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A thing I wonder: do companies have too many employees?

I was talking to a friend about the engineers at her company. Here’s a direct quote:

“The general consensus is that of our 4,000 engineers, only 400 do anything. The problem is that nobody knows which 400.”

What I wonder is if there’s a bias toward how we structure our companies, grow talent, and assign responsibilities.

I don’t read the quote above and think that the company has 3,600 fraudulent engineers leaching salaries. Instead, I imagine 3,600 engineers desperately waiting for an opportunity to do real work.

Here’s another anecdote that got me thinking about bias toward headcount.

I was at a conference of venture capitalists. I’ve never been to one of those before. I’m used to being at events where VCs defer to founders in order to make us feel smart.

So this is the first time I’ve ever heard VCs share unfiltered opinions.

In one roundtable discussion, eight different investors talked about the challenges of rapid hiring and how this was a necessity for successful startups. Success and hundreds of employees go hand in hand. (According to them).

Not once did the people in the room question the value of these hires. Until the end.

A total wise ass VC turned to the VC next to him and asked:

“Didn’t you just sell a company for $19 billion dollars that only had 55 employees?”


(Context: the company was WhatsApp and $19 billion dollars is a lot of money)

And here’s a little bit of my own experience. There is such a thing as a 10x programmer.

And that’s just a special case of the 10x person.

But here’s the thing that I probably see as a coach that other people don’t see.

10x people come from 10x situations.

This is just another case of talent being overrated.

A talented person with no opportunity produces 1x results. A talented person with 10x opportunity produces 10x results.

To wrap this up. I’m just wondering if companies have so many employees because they treat those employees like babies. And the result is that those employees are underutilized and probably unfulfilled.

On top of that, I’m wondering if companies gave themselves permission to have fewer employees would they actually allow those employees who remained to be happier and more fulfilled?

What do other people think?