The innovative Talent leader’s guide to strategic headcount planning

Discover talent leader Jim Miller’s smart tips to chart your company’s growth. Learn about outcomes, models, and teamwork for a workforce that truly clicks.
min read
November 14, 2023
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Jim Miller, VP People and Talent at Ashby, is a highly accomplished talent leader with over 22 years of experience in the field. Throughout his career, he has worked with top-tier companies such as Google and Full Story, where he successfully built and grew teams, managing massive headcount expansions. 

Jim's expertise in headcount planning and management has made him a sought-after thought leader and advisor in the industry. He is known for his innovative and strategic approach to talent strategies, having implemented alternative methods that have proven to be highly effective. 

With an impressive track record of success, Jim is a true master in the field of talent acquisition and headcount management.

We were lucky enough to feature him in Season 1 of The Headcount People, where he shared really useful ideas that we share below. We also included him as a Headcount Master in our Headcount Planning Playbook, alongside six other leaders in the space.

In this blog, he talks about planning your team based on what you want to achieve, making models, talking openly with your executive team, and more. Here’s a snippet of our conversation.

Aligning headcount planning with outcomes

Q: Jim, you've highlighted the importance of aligning headcount planning with outcomes. Can you elaborate on how leaders should approach this alignment and why it's crucial for sustainable growth?

Jim: Absolutely. When we talk about headcount planning, it's not just about numbers. It's about understanding your investment, risk tolerance, and ultimately, driving growth through sales. Instead of fixating on models like quota math, focus on revenue and outcomes. Don't tether the fate of your entire company to the number of account executives. Base your planning on tangible revenue goals and desired outcomes for a more effective strategy.

Modeling functionality in headcount planning

Q: You've stressed the need for modeling functionality in headcount planning. Could you explain how creating future-looking models, including burn rates, contributes to better decision-making in the c-suite?

Jim: Modeling is critical because sometimes people don't know what they don't know. Create multiple models showcasing the outcome of success based on your ratios. These models become the foundation for the c-suite to pressure test and evaluate. By looking back at historical decisions against these models, you can assess the sustainability of your choices. It's about having a comprehensive view, including burn rates, to make well-informed decisions in headcount planning.

Transparency and collaboration within the C-suite

Q: You've emphasized that the c-suite should not be the audience of headcount plans but actively involved in crafting them. How should leaders initiate this collaborative process, especially when defining the end goal?

Jim: The c-suite shouldn't just receive headcount plans; they should be part of building them. Start by defining the end goal, whether it's financial targets, headcount, or other measurable objectives. The key is a collective decision at the CEO and board level, ensuring alignment throughout the organization. Whether the goal is sustaining the company or aiming for an IPO, everyone needs to buy into that decision.

Challenging traditional headcount planning models

Q: You've encouraged leaders not to fear thinking differently in headcount planning. Can you elaborate on why now is the opportune moment for this shift, and what pitfalls should be avoided?

Jim: Now is the moment because recent events have shown the human toll of layoffs, beyond just financial costs. It's about challenging traditional models and thinking innovatively. Reflecting on past pitfalls, we need to avoid unnecessary human and financial costs. It's time to reshape headcount planning with a more humane and forward-thinking approach.

Talent organizations as first-Class partners in headcount planning

Q: Your major takeaway is the need for talent organizations to become first-class partners in headcount planning. Why is this collaboration crucial, and how can it reshape the methodologies in headcount planning?

Jim: Talent and people organizations are crucial in shaping the human side of headcount planning. Recognizing the impact on lives beyond financial costs, we need to think differently. The recent past has shown us the pitfalls, emphasizing the necessity for better forecasts and a realignment in strategic thinking. Engaging talent organizations as first-class partners ensures a more holistic and impactful approach to headcount planning.

Headcount planning is about people, not numbers

As we wrap up our chat with Jim Miller, remember this: making plans for your team isn't just about numbers—it's about people. Jim's simple but smart advice, from changing old ideas to working closely with your team, can guide you in making your team the best it can be.

Watch Jim’s full episode here.

To learn more about TeamOhana and strategic headcount management, contact us.

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