In episode 08 of The Headcount People (THP) podcast, we talk to special guest, Jim Miller, Head of People & Talent at Ashby. Jim Miller is a People Operations Executive with 20 years of experience leading teams of up to 230 individuals. He has a strong focus on Talent functions and has successfully led global recruiting organizations, operations teams, systems/product groups, and facilities functions. Jim is recognized as a true global leader, having founded teams in EMEA and APAC, as well as heading up global practices from the Americas.

Jim boasts an impressive track record of hypergrowth ownership, including Series C/D SaaS and Big Tech, and has proven his ability to manage high-volume hiring while maintaining a keen focus on quality. He is also highly skilled in business, process, and system improvement, having successfully executed multiple People Tech builds, implementations, and process overhauls throughout his career.

🎙️In this upcoming episode, THP podcast host, Tushar Makhija (Founder/CEO at TeamOhana) will take a deep dive with Jim Miller into the following questions and more.

🎙️Our Host: Tushar Makhija, Founder/CEO at TeamOhana. Learn more about Tushar here.

‍🎙️Special Guest: Jim Miller, Head of People & Talent at Ashby. Learn more about Jim here.

‍🎙️Episode 08 guest questions:

  • How to go from recruiter to talent leader?
  • What's your journey to Full Story and how did you get there?
  • What do you mean by "online" sourcing?
  • What tools should Talent teams utilize?
  • How fast did FullStory's employee count grow?
  • When should headcount planning start?
  • How should we think about business goals?
  • Should headcount planning happen at every milestone of growth?
  • What past experiences have aided your success story?
  • How should talent leaders reimagine headcount?
  • How should companies start and execute a headcount planning process?
  • How to persuade the board and C-suite to adopt new headcount planning?
  • How to align teams and implement the proposed headcount planning methodology?

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[00:00:00] Tushar Makhija: hello everyone and welcome to our next episode of the Headcount People, and today I have with me Jim Miller.

[00:00:09] Jim has 22 years of experience in the talent space, a ranging from building teams and growing headcount at Google. Then starting really at the ground, like building all the talent infrastructure from the bottoms up at Full Story and now most recently [00:00:30] leading both talent and people at Ashby. So welcome Jim.

[00:00:34] Excited to have you here today. 

[00:00:36] Jim Miller: Thanks, Tisha. I'm, I'm excited to be here as well. Headcount planning is one of my favorite topics. 

[00:00:42] Tushar Makhija: That's great. So Jim, let's, let's start by sharing a little bit more about your background and your journey of the last 22 

[00:00:50] Jim Miller: years. Thank you. Yeah, 22 years time has flown by.

[00:00:54] I'm a recruiter. I, I love being a recruiter. I started off with five years in agency life. I worked for [00:01:00] Allegis, Aerotech that particular group in London, hiring software engineers. And then I joined Google and I was one of the first technical recruiters in the London office for Google. And I worked my way up and eventually I led the team that handled all of the incoming applications and all of the functions around that from job ad postings and third party interactions.

[00:01:19] The job description, writing pipeline strategy overall, and the distribution of talent. And my team size got up as big as, you know, 230 people there. Wow. I started at Google and [00:01:30] it was 7,000 people and we 20, more than 20 exit in the time that we got to well, when I left in 2021 and it was over 150,000 people.

[00:01:38] So there was a lot of headcount planning that went into that time. And then I joined Full Story as the VP of Talent. Full story was 220 people when I joined. We, almost three Xed by the time we, we hit the peak there. And obviously we had a, a change in the macroeconomic environment but again, learned some lessons there around headcount planning and [00:02:00] sustainability and, and so on.

[00:02:01] And now I've joined Ashby. I'm the, the head of people and talent at Ashby. And if, if you don't know Ashby, we, our main product is an all-in one applicant tracking system. So it's talent technology and I'm a talent and people leader in a talent technology company, which is just my dream job.

[00:02:18] It's just your dream job. Yes. The design team for Google's ghi, which is the internal applicant tracking system that Google uses 11 years ago. Bunch of other advisory roles and product roles around [00:02:30] talent as well over time. So this was just the perfect switch for me. And it's an interesting model. We, we don't have a talent team aside from me.

[00:02:40] It's a hiring manager led model here at Ashby and we use the technology that we have to its fullest extent, all of the automation, all of the, the scheduling and everybody uses the tool to do the hiring. So I'm very much an advisor, a consultant, building out processes and operational rigor. And then I'm helping out, I do some screening, I [00:03:00] do a ton of interviewing and so on, and that's awesome.

[00:03:03] Tushar Makhija: I think what is, and we've been doing this, is you know, this is close to our 10th episode now, and I've been talking to all different types of leaders both from the finance space, the talent space the HR space. What I find really fascinating in your journey is, and I would love if you can like, share a little more detail around like someone in, if you go back 22 years, how should [00:03:30] someone think about this upward mobility?

[00:03:33] How should someone in who is starting as a recruiter aspire and build towards becoming a talent leader and then eventually growing teams and, you know, 20 xing and building organizations at your scale and. Especially because you there are not a lot of people out there who have 22 years of experience.

[00:03:54] And what is really cool about this is that you have seen all the macro environments. [00:04:00] I have l I have no money in 2008. I have lots of money in 2000, from 10 to 2020. And now we are, you know, trying to find like, what, what's left and how should we do? So I think can you just span all of these three decades or two plus decades and share some insights?

[00:04:17] Jim Miller: Yeah. I mean the, the journey as a recruitment consultant in an agency environment it, it was an accidental journey to get into recruiting. I have an old friend to thank for that. But the [00:04:30] key thing that I quickly learned was there are so many different facets to life in recruiting. And you can become an expert, a deep expert in one of those spaces.

[00:04:40] For some people it's building relationships with clients. For me, it was the sourcing and finding of candidates, and it started in the training and, and understanding that the boo logic that recruiters use every day to find people. That's the electronic logic gate stuff that I really enjoyed at physics at high school.

[00:04:59] And that [00:05:00] one lesson has stood me in, could stand in my career. I be, I ended up as the person who taught the other recruiters how to search effectively and how to use boom and logic. And when I joined Google, I came into a company where there was no sourcing organization outside of the us. In fact, I don't think there was a sourcing organization inside the US When I joined and I began to teach other folks the methodologies that I'd built up over five years and I became known as the sourcing kind of teacher and [00:05:30] le teaching that and learning how to use the systems that they used.

[00:05:34] I ended up training more and more and more people and that was the thing that led me into a leadership role. I was quite individual contributor, but they saw how I was facilitating training with other people and elevating them, growing them, leading without authority and effect. That one day I got a tap on the shoulder and said, we wanna start sourcing outside the us You are the person who seems to know the subject better.

[00:05:57] Matter best. There's a trial program. [00:06:00] Here's three temporary workers. Build a, build a project around them and, and see if sourcing works in amea. And I ended up beating the channels, the, the pipeline generation channels for AMEA and apac and then getting involved in more system staff. And it just spiraled from there really for me.

[00:06:16] So the, the lesson I learned and, and I tell other people, in fact, there was a blog post that's just come out this morning about this very topic on. It, it's that leading without authority and building expertise, and then [00:06:30] helping people in adjacent spaces learn and develop and grow. And you'll start to get recognized and you'll start to be picked to lead projects and then eventually become a people manager if that's what you aspire to.

[00:06:41] Or you'll just be lauded for being a subject matter expert in your field. And that feels pretty good too. 

[00:06:49] Tushar Makhija: So for, for the listeners, we will be adding the blog post in the show notes, so don't, don't go looking for it right now. I think, Jim, just to add one more layer of [00:07:00] information on top of what you just shared, is that the player coach coaching leads to management because you know, largely that is the most important job.

[00:07:11] Can you, can you train other people to be good at what you are? But let's talk about that next level up. Into management. Maybe like how because our listeners span across multiple different companies, it would be good to understand like how did you end up at Full Story and your journey there. Because I think [00:07:30] was, was that your first startup starting from like less than 10, 30 employees 

[00:07:35] Jim Miller: probably.

[00:07:36] So a couple of lessons I learned on the leadership journey. One is what made you successful before won't make you successful in the future. Your job changes. No one tells you. You have to recognize that. So what that means is as you grow in your leadership and other folks become leaders below you, you have to get out of their way and stop doing that thing that you used to do that is now their job.

[00:07:59] So [00:08:00] that's a really quick and early lesson that I learned and I've tried to hold onto that all the way through. And the second piece is you have to change your perspective over time. I was the sourcing guy at Google. That was what I was known for. In fact, I had a meeting with an old colleague this week who we hadn't spoken in over a decade, and she was like, but you were the sourcing guy and now you're talking about online and leading with Inbound first because you get more representation and so on.

[00:08:29] I was like, yeah, you, [00:08:30] I had to change. I had to pivot the models and the things that had made me successful and be really pragmatic about that and be adaptable and willing to change. And you, I think anyone who's aspiring to lead or or go higher in an organization has to know that you've got to really be able to develop yourself and be able to adapt to the situation and scenario.

[00:08:50] So I went from sourcing to leading that online function at Google. And then all of a sudden I'm the VP of talent and Full story, and that journey was pretty much covid and [00:09:00] family related. My wife's from Georgia, full Story, or Atlanta based, I was trying to engineer a move to, to Georgia and full story swept in and said, Hey, come and join us instead.

[00:09:09] So I went through the interview process and, and loved it. And that was my first opportunity to put in place all of the best practices that I believed in, that perhaps I hadn't been strong enough to influence during my time at Google and actually put them to, to into practice and see if they worked.

[00:09:26] And one of those things to, to relate back to what I was just saying, was [00:09:30] actually canceling the sourcing program and going with an online first model. And this is early 2021 when hiring everywhere is going into hyper growth. And everyone else is like trying to hire as many sources as possible. I'm going, we're not gonna do that.

[00:09:45] We're gonna focus on online as the, the go-to-market prime strategy coupled with internal mobility. And we're gonna build from that perspective and try and do things differently. And it actually worked really, really well for us. 

[00:09:57] Tushar Makhija: I, I definitely want to dig deeper into [00:10:00] the, the hyperscale and hyper-growth that you you know, architected and.

[00:10:05] Influenced and also observed the at full story. But can you start by for me explaining what do you mean by online? And I, I I come from a sales background, so I think about inbound sales and outbound sales. Is, is, is there a connection between online sourcing and would, would you call it, is it inbound?

[00:10:25] Jim Miller: I I wouldn't call it sourcing at all. So when I click online, I actually mean inbound. [00:10:30] So job applicants, be they applicants through your career site, through third party job postings on LinkedIn or Mon or anywhere else through to some extent employer referrals, because a lot of employer referrals are driven by your job acts.

[00:10:43] So you have to understand that one strategy plays into another. That's the inbound flow. And then your passive talent or your source talent, that's where you are reaching out to people. And in effect, what I try to do is use my sourcing expertise to [00:11:00] optimize job descriptions. And to make them understandable, not necessarily just by humans, but also by machines, so that LinkedIn's talent matching engine could pick up the job description and quickly see exactly who matched that and push our jobs to their inboxes, to their inboxes, not their InMails.

[00:11:21] And thousands and thousands and thousands of page impressions in inboxes. Much, much more productive than one source of reaching out to a hundred people over in [00:11:30] mail every week. And, and so I was able to scale and really do talent attraction rather than that kind of passive outreach. And as I say, that worked for us in the market.

[00:11:41] Tushar Makhija: That's excellent. I think a lot of would love to hear how, what are the tools that someone's people can use today in order to are you saying that now AI can help us write better job descriptions that can be read by LinkedIn? Or how should we go about making these adjustments so that there is a more pull [00:12:00] attraction rather than push InMail way of sourcing or attracting 

[00:12:05] Jim Miller: talent?

[00:12:06] There are a plethora of tools out there. And some of them say they can do amazing things, magical things and oftentimes they can't. Your best bet is to keep it simple. What's the natural language that people use to title a job that they do? Mm-hmm. And therefore, if it's a software engineer job, call it a software engineer job because that's what people will search on and that's what will be written on their [00:12:30] LinkedIn profiles.

[00:12:31] Then make sure that your tech stack is fully listed on the job. Because if someone is searching for a job and they put react into their search and you've decided that, of course they're gonna have react skills, so I don't need to put it on my job description, your role won't appear. So it's discovery.

[00:12:49] It's the search engine optimization skills that folks learned in the two thousands when Google was coming to prominence. It's that concept, but in, if you think about it in simple terms, it's just [00:13:00] a reverse way of sourcing. You are putting the keywords into the job description that you would normally have put into your search to go and find some, and then you tell the story of the job and of the company in your job description so that people who are qualified for the role can see themselves in the position.

[00:13:20] And then any minimum requirements you have are focused on that role and the critical skills needed. That will give a return on investment [00:13:30] and show success early, effective, early is a big thing for, for smaller companies. Right? And this then actually plays into later in our conversation about headcount planning, but it's outcome based.

[00:13:41] So you describe the outcomes in the job description through the minimum requirements. You need this skill in order to have this level of success in this time period. And those folks reading it can see it. They can understand themselves in the role, and they find it very easy to write the evidence of their experience against that [00:14:00] minimum requirement in their resume and that methodology.

[00:14:04] Then once you put it into any tool like LinkedIn for example Glassdoor does it all the different job boards will pick up the ad and they will serve that ad through to people's inboxes as well as serving it in the search results for people who are doing their own boo and logics who find a new job.

[00:14:22] And it's very powerful and it works at all levels, even executives. Excellent. 

[00:14:28] Tushar Makhija: Yeah, we, I, I, [00:14:30] it sounds really intuitive, but I'll be honest with you, I haven't heard about this strategy in this detailed manner. I've heard about talent brand and make yourself attracting enough so that people find you.

[00:14:43] But I, you know, have always been under the impression that only large organizations, if you are a unicorn, and if all, if TechCrunch is talking about you, only then you'll be able to do this. But I think you just shared a lot of practical insights for everyone to try [00:15:00] whether they are a unicorn or whether they are an up and coming startup.

[00:15:03] Let's pivot now to. Headcount planning. What was the scale that you saw at Full Story? Sure. Like in terms of number of employees growth and in how long did it take? 

[00:15:17] Jim Miller: So we went from two 20 to tripling the size of the company in about 15 months 

[00:15:23] Tushar Makhija: in about 15 months 

[00:15:25] Jim Miller: there.

[00:15:25] Alright. That was completely different to the sometimes 20 plus [00:15:30] thousand hires in a year at Google, of which my team were a small part of when you looked at it in the macro level. So it was a real culture shock for me. And then coming in and seeing that from the headcount planning perspective again, it was the first time I was really seeing at the granular level and also the interactions between the finance department, the people department, and the C-suite.

[00:15:52] Let's 

[00:15:53] Tushar Makhija: start at the very beginning. Let's say we are in the annual planning process. And I know traditionally headcount planning [00:16:00] is it is messy because it has a lot of different people involved with a lot of different skill sets and a lot of different priorities. Hiring managers know exactly what they need to, how, how, what problems they have to solve, and what features they have to build and what OKRs they have to hit.

[00:16:16] And so they are looking at this more from a skillset bit, what skills they wanna augment in their team. Talent is looking at it from a capacity angle. Compensation is looking at it from equities angle, and then we've got finance, [00:16:30] which is the, I call the real budget holder. How, when should someone start?

[00:16:35] How it all begins? Tell us all, tell us all the details, please. 

[00:16:40] Jim Miller: I'm probably gonna say things that are completely different to how anybody else thinks about this stuff. 

[00:16:44] Tushar Makhija: Alright? That's exactly what, why we need you here and saying it here on the Headcount People podcast First 

[00:16:52] Jim Miller: I, I said earlier about tying the job description to outcomes.

[00:16:55] Everything I do is to outcomes. I can't remember who once did a [00:17:00] presentation and they used a golf analogy and they drew a picture of the hole that you're trying to get the ball in. And then they worked their way back on all the golf shots to the starting point and showed that you can actually plan to get to the end from the end first.

[00:17:13] And that's how I think about headcount planning, headcount planning, headcount management. People are the building blocks of any company in your strategy. That's the glue that holds those blocks together. So you have to know what the outcome you're trying to reach and [00:17:30] when is, and then you reverse that and you plan all the way back with milestones set all the way.

[00:17:37] So that then when you get back to today, you can assess what you've got right now because success of any strategy involves in the first moment you touch it. So you have to understand if what you've got at the moment actually sets you up as the, the base level building blocks for your future plans. And it's critical.

[00:17:56] It's the biggest cost for any company. Yes. And you're gonna ask me a [00:18:00] follow up question now, but I'll, I'll leave a snapshot in this moment of that, that the C-suite should not be the audience of your headcount plan. Right? That it's integral, that they are the owners of their business and therefore the owners of their portion of that plant, it doesn't get delivered to them.

[00:18:19] They're part of the building of it.

[00:18:21] Tushar Makhija: There are lots of follow up questions there, but let's start with when you said that you have to start from the end outcome of the end goal [00:18:30] and take steps back how. When you, how do we define that end goal? Is it dollars? Is it headcount, actual targets? How should we start thinking 

[00:18:42] Jim Miller: about goals? I think it starts off with the CEO and the board deciding where the company is going.

[00:18:48] It might be two years time. We want to be this big, it might be five years time. It might be, here's when we want to go public. It, it doesn't matter on the timelines. Or really who's making the decision as [00:19:00] long as everyone buys into that decision. And that's where we're going. So let's imagine it's a business goal.

[00:19:04] We need this amount of revenue at this particular time because we're gonna try and go public. So that's your end goal. You come back from that moment and you set your milestones, which are probably based on revenue, and you go to a parallel workflow and you talk about, well, what's our headcount budget at that end state?

[00:19:25] What do we think the company will need to look like at that end [00:19:30] point? And then you work your way back and you align new models against each of those milestones that you put in place for the business growth. And then you come back and you go all the way back to the end point again and you do org design and you understand what the structure of your company is because the way that you work right now is n probably not the way you are going to work at scale in the future.

[00:19:53] So again, when you bring that org design back, you'll have a clear pathway of how the [00:20:00] flow of who you need to hire and where they need to sit in your business aligns to the other parallel pathways that are getting you to that end result. If you do that work really, really well, it'll set you in good stead to do the rest of your headcount planning.

[00:20:15] When you get into more kinda granular detail,

[00:20:17] Tushar Makhija: Do you believe that headcount planning should happen at every milestone stage growth of the company and where, where should one start?

[00:20:26] First question and then second question is how does the existing [00:20:30] infrastructure and tooling that we have in most companies we, we would say that the stacks overlap, the technology stack overlap. What, what part does technology play and how it all works out 

[00:20:40] Jim Miller: together. 

[00:20:41] So there's a couple of pieces to unpack.

[00:20:42] I'll probably leave the technology and the tools for a bit later. So I use IPO O as an example, but as you were asking me the question, I realized that it's not realism. For right now. Let's take a slightly different approach. You want your company to still be alive in two years time. [00:21:00] That's a totally scenario to ypo, but sustainability over the course of the next two years, reduced burn.

[00:21:07] Hopefully you're gonna be able to get to that next funding round in two years time and then be able to, to consolidate and build from that and grow and get towards any future state goal You might have like an I IPO or something. It doesn't matter what that end goal is. It doesn't have to be the glory of, of an exit.

[00:21:24] But just still existing can be a goal. And, and that's pretty powerful in the current days [00:21:30] in, in my mind. Then your, your strategy leadership folks, C f o folks, CEO and so on. They, they build out what that picture looks like and they get everybody to buy into the vision. But as I said at the C-Suite, they need to own and be accountable for the why, the story behind what their org needs to look like at that end result, and each of the milestones in between.

[00:21:55] And ideally be transparent about it so that everybody understands the journey that's going to happen. [00:22:00] So if they need to adjust their skills and their ways of working that they've been forewarned. So I, I look at it in, in two ways. Your C-suite folks can either think that headcount planning is easy, but they just need to hire what finance says they should.

[00:22:19] And, and if they're doing that, you've probably got the wrong C-suite to get you to where you need to be. They don't know their own businesses, they don't know the interdependencies between their businesses and their peers.[00:22:30] And, and I've seen that happen now sometimes this has been caused by A C E O A C F O A C H R O forcing them to think that headcount planning is easy and that they are order takers.

[00:22:45] And that's because they've been told, here's your headcount target. If you use it and we miss our goal, we'll figure out what went wrong. But if you don't use all of the headcount target that we've given you and we miss our [00:23:00] goal, you'll be fired. It's an extreme example. I have heard those words used on multiple occasions in my career, and that fills people with fear and they stop using the skills and the expertise and capabilities that you hired them for and start just saying yes to whatever the plan is and the numbers that are involved, and they put butts in seats.

[00:23:24] Your great C-suite folks will take that in goal, take a plan [00:23:30] away, and then they will sit down with their peers and they will build an integrated plan across the board that they will come back and present and they will partner with analysts and the people team and the talent team and your finance folks.

[00:23:43] And each other, and they will understand the interdependencies. They will build something that really enhances the company's capability and probably will get you to a better place than the end goal you are looking for. Assuming no external things come into play, said headcount target there, and [00:24:00] all the way through.

[00:24:00] I've been talking about headcount budget. It's a budget. It is not a target. If you put a target on something, everyone tries to aim for it and break it. That is cost. You don't want people trying to cost you more money. Don't call it headcount targets, call it headcount budgets and tell your board, you will no longer be calling it a headcount target, but they don't judge you on that.

[00:24:23] But yeah, that, that's the, the kind of highest level journey, and that's how I wanna bring the C-suite into these [00:24:30] conversations. And you'll end up with something that's, that's very, very powerful. They will tell you what needs to change now. Your C-suite will tell you what roles need to be hired first, they'll tell you what will trigger future hires and they'll understand when this team hits this critical mass in these results.

[00:24:49] Then we can go and do this. You'll see a roadmap suddenly form ahead of you. They'll be bringing in their senior leaders to contribute to this. They'll know how to measure success against the plan. [00:25:00] They will bring, bring their own risk models into play and build in breakers to make sure the company doesn't break so that all the stresses of sustainability don't lie with the C E O and the C F O.

[00:25:13] They will help you pace and they'll help you phase your head now as well. So that's the way that I think about the, the, the C-suite, the interactions there at the highest level, someone has to facilitate that and that's your head of talent, head of people. We've gotta be in those conversations driving those.[00:25:30] 

[00:25:30] Tushar Makhija: That's an excellent, because that is exactly what I was thinking because I have been in that C-suite. You know, the, the type of people that you just mentioned are not the right people to take companies forward. I have done that in the past where, so as a sales leader, as a cro o of a company, I spend the last decade leading sales at startups.

[00:25:52] Once you hit this funding milestone, the very next meeting that the lead VC of the, of the latest round [00:26:00] would say, well, I just gave you all of this money. How are you gonna. Triple, quadruple a r r. And I think we are all in the, and I'm taking sales as an example because in the, the math is okay, if we have so many AEs, that means we have so much quota.

[00:26:16] If we have so much quota, we'll be able to at least close 80% of the business. So it's all the best case scenario, and that's how we are gonna hit our a r goals. And I have seen this time and again when this happens, despite the goodness [00:26:30] of an intelligence of people, we all fall down and f you know, fall in the trap of increasing this count of people because count equals capacity, capacity equals some version of productivity.

[00:26:46] It doesn't make sense, but that's exactly what's happening around the world. And maybe that's why we had all of these layoffs. So what are your thoughts on getting people not to make these mistakes? How have you been successful in doing [00:27:00] that in, in your. In your past experiences 

[00:27:03] Jim Miller: I asked questions like, oh, so the book says that we need this ratio in order to design our company.

[00:27:11] Where's the book? It doesn't exist. Where's the book? I went and spoke when I was designing account planning for Full story. I went and spoke to talent partners, a bunch of ecs, and I was like, people keep talking about the book. They keep talking about the magic ratios. They're like, yeah, people ask us about that all the time.

[00:27:26] I'm like, well, when I've spoken to people, the book is owned by the VCs. You are, [00:27:30] the VCs tell me, and they're like, it doesn't exist. I'm like, okay, well that's a good start for this competition. Right? So by the book, you talk about the, the waterfall, the sales model quotas all the way down to how many AEs you need and BDRs and so on and so forth.

[00:27:44] That's great. That's the same model we use in recruiting, recruiting and sales. Pretty much the same thing. You need to make this number of mm-hmm. Productivity per resource. This number of recruiters, this number of sources, no, You look out there and there are some fantastically [00:28:00] successful companies who threw the book out and didn't do it that way.

[00:28:04] Look at the companies who say what we're gonna do is we're gonna add the next salesperson when everybody else is already above quota. So when they come into the organization, they see the success that everyone is, we will therefore be able to hire the best salespeople and we can fill up the bottom and we can see, and we can track the pipeline that's coming in.

[00:28:26] And if we're leaving deals on the table, we bring in another person and everyone [00:28:30] is successful and they want to stay with your company. Especially if you're selling a complex product. That's critical. Cuz tenure is one of the biggest leading indicators of success of a salesperson at a, at a SaaS company, right?

[00:28:41] Sure. My specialty somehow over the last two years. So you have to think about all of those dynamics. Now you go to a company that used that kind of model and you say, oh no, you shouldn't be doing this. You should be taking a quota, breaking it down, and hiring this number of no, be like, no, we [00:29:00] don't need that number of AEs.

[00:29:01] It's a fallacy. High performing, high productive AEs will break those quota models and all the math that's inside them immediately. So why not go with that? It's more effective and cost effective. Secondly, you go and hire a bunch of people. The math, again, doesn't work because you're trying to do it all at the same time and you get diminishing returns.

[00:29:21] The next thing people do is they focus on those quotas as the end result, and they work their way back from that and they start hiring AEs. What happened to demand [00:29:30] generation in account-based marketing? What happened to sales enablement? The people who are gonna teach the product to your new sales folks, if you don't hire those people first, then those new sales folks that are coming in, they're gonna fail.

[00:29:45] Have seen this in action. I've seen it play out. I won't let it happen on my watch again, but any executive who is just coming back to you with a mathematical model of, to get to X revenue, we need to hire NAES right now. Or if [00:30:00] sales has X number overcount executives, we need this number of CSMs. No, that's not true.

[00:30:07] And then of course there's the ratios in the rest of the business in particular g and a. If we have one g a person, one HR person per 30 employees, no, you don't go learn your business. Figure out how you can make everyone more effective and efficient and then come back and tell us what you truly need based on your experience and your capabilities.

[00:30:27] And great folks will [00:30:30] build plans that will be checked out, but even then, you need to go a little deeper and I'll stay on this sales theme. There will be excess in your great models. So let's take an example. Your sales leader comes back with their headcount plan and it shows that their BDR organization will produce 90% of your pipeline target and you fantastic.

[00:30:53] You want the BDRs to do, what's your marketing exec gonna come back? They're gonna come back with [00:31:00] a plan that shows that their account based marketing, their demand generation team, they're gonna produce 70% of your pipeline. Well, all of a sudden you've got 160% of your pipeline target, which to a lot of companies, that sounds amazing.

[00:31:14] That's brilliant, but you haven't got the budget for that because there are other heads that you won't be able to hire because you've overhired into your B D BDR and your demand gen teams. So you've gotta pressure test that and figure out the right mix there to bring everything [00:31:30] in at roughly a hundred percent of targets, right, because you could swamp your A and then you get diminishing returns from what you're trying to push in.

[00:31:39] So you have to pressure test even the great plants and go a level deeper. And that's where your heads of talent really coming. And that's where your head of sales recruiting comes in because they've seen it all before. And you get in there and you poke around and you see, and you do the math and you're like, these two pieces, it's fantastic, but they don't add up together.

[00:31:58] We will have too much, we [00:32:00] can save heads here, we can reinvest that in r and d and your CTO's like you, you're giving me headcount from sales. That, that's unheard of. But that's, that's the role that we have to play if we're gonna be the successful stewards of a company. And the biggest cost being people, that is our role.

[00:32:18] Tushar Makhija: There is I think two things that really strike out of this conversation right now to me is that we, we need more heads of talents, heads [00:32:30] of recruiting to insert themselves. With authority into this conversation of headcount planning. And they've become this, you know, sh shine the light or become this truth mirror that says, well, whatever you're saying only looks good on paper because you're, you're right.

[00:32:45] The, the take the example of the head of sales recruiting. They are the ones that have done this at multiple companies. If you've hired the right person, and they will be able to tell you whether this is how much truth is in this plan and [00:33:00] what is the chances of success. 

[00:33:02] Do you feel that enough heads of talent that do that? And if they don't, how should they build this muscle and start talking about the true ways of doing a headcount plan and pressure testing it, as you just mentioned, a couple of moments 

[00:33:16] Jim Miller: back

[00:33:17] I think the first thing that as heads of talent we have to do is stop being order takers.

[00:33:22] Like, get real, most people are making this up as they go along. Right? A lot of the CFOs of SA [00:33:30] companies today, you know, series A, series B, series C had never seen a recession before this one. True. I remember being in a conversation where it's like, we're gonna slow down hiring macroeconomic situation, you know the story.

[00:33:45] It was early last year. Yeah. And we've got, we've decided we're only gonna hire another 125 people this year, and we have 125 roles open right now. So what we'll do is we'll fill those roles and we will we'll have a hiring freeze for the, [00:34:00] for H two. All right. Cool. How do we know that the 125 roles that are open right now are the priority positions that people want to hire and that they're not gonna turn around and go hiring freeze.

[00:34:11] If you'd have told me that I wouldn't have hired that role, I'd have hired this role. This is more important. I need to get rid of somebody now to go and hire this position. Oh, right. Okay. So we need to do a reprioritization. So Yep. We need to do that exercise. So the second thing is, why would we give them all the 125 heads right now?

[00:34:29] Why would [00:34:30] we not drip feed it in and make it sustainable across the course of the next year? Well, you know, it's difficult to do all that planning. We, you need to, to, you know, we've got it all. We know exactly where we are. Like, no, think about this. What happens if things get worse? What do you mean? Like, what happens if we need to cut more head count and we've already hired the hundred 25 people?

[00:34:51] Oh, like we've got eight months. Let's break the hundred 25 people down across the course of eight months. Then if something changes, you can [00:35:00] cancel open headcount. And that's far cheaper than laying off people who were already in seat as it turned out with the layoffs that happened in that particular scenario.

[00:35:11] 50% of those layoffs were saved because it would still open headcount cuz we'd slowed everything down before becomes really powerful for folks to, to, to understand that the senior level folks don't have all of the answers. They are very, very good at what they do. But you [00:35:30] can still ask really good intuitive questions to discover even if you've never experienced the scenario that the question that's on your mind needs to be asked, not kept in your mind.

[00:35:42] And you are empowered to go and ask that question. And the moment you ask the first great question, you'll become a true partner and your stock will rise within the company and you'll become an advisor. And all of a sudden you'll be able to draw more and more out and become more involved and help group think the right solutions [00:36:00] in the best way of working.

[00:36:01] And that all plays into the success of the company you work.

[00:36:04] Tushar Makhija: Alright, so Jim, we have, we have now spent time understanding all the best practices, the pitfalls, what to do, what not to do, and how to restructure our thinking around headcount planning. But l let's now take one level deeper on into the tactics into how sh how do you recommend this actual planning process begin and be executed at a company?[00:36:30] 

[00:36:30] Jim Miller: So from my experiences of the ups and the downs over the last 22 years I think you have to break the model down into three parts. The first part is your investment, your risk tolerance, and that's really the how you're gonna go about growth through sales. Ultimately, sales is the biggest driver of growth of your company unless you have a product that sells itself.

[00:36:55] So you can invest in your sales organization and grow it and plan it. [00:37:00] Whichever different way you want to do. You might wanna do the quota math model that we've just so disparaged. You might want to say, no, no, I'm gonna max out the quota for every single salesperson before I bring a new person in or anything in between.

[00:37:11] That's fine. But don't hang the planning for the rest of your company on the number of account executives, because the math is not always right. Correct. Base it on revenue, on outcomes. That [00:37:30] word outcome again. So put a budget per resource for customer success. Million dollars of revenue. Every time we go up a million dollars, it'll trigger the next hire for you.

[00:37:43] Head of Cs. That's the plan. Head of CS goes. All right. Well this is pretty simple. I can basically write a list of my next 200 hires and I know that when we've. Gone through the next 200 million of a r, then I'll have hired all of those people. Is that right? Yeah, [00:38:00] absolutely. And I can move the heads around all the time just to reprioritize and, and adjust and iterate on my plan.

[00:38:05] Yeah, that's great. Well, that's pretty simple. How will I know that We've got the next million of a r r, we publish 'em slack and it's transparent and the whole company understands Well, that's great. The whole company can then get behind growth and understand that the growth of different departments, you know, even the engineers can be cheering on the sales folks because they know that new engineers will come on board as we grow and the revenue increases.

[00:38:29] Is that Yeah, [00:38:30] that's exactly right. Oh, brilliant. Okay. Well that's good G and a folks, not you. Sorry, like, huh? What? But we, we like that idea, so I'm sure you did, but g a really, that's cost. So you are gonna be on the old ratio model, but you told us the ratio model didn't work. So when it does work, if there's a breaker in between, in between, that's based on revenue.

[00:38:53] So instead of g a being a percentage of the whole company, we're now gonna have g n A based on the size of that core part [00:39:00] of the business, which is determined on revenue. And the ratios will be slightly smaller because there's all these salespeople to look after as well. But really, g n A will only grow when the salespeople have been hired and reduce the revenue that have then generated the hires and those people have onboarded.

[00:39:18] And that will then trigger the next threshold in hires for finance and for people ops. And so, alright, okay, so we still get to cheer everybody else on, but we grow when the rest of the company grows and therefore the [00:39:30] need is there. And if the revenue doesn't get generated, then we haven't spent a whole bunch of money on g a folks that are costs and cause layoffs and, you know, all entire recruiting teams to disappear and so on.

[00:39:42] Yeah, that's the plan. Cool. Okay. We can get behind them so you get this double layer of protection when you build in that model. Now, It can be as simple as a spreadsheet and what I'm sure we'll get on to talking about spreadsheets. But it also creates a whole bunch of levers. And these [00:40:00] levers enable micro adjustments.

[00:40:02] And if you give your finance team the capability to do micro adjustments that have no real enormous change implications on the company, they'll start to use them. And you'll see your extreme events like layoffs diminish or even disappear. So for example, slightly more conservative because you don't know what the economic out outlook is gonna be.

[00:40:29] Cs, instead of [00:40:30] it being a million dollars per resource, it's now 1.1 million. You'll hire 10% slower for your customer success organization, bit more bullish. You think that the sales projections finally are gonna be truthful for once and you're gonna get 10 million in a r r this quarter. Fantastic. Cs, we're just gonna drop you to 900,000 per resource, which immediately triggers three new hires and you'll hire that much faster over time.

[00:40:57] Cs already know who those three hires are. They've had them in their list for [00:41:00] two years, cause they're waiting on the 200 million, remember? So mm-hmm. No real huge shift. Backfills. The emotional pain of trying to get an attrition backfilled in a company. The tickets that go on it, it's so intense and so painful for people to do the messages.

[00:41:20] But actually, if revenue is dropped slightly and it's below the threshold for that person's seat to be backfilled, there's no backfill at the moment. The revenue goes above that [00:41:30] threshold. Backfill will be approved. Assuming that's the right priority, hire for that team to do at that particular moment.

[00:41:37] And of course, the head of custom success can move it around in, in our example If the revenue was far higher, then of course the backfill would be approved immediately. And no one needs to get involved. No need for tickets and triple layers of approval and those kinds of things. And all the way through, you've got ownership from your C-suite.

[00:41:55] They're empowered to own their own plan. They're the ones who control and drive [00:42:00] things and, and move the priority. They listen to their senior leaders, who listen to their organizations and understand what's needed, and they're the ones who make the trade offs. And it becomes very transparent, very open.

[00:42:11] Everyone can see it, everyone can give feedback. You crowdsource success. That's how I would go about account planning right now. You need the tools to support it. And, and I think we're gonna get onto that. 

[00:42:23] Tushar Makhija: No,

[00:42:24] I don't want to use the word controversial, but it is very different than what I have heard a lot of people say. It [00:42:30] is it is, I would say radical thought, which is good provocative and will force people to think. I think o o one thing I wanted to ask you is like how do you and maybe you can start with this and then we can move to tools.

[00:42:42] Is that what chip everything that you are saying? I'm an engineer by training. It is sounds. Very practical, very doable. But at the end of the day, there are a lot of people involved in this. Like how, and you know, you, we spoke about the book, the [00:43:00] non-existing book that everybody somehow knows about. How do you convince the board and how do you get the C-suite to not fall in the same old trap and not do headcount planning in the way you just prescribed?

[00:43:15] Jim Miller: Why do you think the board and the C-suite go to those simple mathematical models? Because they don't know a better way of doing 

[00:43:24] Tushar Makhija: ignorance is bliss. 

[00:43:26] Jim Miller: No one has ever thought about it deeply, [00:43:30] right? So let's take that as a, as a consistent model, right? If folks aren't thinking about it in a, in a different way, then we've got the space to explore it.

[00:43:39] Right now, there's no point in me being on a podcast and saying the same thing that everybody always does. Oh, you should do ratios and this and this and this. I've learned from my experience that the most incredible people in the world can have gaps and miss. I've got a story about a civil engineering organization that put all their headcount plan out and told everyone, each of [00:44:00] their department heads to go and hire, and here's your headcount.

[00:44:03] And the head of customers services went and filled call centers full of people, and the people on the civil engineering side doing the infrastructure hadn't even dug a hole to do the thing. And they lost Wow. Millions and millions and millions of dollars because they didn't put simple phasing in place.

[00:44:23] And these were incredibly intelligent people. I hired this group before you hire this group, before you hire this group. Same thing we were talking [00:44:30] about earlier, account based marketing, demand generation, and sales enablement before your account executives tools. The tools don't exist to help people do this.

[00:44:40] There's a joke, why don't you see finance and, and the people, team and recruiters and compensation all having conversations in Slack cause they're too busy having the conversation in their spreadsheets. That's where everybody hangs out. The HRS tool, the at s tool, those are the domains of the specialist teams.

[00:44:58] Another example, [00:45:00] when we were going through the hiring hypergrowth of 2021, you'd start off with a role with a hundred thousand dollars salary budget. And by the end of hiring it, you had to pay 125,000 to get the person on board. And everyone signed off on it. And then at the end of the year, finance came back and said, Hey, our wage bill's $5 million more than we thought it was gonna be.

[00:45:21] Cause no one connects the dots and no system connects the dots between these two pieces can't have headcount planning without compensation being involved. You put [00:45:30] those two things into a tool together that becomes powerful. Spreadsheets. That's where most of this work is done. Even at the biggest company I've worked for, spreadsheets tell you a little story, a hundred thousand people in the company.

[00:45:48] Attrition, for example, was modeled at the beginning of the year at 5%. So 5,000 hires to make just to backfill, just to keep steady. And you wanna hire 20,000 people on an [00:46:00] incremental basis for the year. So you've got 25,000 hires to make all the spreadsheets of built, everyone has their hiring goals and targets.

[00:46:07] You can see how many per week, how many per month, how many per quarter. It all looks beautiful on January the first come December the 31st, and people are getting fired for not hitting their targets. You've got recruiters who missed goals. You've got recruiting leaders who've missed goals. When you look under the hood, It turns out that the reason [00:46:30] the whole spreadsheet is red and everyone has missed their targets is cuz attrition only came out at two and a half percent.

[00:46:37] It says 2,500 rolls that weren't filled, that are causing all the red blotches all over the beautiful spreadsheets. And those rolls weren't opened because the people in them never left. So how could you fill them? The ha And and, and that's happening in huge companies. And that's a paraphrased example. It didn't exactly happen like that before.

[00:46:58] Somebody goes off and says something [00:47:00] in public about. But that is an example of how the spreadsheets with the inputs and no one updates them. So you need real time information. You need the ratios to be present for those people who wanna base things on ratios or at least a pressure test, you need the revenue per head model to be facilitated in it all.

[00:47:18] You need interdependency control. So you need to be able to investigate that piece I was talking about, about the BDRs versus the demand gen folks and pressure testing that you need phasing [00:47:30] controls and pacing controls. You need to be able to drip feed the headcount in the case of a downturn You need approvals, workflows, you need salary budgets against headcount because that's your big cost play.

[00:47:43] You need reporting tickets that interact with your H R I S and your at t s and your finance systems. But most importantly, and this comes all the way back to the start of the question about influence, you need modeling functionality because these people [00:48:00] don't know what they don't know and if they've never seen an alternative way of doing something.

[00:48:06] So model what the future looks like, model the outcome of that success, and what you think the company needs to look like based on your ratios. Then model what that company looks like based on your revenue per head model, and start to produce 3, 4, 5 different future looking methods that could be put together and use those as the [00:48:30] basis for your C-suite to use their expertise to pressure test, and then break it down to the milestones and pull it all the way back, and then go backwards and look at what those models had they been in place since January, 2021, would've looked like.

[00:48:48] And then go and look to see whether the layoff you made in 2022 would've actually been needed to happen with that new model, or whether you'd have had a sustainable business model. And by the way, the modeling should [00:49:00] also include burn rates and so on. What your burn rate would now be, had you done this and all of the savings on the 30, 40, 50, 100 salespeople or engineers or whatever it happens to be that you hired and then fired three months later.

[00:49:15] Whether or not that model would've not required those folks to come in and enable you to play with the dynamics between doing something in a shorter period of time, needing more people, or doing more in the same period of time, needing more people. And then what do you do with those [00:49:30] people after that push has finished?

[00:49:32] All of those modeling pieces need to come into play so that people can make informed decisions about what the headcount plan methodology is gonna be, and then you actually run it and measure it consistently and assess it against the models and about against those outcomes and those success milestones you put in place with the models.

[00:49:52] And that's how you influence. You can do that with a tool. Great. Personally, I did it by building out a spreadsheet with a very, [00:50:00] very friendly person from fp and a who was also passionate about this topic, and it showed folks that if we did this, then we wouldn't have needed to do this, and this is what would've looked like at these stages.

[00:50:12] This would've been the impact on revenue, positive or negative, cuz you lay it all out. And that's how you influence by showing we've got a methodology, we think we do better and this is how we're gonna measure it. Contest consistently. The logical reasons are all in there. The reasons why you should care about it.

[00:50:29] [00:50:30] Saving money or making more money. And then finally, this is how I'm gonna facilitate it. This is how I'm gonna continuously measure it so that I can implicate any risk and fears that you have about putting this model into place.

[00:50:41] Tushar Makhija: Jim, I wanted to, this has been very fascinating, as I said, provocative statements radical thought. And I think it is testament to your career and you working in very innovative companies that has allowed you to pressure test some of these strategies. [00:51:00] And I wanna prescribe to all of these strategies, but I think I.

[00:51:03] And, you know, at the end I'm coming onto this major question of people. When you mentioned you, you spoke about modeling. When I think about models or when, if a talent leader or an HR leader would think about model, they would be like, oh, this is only something that FPM A can do. And then, so all I'm under, what I'm trying to understand is that how do you get alignment between finance, hr, talent, [00:51:30] and C-suite?

[00:51:32] It's gonna be hard. I, I recognize that. But as the final part of this podcast, what would be your prescribed steps or what would be your guidance so that we can bring these four different teams in alignment to start thinking about following the methodology for headcount planning and headcount management that you have proposed 

[00:51:52] Jim Miller: today?

[00:51:53] Acknowledge that it's hard. Acknowledge that you haven't got it right Unless you're certain companies [00:52:00] that have just hit 200 billion in revenue or something crazy like that and even then they probably haven't got it right. Go off and do your research. Find the experts, go talk to the talent people within the VCs, all of them, not just the ones who back.

[00:52:14] You go talk to your board members and ask them which companies are doing it right? Which companies are doing it different? Cuz a company did turn around to the board and say, no, we're not gonna follow your math model. We're gonna do this and you can choose whether you want to continue the investment in us or not.

[00:52:27] But this is the way that we're gonna go. Cause we believe this is the [00:52:30] right way. And the board went, okay go do that research, go figure out the best practices and then aggregate those best practices together. But don't do it on your own. I picked up the ball and ran with it and someone said, we don't do headcount planning, right?

[00:52:47] We need a different way. And everyone looked at each other and we only know one way. Take a friend with you. Take someone from fp and a, take a people partner, take someone who does organizational design. Take someone from [00:53:00] the C-suite who just happens to be passionate about getting it right. Doesn't really matter, but take a witness.

[00:53:05] Go have the conversations externally, bring the, bring the practices back inside, and then build up the models. That's really why you want the fp and a person with you or the s sp and a person, someone that can drive the, the, the spreadsheet models if you haven't got a fantastic tool to do the work with.

[00:53:21] But you bring that cohort, that group together, and they all hear that if you put this piece of best practice in and this piece of best practice in this, you'll get incremental gains [00:53:30] from doing it. You put the whole lot together and you get a huge explosion in more effectiveness. Those incremental gains add together become cumulative, and that becomes very, very powerful.

[00:53:44] And then why wouldn't you try? The other methods haven't really been working for anyone. If you watch just how many people are applying for jobs right now and, and so on, sustainable growth, high quality representative [00:54:00] hiring, those are the things that were really important to companies right now. So why wouldn't you go and try a different way, and if nothing else, you can continuously measure it and then iterate on it or change if you need to.

[00:54:11] Tushar Makhija: Thank you so much, Jim. I think the biggest takeaway for me is I would say that we need the talent and the people organization to become more first class partners in this process. I think that is one of my major takeaways.

[00:54:25] The second takeaway is, N don't be scared to think differently or [00:54:30] think out of the box because at the end of the day, I think now is the moment where you can actually do that. Because just the recent past is showing us what are the pitfalls and what is there is a human toll to layoffs, not just a dollar cost toll, but it's also we are affecting human lives.

[00:54:48] And does seem like all of this could have been avoided with better processes and just a realignment in how we think. So I really hope everybody enjoys this [00:55:00] conversation as much as I have. If, if folks have to reach out to you for additional information how can they 

[00:55:06] Jim Miller: find you?

[00:55:07] Absolutely. Connect with me on LinkedIn. My contact details are on there. The link to my LinkedIn thing will be on the on, on the show notes, in the notes. Happy to talk about this stuff and. You want someone to come with you for the conversation? I'll come with them. If you don't mind me pitching Ashby and the And the a tst, your cf.

[00:55:26] Alright. 

[00:55:28] Tushar Makhija: I, I think, I think that, I think that [00:55:30] if they can have you in the board meeting and get to use Ashby, I think that would be an absolute win-win. Jim, this is such a pleasure. Thank you so much for spending time with us today. I really 

[00:55:41] Jim Miller: appreciate it. Thank you for inviting me. I had a great time.

About the guests

Jim Miller
Head of People and Talent
Jim Miller is a People Operations Executive with 20 years of experience leading teams of up to 230 individuals. He has a strong focus on Talent functions and has successfully led global recruiting organizations, operations teams, systems/product groups, and facilities functions. Jim is recognized as a true global leader, having founded teams in EMEA and APAC, as well as heading up global practices from the Americas.

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Painless headcount planning for modern companies.