Pick a Job, and Do It

As new opportunities emerge, it might be tempting to use your existing employees to pursue them. You need to be careful, though, about putting people into jobs that are not part of their current role. You run the risk of poor performance as well as the possibly pushing them out of the company.

When we hire new employees we discuss the job requirements and compensation in the interview process. When people agree to join us for a certain income, they do so expecting to do that job. When you decide to change that job, or add to it, your employees are certainly within their rights to reopen the compensation discussion. This is especially true when we add to their jobs rather than simply changing them. If someone was filling one role before, and now they’re filling two (or three) then they have every right to expect their compensation to increase, and you have a responsibility to consider it reasonably.

You also need to consider the possibility that you might make your employees weaker at both roles when you divide their attention. A really outstanding software developer whom you also task with IT support responsibilities isn’t going to be able to focus on either. You’re liable to end up with people who might get everything done, but they won’t do any of it really well. Would it be better to have two people doing these separate roles, each focused on their speciality? Of course it would.

Changing your employees’ roles also runs the risk of leaving them disengaged and looking for other opportunities outside the company. People often end up with jobs they don’t want to do; if they had wanted to do that, they would have gone to a company that was recruiting for that rather than coming to you. You might also be making it more difficult for your people to be really good at what they want to do, and they could end up looking for other places where they have a chance to do their job really well. Finally, you may simply be giving the impression that you manage your people poorly, or you aren’t willing to invest in them, if you have to add responsibilities ad hoc rather than staffing for them.

Of course, growing companies are going through changes, and they may require people to work in new ways or in new roles. You cannot just use that as an excuse, though; instead, you need to factor that change into your workforce management. If you think it’s likely that people’s roles will change, be upfront about that during the hiring process. Make change part of the job description if you expect it. When change does come, discuss it with your employees rather than just announcing it, and figure out the best alternative rather than just automatically loading people up with new responsibilities.

It’s often tempting to load people up with extra duties when something needs to get done, since you are already paying them and it could be expensive to hire someone else. But it can be pretty expensive to use your existing people, too; the cost may not seem obvious until later. Consider other alternatives, such as hiring free agents or redesigning roles with a concurrent redesign of compensation. When you hire people to do a job, use them to do that job.

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