How many individuals and organizations do you know who have bought into the notion that challenging economic times demand that we do "more with less" in order to survive? A recent conversation with colleagues opened my eyes to the realization that those who subscribe to this approach actually are shooting themselves in the foot. Instead of following this misguided advice, they would be better advised to focus on doing LESS with less.
The reality is that while most organizations can find legitimate ways to become more effective - e.g., reduce waste caused by high error rates, sideline programs that are poorly attended, re-think work flow - there comes a point at which further reductions affect the value they provide. It's at this moment that we begin to hear the "We have to do more with less!" mantra. My question is this: "How has 'doing more with less' been working for you?" With few exceptions, the answer appears to be, "Not very well." By trying to ignore realities like the number of hours in a day and the physical and mental limitations of the human beings who produce the goods and services, we do everyone a disservice. And we need to stop doing it - right now.
It's time to let go of the fantasy that we can do "more with less." Why? Because we can't - not if we're honest with ourselves. If we overburden people and systems, we will succeed only in burning out employees, experiencing equipment and process meltdowns, and cutting corners or engaging in other activities that will come back to haunt us in the long-run if not in the short-run. Although it may seem counterintuitive, implementing a "doing less with less" strategy actually results in increased productivity and decreased stress.
The new reality is NOT about doing more with less, it's about letting things go.
How do we do that? Letting things go is hard, and it requires making tough choices. NOT making those choices, though, will result in even tougher outcomes. We have to prioritize what we do, relentlessly asking how every person, process, system, program, and policy moves us closer to providing value to our customers/clients. Those people and things that are critical to providing the value must remain; everything else must go.
Though it may not seem so, doing "less with less" actually provides organizational stakeholders, including employees, with a number of wonderful opportunities to optimize results. Here are two major ones:
1. Clear the clutter
Over time, we tend to layer "things" on top of each other, such as adding steps to an existing process or increasing the number of layers in the organizational structure. Even when we are required to tighten our belts, the question usually is "How can we cut back on what we have?" instead of starting with a clean slate and asking, "How can we provide value to our customers/clients most effectively?"
2. Uncover hidden talents and resources
Organizations often are full of people who either are in the wrong jobs (i.e., a mis- fit between job and talent) or who have talents that are underutilized in their current jobs. Employers have a great opportunity now to hone in on their employees' talents and leverage them in ways that serve everyone well. Encourage people to be creative and innovative, and support their efforts. The same logic is true of other resources: most organizations can discover "hidden" resources, or those that are underutilized.
Clearing the clutter and uncovering hidden talent and resources often reveal a great deal of misalignment that has kept the organization from optimizing business results. For those who may be concerned that investing in anything or anyone during challenging economic times is not a good idea, consider this: there is a huge ROI (return on investment) in developing and empowering people, both now and in the future. Remember, one of these days the economy is going to turn around and people will have choices about where they work. Will your good performers choose to stay with YOUR organization? The answer depends on how you treat them now.
Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.
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