Is a Bigger Staff Better?

glengarry_rectThe other day I was watching an online clip of Conan O’Brien involving him talking to various staff members on the show. In one of the conversations, he revealed that the show employs over 180 people.

That number surprised me. 180 people working to create 1 hour of content a night? How is that possible? How can the show afford 180 people?

Granted, I’m glad the show gives 180 jobs to people. That’s great. This is more about my curiosity regarding the staff size.

I used to read Inc Magazine on a regular basis, and every year they’d release the INC 500. I’m not exactly sure which factors went into creating the list, but staff size was prominently featured in the profile for each company.

It seemed like Inc was trying to make a correlation between the a company’s staff size and their level of success, which fascinates me. Isn’t it a little like judging a company’s success by the number of staplers they have? In the end, the only number that matters is profit.

I feel kind of coldhearted writing that paragraph. Perhaps I’ve been looking at success the wrong way, especially from the perspective of the sole full-time employee of my own company. Maybe success isn’t about money–or at least not just the money. Maybe success means that your company makes enough money to create jobs for other people too, even if the marginal increase in profits is minimal.

Of course, the general idea is that you hire people if you think they can increase profits. Thus their impact must be at least $X + $1, where X is their salary. Right? Or am I missing something?

Here’s a hypothetical example:

  • Company A makes $100,000 in profit a year and employs 4 people.
  • Company B makes $50,000 in profit and employs 6 people.
  • Company C makes $50,000 in profit and employs 4 people.

Which company is more successful? Company A is more profitable. Company B makes less money, but they survive, and they put food on the table for 6 people. Company C seems strictly worse than Company A, but they’re also able to earn exactly as much as Company B with 2 fewer people. If 6 people have the same earning potential as 4, isn’t 4 better?

What do you think? Is staff size a reasonable metric for a company’s success? Or is profit the only true measure of success? Should I be amazed that Conan’s staff is so big, or dismayed that it seems overinflated?