Overcoming the Infamous “Hiring Freeze”

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imageIn order to move their activities forward, business leaders routinely need to work at pushing forward new ideas, work at getting them approved, and overcome significant obstacles. Here, we’ll discuss just one: Hiring Freezes.

Companies are always hiring even with ‘hiring freezes’ in effect.  While at Autodesk, early in my career, I used to be amazed at how we would have hiring freezes in effect, yet at the same time we would see someone new starting—sometimes almost daily.

A VP and mentor at the time described it this way, ‘…sometimes you have to change the tools in the tool bag.’  He’s quite right. If your tool bag still has plumbing tools in it from your last handy-man activity, and now you need to fix light fixtures, well, you need to change tools. Same thing applies at work—it just isn’t that great when you’re the tool being put on the shelf.

If you need to  bring on board ‘new tools,’ how do you do that in the midst of a hiring freeze?  The reality is—hiring freeze notwithstanding—if there is a job to be done, and you need a skill that you don’t have in place, you may simply need to acquire new talent.  The approach I’ve used successfully over the years is to build a business case…just as for a major capital asset purchase.

Building a ‘business case’ is a process by which you clearly identify what you are to accomplish, what you need to accomplish it, costs, and other justifications for doing so.  To read this can seem condescending.  Yet I’ve found many senior managers do not understand this.

Adding an employee to the team is itself a major investment.
Why not treat it like one?

Each request I have sought for a new-hire in the midst of a hiring freeze, has been successful.  Fellow managers have asked me, “We’re in a hiring freeze. How did you get to add new staff?”  The answer  is short: I built a business case, made my pitch to the CEO (president, or key decision maker), and got the approval.

Often, managers intangibly ‘know’ they need additional staff, and simply ‘ask the boss.’  Of course, the expected answer is likely a simple, “No.”  Going through the motions of building a business case serves to help validate the need, lay out benefits and costs.  In parallel, there is also a fair amount of ‘surrounding’ effort involved.

For instance, you need to be having discussions with HR, Finance (to name two), and other key internal leaders.  Discussions with your HR manager will help uncover any gotchas.  You may even find existing internal staff elsewhere: approval for an internal transfer is often easier than for a new-hire.  HR can provide confirmation of target salaries (e.g. costs). 

Having discussions early in the process helps ensure he or she is on board with your request.  Your HR manager’s agreement with your need is important:  in many organizations if HR does not back you, or at least validate data, your request is toast.

Talking with the Finance team is also important.  Depending on the organization, you may need to make sure the Chief Financial Officer is onboard as well.  There’s nothing like asking the President to spend money, only to have Finance (the CFO, Controller, or Treasurer) tell him the additional funds don’t exist.  Knowing your company’s cash position and general financial condition is critical—for any major investment

In the end, if your peer managers, the CFO, and HR, are all aligned with your stated goals, you have a very good chance of success.  Odds are good that the CEO (or key decision maker) will defer their decision until they’ve had a chance to confer with these very people.  They cannot, most likely will not, provide support for your request if you’ve not prepared them beforehand.

How you approach this type of process reflects on your ability as a leader to be a team player, to comprehend the Big Picture, and show whether you’re ready for a bigger picture—yourself.

(Photo credit: Ben Ullman)