Building a Flexible Staffing Strategy

While most small businesses recognize the wisdom of long-range operational planning, they often fall short when it comes to adopting a staffing strategy that can serve them day in and day out. As a result, a cycle of layoffs, followed by more hiring, then additional layoffs is all too common in today's business world.

Remember that every hire you make ultimately affects every other hire you've made or will make. No matter how urgent your need, no hiring decision should be made in a vacuum – that is, without considering the staff you already have, your short- and long-term business priorities, and your overall staffing strategy. In short, you'll need a flexible approach to staff management – and preferably one that helps save you money in the process.

In times of rapid change, small businesses that cut or expand full-time staff without stepping back to consider the bigger picture are putting themselves at a disadvantage. Broadly implemented personnel reductions can cause you to lose talent you may need in the future. Likewise, a staffing strategy that has you hiring to quickly meet immediate needs can cause you to overlook how external and internal conditions may have changed since a position was last filled; this can significantly affect whether you should seek a replacement – or make alternative arrangements.

First look internally. Can you reprioritize projects and temporarily reassign some of your staff members to more pressing matters? If this is not feasible, consider filling positions for which you clearly expect to have a long-term need with additional full-time hires and augmenting this core staff with temporary professionals for shorter-term, project roles or expertise you may need only occasionally. A staffing strategy that includes a blend of full-time and interim professionals can give you the greatest flexibility both currently and when conditions again begin to change.

Following are the major advantages of a flexible staffing strategy for small businesses:

  • You save money. A mix of employee resources enables you to turn some of your fixed personnel costs into variable expenses by paying only for the talent you need when it's truly needed. In addition, you'll lower the high costs associated with hiring and training new staff, while reining in overtime expenses.
  • You improve your competitive position. Consistently having more flexible control over personnel costs gives you an advantage over your competitors whose rigid labour structure makes them more vulnerable to economic ups and downs.
  • You improve retention. A temporary/full-time mix reduces stress for core employees and protects their jobs by decreasing the likelihood of further full-time cutbacks. This can't help but improve job security and satisfaction.
  • You free up full-time staff. Using temporary workers to assist with day-to-day responsibilities allows core staff to pursue more complex challenges and occasionally take time off to recharge as well.
  • You have a wide choice. If an initiative requires specialized, technical knowledge that doesn't exist in-house, you can find project professionals with extensive backgrounds in these areas, many of whom now choose consulting because of the flexibility and variety of assignments it offers.
  • You can "try out" potential hires. You can observe and evaluate project professionals you've engaged and determine their potential fit with your core staff. Having the opportunity to assess a potential employee firsthand provides far more insight than reading a resume or conducting an interview.