We tend to perceive information as static and think in abstractions. However, our experience is passing through time. What something means and how it works is different depending on that passage. For example, if I asked you how to build a campfire, you might reply, “Build a tipi with tinder, kindling, and wood ascending outward in layers.” That’s generally accurate. But if I asked you how to build a campfire in February, when everything is sopping wet, you would have a different answer filled with consideration.

Similarly, though there is much advice on who to hire and how to hire, I haven’t come across much concerning when to hire. The answer to that question depends on how quickly you’re growing.

Imagine a circus performer juggling three balls. They could do this in their sleep while composing haiku in their dreams. As the business grows, you’re going to throw them another ball. Four is a little more challenging, but they adapt. The business makes a little more progress and you throw them another ball. Five is their very limit. Their hands are a blur and sweat drips down their face. They can do this for a couple of minutes at the most. But you toss them another ball anyways. They drop a ball. You toss them another. They drop that too. After a few minutes they drop a couple of more balls and are back at three and having difficulty with that. Suddenly they stop juggling and start throwing the balls at you and then storm out of the circus tent to have a cigarette.

The people who produce value in the business have a finite amount of time and energy. As the tempo of value creation increases, they’ll approach their maximum level of utilization. Beyond that threshold, both the worker and the business will incur damage.

You have a window to hire between three and five balls and how quickly you need to hire depends on the business’s rate of growth.

If you’re a startup that doubles in size every six weeks, you’re always hiring because as soon as someone becomes effective they’re at their maximum utilization.

If your rate of growth is sluggish, you might hire a contractor at four balls and use them on and off for a couple of years before hiring a part-time employee, then a half-time employee, and finally a full-time employee. On this end of the growth curve, you’ll use more contractors and part time labor because demand is inconsistent and not near anyone’s maximum capacity.

Your hiring strategy is derived from the rate of your growth. If you can estimate your current growth rate and determine who on your team will be juggling four balls first, you can make a strategic decision on when to hire and what kind of labor to bring on board.

Featured image is Astley’s Amphitheatre in London, c. 1808. Used under public domain.