when you stretch a department too thin, all in the spirit of saving money

marketing department image.jpg

I've always been intrigued by how companies run their departments. Their hiring practices, how they function and operate day-to-day, how they budget, delegate and achieve the tasks at hand. More importantly, how they scale their department. 

Here's what I've seen time and time again: companies believing that if they contract out the majority of roles not only saves them money, but it supposedly benefits everyone involved.

It’s too expensive.

This isn’t a full time role.

We can contract it out for now. (Translation: for good).

You can do this, can’t you?

It doesn't take that long to do this task, does it?

Let’s push a bunch of work back for now and tackle the important things.

Full Disclosure: I’ve heard all of these excuses and then some. I also feel like this is an expose and I’m putting myself on the line here but after spending over 17 years in marketing, working for various businesses and industries, it’s something I have seen more often than I'd like to.

Why is this? Do companies really think productivity is going to go up just so they can save a few bucks? In the long run, do they think that the money they save will result in freeing up money to focus on more important things? Is the quality of work going to be what they expect? Or more importantly, are they willing to have the quality of work suffer, in the spirit of saving money?

Sigh….this topic is a doozie and I know lots of professionals and colleagues feel all my feels when it comes to this.

My biggest issue is this: setting your employees up for failure.

Let me elaborate. Typically as a head of any department, you’re required to budget for the upcoming year. You’re either given a budget or you base it off the current one to determine what your goals are, therefore you budget accordingly – you either spend more, the same or less than the current year. This would include what roles you need to fill, if any. Are there more demands and is there more work to be done that would warrant hiring someone full time/part time to do this? Do you have the money in your budget to reasonably cover a full/part time salary? Do you have the office space? Can you justify spending the cost of overhead required to train the person and cover such expenses like employee benefits, new hardware, software etc? There’s lots to consider and I have never taken something like this lightly when I was in the position to do so.

So when you're in a role that requires you to take on bigger, more strategic planning, budgeting and management tasks, but you end up in a role that includes in excess of that AND the day-to-day, mundane tasks that get dumped on your plate, it's time to consider more man power. 

I've been in business long enough to know that this does happen from time to time - you have to pull your weight and take on tasks you ordinarily aren't obligated to do and things don't always go according to plan and that's ok. You recalibrate, reorganize and get through it. But when the role becomes daunting, where you find yourself consistently doing the job or 2, 3 or even 4 people, your time is not efficiently used and you're burning the candle at both ends, this is where companies need to take a pause and realize they may need to bring in more manpower. 

Because what happens if they don't? They run the risk of setting that person up for failure, and this never ends well for the employee. Their annual review comes around and its never about praising the employees take-it-all-on-attitude or team-player mentality. It's about numbers, hitting goals, cut-to-the-chase hard facts about how you positively affected the company, increased revenue and drove sales or growth. 

Can you tell I've been in this position in more ways than one? It's lead to burnout, frustration, stupid mistakes and you feel like you're screaming from the rooftop yelling "save me!" to anyone who will listen. This does not a culture make and it certainly doesn't help a company's employee retention.

As my good friend once said, there are two type of people: the lay-track people and the run-around track people. In recent years, I've been the lay-track person who sets up the road map, the strategic direction for the department, budgeting and hiring out various roles necessary. The run-around track people are those hired in these positions who do the work in various specialites within a given department. Graphic and website designers, SEO/PPC experts, digital media specialists, content creators, demand generation experts. The list goes on and on.

There’s a difference between someone working their ass off and someone ready to burn out, melt down and get in line to request that leave of absence. When you have the pressures of either an executive committee or board to report to on the major tasks you’ve been handed to achieve within a given year, it’s more than enough. And yes, there is always wiggle room and things do come up that end up taking priority. But when you cannot even get to the big picture items because you are drowning in day-to-day tasks that someone else can handle, isn’t a good excuse. And when you’re left with no other option, you look like you’re failing at what it is you were hired to do.

Whose fault is it anyway? The employee or employer? Does the employer fear that a department will become too bloated, with far to many costs associated with full time roles, and the fear of not having enough work to keep them occupied? I can only speak for myself and my experiences, but my biggest fear was losing my job over the simple fact that I could not get everything done in a given day, week or month because I took far too much on. Looking like a failure was not an option for me. Suck it up Baxter, this is real life if you want to climb to the top, right?!

I’ll admit, I’ve been fired and laid off from positions in the past. My climb to the top has been less than glamorous or gracious, but I’m proud of it nonetheless. Losing a job resulted in me being crushed, blind-sided, dumb-founded and sometimes relieved that this happened. But in hindsight, I don’t regret a thing because I firmly believe that things do happen for a reason. They got me to where I am today, I’m more resilient, confident and self-assured in who I am and what I’m good at, professionally speaking. But setting an employee up for failure, dumping far too much work on one’s plate with short deadlines, risking burnout, just to save a wooden nickel or two, I don’t believe in. Especially when you know there is money in the budget to warrant new hires to help with the workload.

And with that, I am constantly trying to improve myself, how I approach difficult situations like the ones I've illustrated, but I'm also becoming more confident in what I know I can handle, what I'm truly good at and what I'm not good at.

Obtaining perfection isn't my goal...balance, perspective and a voice will do just fine for me, thank you very much.