Gut-checking growth

If someone moves out, do you need to move someone in?

When you’re in growth mode (read: hiring people), you rarely get a chance to stop and gut-check your growth. Why are we growing exactly? What are we after? Is there an alternative? What if we decided to grow a bit slower? What if we decided not to hire at all for a while? What if we let natural attrition carve ourselves into a leaner, tighter organization?

Finding the moment to even ask these questions can be more elusive than the answers themselves.

So here’s my rule of thumb. People leave companies. Sometimes on their own, sometimes they’re asked to leave. Whatever the reason, when someone leaves it’s a great moment to break out of the replacement mindset and ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t replace that person?

Use the moment as an opportunity to break a pattern and question your next step. What if you gave yourself a few months without the role? It’s easy is getting used to what you have. It feels hard to live without something you’ve grown used to. And when you’re on a certain trajectory, momentum is a powerful thing to push against. But that’s not justification enough. This is actually a great moment to see if you can live without. Maybe even flourish without. It’s a great time to gut-check your growth.

We had a developer leave recently. And rather than jump to replace him, we’re sitting back for a while and seeing what happens. There’s always more work to do, so naturally it feels like the only right thing to do is to put more people on it. But the surprise of the situation is to ask yourself “is more work worth doing? Could 13 people do what 14 people were doing, without overloading those 13? Would we decide not to do the same kind of work if we didn’t have the same number of people? Or are there efficiencies that we’d gain by having a slightly smaller team in this case?” The answers aren’t always obvious, and sometimes they aren’t what you expect, but they’re important to ask nonetheless.

Now there are of course situations where quick replacement is important. For example, late last year we lost a designer that was the only person in a specific role. We really need that role (we’re certain of that), so we immediately set out to find a new designer. But if we had 8 people in that role, and we went down to 7, it would have been a good time to ask if we needed to move back up to 8.

If things are going well it’s a rare opportunity to get a chance to question the push to grow, but growth has its hidden costs too (organizational complexity, communication breakdowns, more mass to move around, etc). And costs are always worth questioning. So “do we need someone here where someone was before?” is absolutely worth asking.

Basecamp 3 is our secret weapon — it allows us to do big things with small teams. Everyone knows what everyone’s working on, we can discuss things quickly or in-depth over time, we can organize and divvy up the work that needs to get done, and we get to know everyone better as people and not just co-workers. Basecamp 3 is all you need.