch 22

In her new book, Kmart's 10 Deadly Sins (Wiley, 2003), Marcia Layton Turner shares a fascinating fact. Kmart employs an average of 120 people per store, while Target staffs at 177, and Wal-Mart assigns 313 per store. Wal-Mart employs 1,383,000 people and operates 4,414 stores world-wide, according to its 2002 annual report. Target only employed 220,000 during the same period, operating 1,242 stores. Kmart had about the same number of employees as Target, but operated 1,831 stores.

Having too few employees, Turner observes, means that customers are denied needed assistance, are forced to wait in longer lines at check-out, and must maneuver around inventory stacked in the aisles waiting for stocking.

The mass retailer, still in serious trouble in spite of coming out of bankruptcy, is caught in a dangerous cycle. The company can not afford to invest more money in human capital, yet that's what their customers want. If customers can't find what they need and see no one to ask, the errant store will not be their preferred place to shop.

And Your Company?

How are your staffing levels? Do you have enough positions, when fully staffed, to serve customers, fellow employees, and suppliers at the desired levels?

Now is the time to evaluate how many people you should employ and where they should be assigned. Don't overlook the opportunity to cross-train people so they can fulfill the responsibilities of several positions. A few years ago I worked with a major convention hotel that staffed 15 separate and distinct restaurants. When a big convention was in-house, all the venues needed to be open. When occupancy was lower, fewer restaurants needed to be open. By cross-training personnel to work in several facilities, the company was able to guarantee full work weeks to more employees and better stabilize their workforce.

Consider your needs, then plan your staffing for today's conditions. With that task complete, explore the potential impact of our growing economy on your business. What are the implications? What staffing plans should you make now in anticipation of a probable increase in business (demand)?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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