Following World War II, English historian, C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a well-known book, Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress, where he ridiculed the excesses of government bureaucracy. Parkinson cited as an example the 5,000 employees supporting 5,000 English Navy vessels during the war and the same number of employees supporting only 500 vessels following the war. Parkinson’s “Laws,” though satirical, have a measure of truth to them.
Parkinson’s First Law, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion,” can provide valuable guidance for hiring staff. Parkinson observed several tendencies that cause work to expand.
- Supervisors/Administrators want to increase the number of their subordinates. Parkinson said “bureaucrats create subordinates, not rivals.” This tendency is often referred to as “empire building” and happens because supervisors believe their importance and impact increases with the more reports they have. Once more people are hired, it becomes necessary to find work for them to do, often work that is not essential to the organization’s mission or health.
- Employees make work for each other. Every time you establish and hire a new position they create work for others by generating reports, communication, initiatives, and requests requiring responses and the need for even more employees.
- People without enough work to do will fill the time allotted. When an employee has more time than they need to complete their responsibilities they will slow their productivity and fill the time with trivia and non-essential activities. This is illustrated by those who perform more efficiently when they have a deadline. If you have a week to turn in an assignment, you will take a week. If you only have a day, you will take a day.
Parkinson found the result of over staffing is that costs increase without a commensurate increase in output, ultimately acting as a dragging force on growth.
Clearly the propensity is for companies, organizations, and churches to become over staffed as they mature and as inputs rise faster than outputs. Therefore, many church consultants advocate a specific staff to attendance ratio, such as 1 to 100, or a range of personnel budgets as a percent of the church budget, such as 45-50%. Though ratios and percentages can be helpful as general guidelines, if held too tightly they can become artificially restrictive and fail to account for the conditions for hiring additional church staff that may justifiably skew the recommended ratios and percentages listed in last week’s article, Should You Hire More or Less Staff.
So How Do We Determine the Right Church Staffing Levels?
- Parkinson said, “The trick is to keep the tail small in relation to the head,” in other words, keeping the right balance between production and administration. This may be interpreted in the church to mean keeping only the minimum number of ministry and support positions necessary to fulfill the church’s mission and vision.
- Zero base a position before you rehire. When you have a vacancy closely examine the positions duties, tasks, and responsibilities to determine if they are still relevant.
- Only create new positions that meet one or more of the conditions listed under “The Case for Hiring More Staff.”
- Rigorously evaluate new proposed programs and initiatives and resist those that can’t primarily be led and managed by volunteers.
- Prioritize the essentials. To determine what is core, periodically ask what might be done if you had to cut 50% of your staff, 50% of your programs, or 50% of your budget.
- Develop vetting criteria such as those found in How To Know When To Create New Staff Positions
What other activities would you add to this list to combat Parkinson’s Law?
Posted on February 20, 2018