Mo’ people, mo’ problems

By Francisco Dao , written on August 6, 2013

From The News Desk

A good friend of mine always seems to choose the most complicated option for whatever he’s doing. When he’s starting a business, and he has started several, he never does it alone or with a co-founder or even with employees. Instead, there is always an array of strategic partners, contractors, sponsors, volunteers, and every other tertiary player you can think of. When he moves his residence, instead of looking for a simple apartment, he tries to arrange a collection of roommates, so he can get a big house that he envisions as a kind of live/work commune.

Again and again, I’ve watched his penchant for involving as many people as possible turn into a nightmare of complications. He doesn’t seem to understand that every additional person he has to rely on means another set of variables and another point of potential failure. It’s a lesson I think a lot of people miss.

Obviously, hiring is a necessity for a growing company but even then, founders and CEOs should understand that increasing headcount creates additional complications. Or to paraphrase Biggie, “Mo’ people, mo’ problems.”

People are the most complicated variable you can add to any mix. We are emotional, unpredictable, and often don’t perform as expected, or worse, as we’re required to. Whether the people you’re relying on are internal to your company, or external partners and stakeholders, here is some of the baggage that people always bring with them.

Incompatible personalities -- Unlike machines where incompatibilities are known ahead of time, it’s basically impossible to predict who will get along. People who seem like a great fit to work together often turn into enemies -- and there’s not much you can do about it. If someone’s personality seems a little bit off in the beginning, remember, things usually get worse, not better.

Personal problems and needs -- If you’ve employed more than a handful of people you’ve probably had to deal with such things as them asking for personal loans, helping them find a place to live, offering a job to one of their friends or relatives, and picking them up and driving them to work because their car broke down. Many people have difficulty managing their lives and as their employer, you should be prepared for their problems to partially become your problems.

Egos and entitlement -- Especially in the current bubble environment, expect to hear a lot of employees and even people interviewing for a job say, “I deserve a raise/a promotion/an outlandish salary/more vacation” or some other unwarranted request. Their concept of what they deserve is rarely driven by their actual performance but rather by some promotion or raise a friend of theirs received.

General incompetence -- A lot of people are simply incapable of getting things done. When you’re counting on someone to deliver and they don’t, things get ugly fast.

Husband/Wife/Boyfriend/Girlfriend -- This variable applies mostly to co-founders, but failing to consider it can break a company apart. I tell people all the time, pick your co-founder carefully because it’s like a marriage based only on money, you don’t even have love holding you together. When you work that closely with someone and are that reliant on them, their real significant other often becomes the proverbial “third person in the bed.” If their relationship is strong and he/she doesn’t like you, their influence can tear things apart in a hurry.

In the same way that the amount of money a company has raised is often viewed as a sign of its success, so too do we use headcount and industry footprint as an indicator of positive momentum. It’s not an unreasonable proxy, but in the effort to reach hockey stick growth and keep up with the Joneses, founders and CEOs often get seduced into involving more and more people. And the problem isn’t just limited to adding employees, but also contributors, party round investors, and other supposedly complementary players.

Remember, all of us are all deeply flawed in one way or another, and the more people you bring into your system, the more unpredictable variables, bottlenecks, and different points of failure you’ll have to deal with. Mo’ people, mo’ problems.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]