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Welcome to the September 2009 issue of Alignment Solutions! We have several things to highlight this month:

  • There is a new article on our web site called "6 Steps to Optimize Results when 'Business as Usual' Doesn't Work Any More." Written in response to questions I've heard recently about how organizations can "re-group" given the current workplace realities (e.g., how to re-structure, keep employees engaged without burning them out), the article suggests ways to proactively and effectively manage employees given today's challenging conditions.
  • The content of our upcoming teleseminar "Transformational Insights: Advice that Will Revolutionize the Way You Live and Work" represents a departure from previous events. In it I will share advice I've received over the years that has transformed my life, and I suggest how these words of wisdom can do the same for you. The teleseminar is on Wednesday, September 23rd at 9 a.m. Pacific time.
  • Our new blog is up and running! We have articles addressing topics such as how to ensure employees and customers recognize your organization's value, tips to increase organizational self-esteem, how to thrive personally during challenging times, and how to prevent employees from becoming collateral damage in the labor-management battle. You can check out these articles and more at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com. I invite you to provide feedback on these and other issues.

Our new article series called Research News You Can Use selects findings of academic research that are applicable in the workplace, and suggests how you might implement them in your organization.

September Topic:

When Silence is NOT Golden

Premise:

Employees who perceive that speaking up is risky, even when they are making positive suggestions that would improve workplace effectiveness, create a "climate of silence" that is detrimental to the organization - and individuals. Discover the factors that lead to such dysfunctional behaviors and how you can counter them.

This month's theme is "optimizing results by doing LESS with less." Although the popular "We've got to do more with less" strategy tends to crop up like a bad penny during challenging times, the truth is that it is counterproductive. While it's true there could be some immediate benefits to this strategy for the organization, it carries very high long-term and short-term costs. It's time to drop the fantasy that organizations can improve measurably by continuously squeezing employees, systems, and equipment, and instead seek the opportunities that appear by embracing a strategy of doing LESS with less.

The Feature Article, "The Fallacy of 'Doing More with Less,'" submits that both employees and organizations are best served by "doing LESS with less." We identify two major opportunities that arise from following this strategy.

In "How to Prioritize: Doing LESS with Less Effectively," the Business Solutions section lists four techniques to enhance your ability to prioritize.

In the Personal Solutions section, "How to Optimize Your Personal Life While Doing LESS with Less" modifies the business prioritization techniques for use outside the workplace.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

 

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The Fallacy of "Doing More with Less"

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.

 

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How to Prioritize: Doing LESS with Less Effectively

Our article "The Fallacy of 'Doing More with Less'" makes the case that doing LESS with less enables organizations to increase productivity because workers are not burned out by trying to do the impossible - i.e., more with less. But just how do we do that? Letting go of things requires making tough choices that managers often are unwilling or unable to make - i.e., they don't know how to prioritize. While the unwillingness to make tough choices is as critical an issue to address as is the inability to make them, this article is limited to the latter. Here are four techniques that can enhance your ability to prioritize:

1. Be crystal clear about the value the organization provides its customers/clients.

Go back to basics - i.e., what is the organization's mission, the purpose for its existence? Over time, the original mission often gets lost or expanded unintentionally. It's time to re-visit what you're doing and why. That is, how are your customers/clients better off for having used your products or services?

2. Identify mission-critical things and people - i.e., be sure every person, program, process, and policy contributes to that value.

Once you have identified the value the organization provides, be relentless about using it as the standard against which everything is evaluated. Only people and things that are critical to achieving that value are high priorities. As resources become available you can relax the standard to include things that enhance that value; initially, though, the focus should be on the basics only.

3. Question assumptions and beliefs about everyone and everything, including "sacred cows." Make the phrase, "But we've always done it this way" an unacceptable answer.

One way to make it easier to implement this technique is to begin with a clean slate rather than try to make changes to the status quo. That is, instead of taking the current state of affairs as a given and making adjustments to it, start by considering the value the organization provides (see #1 above) and working backwards. The question might be, "In order to provide this value, what must the organization look like, and how must we operate?" That's a totally different question than one that merely seeks to change to the status quo.

4. Identify the level of risk you are willing to accept, and take actions that are consistent with it. Make it safe for people to take the designated level of risk, and reward and recognize those who do.

Make sure there is a low perceived personal "cost" for employees to make suggestions about how to work more effectively. In our article "When Silence is NOT Golden," we address the harm caused when employees engage in a practice called "organizational silence." This is defined in part as choosing to remain silent rather than speak up to make suggestions that will help the organization. When employees believe it is riskier for them to speak up than to remain silent, the organization loses valuable information that can help it work more effectively.

In most organizations, various forms of misalignment creep in over time. One way to minimize that tendency is to ensure that all employees, not just managers, consistently assess programs, policies, processes, and people against the standard of the value provided to customers/clients. Teaching them how to prioritize would be a productive first step in doing that.

 

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How to Optimize Your Personal Life While Doing LESS with Less

Executives and business owners often respond to challenging times by exhorting workers to "do more with less." Yet as individuals we know that personally, such times require us to do LESS with less. The question for us is, "How can we decide what to let go?"

The Business Solutions article "How to Prioritize: Doing LESS with Less Effectively" provides four "how to prioritize" techniques that work just as well for personal choices as for workplace choices. Here is how they may be modified to serve as a tool to prioritize people and things so we can do "less with less" in our personal lives.

1. Be crystal clear about what is important to you.

Often we get caught up in the day-to-day routine or activities, and we lose sight of the people and things that are most important to us. During times of great challenge or stress, it is especially important to take the time to sit back and clarify your personal "big picture." For example, perhaps spending time with your family is important, or working on a hobby. Once you have identified clearly that big picture, prioritizing the people and things that support you becomes much easier.

2. Identify the people and things that truly are critical to your being able to achieve your big picture. Include yourself on this list.

Our lives sometimes seem to be an endless round of "have to" or "should" activities, things, and people. Having (or wanting) to do "less with less" provides us with a perfect opportunity to take a close look at how well each of those things serves us and to drop those that do not support us. Keep in mind that what is most important is making yourself a priority. Surround yourself with people and things that support you. And don't worry about what "people" will say as you start releasing non-critical things, people, and activities: they understand that most of us have to re-assess what we do and how we do it.

3. Question assumptions and beliefs about everyone and everything, including "sacred cows."

Human beings take actions based on their beliefs. Many of those beliefs are so ingrained in our subconscious that we are not aware of them. Now is the time to take a close look at our actions and commitments, identifying and questioning their underlying assumptions and beliefs. For example, when you find yourself wanting to do something but holding back because you think, "I can't do that," stop and ask yourself, "Why not?" Often the answer will surprise you in the form of a belief formed during childhood (e.g., I'm not smart enough). We may be missing out on wonderful opportunities that support us simply because we are holding on to beliefs that no longer serve us well. Give yourself permission to release those limiting beliefs, and enjoy life on YOUR terms.

4. Identify the level of risk you are willing to accept, and take actions that are consistent with it.

When we really examine our level of risk aversion, often we find that it's artificially low. That is, we are more conservative than we could be without seriously violating our boundaries. Here are two questions to ask yourself when faced with what you experience as a risky situation or decision:

1. Realistically, what is the worst thing that can happen if you [take this action or make this decision]?

2. Can you live with that outcome?

More often than not, the realistic answer is not nearly as bad as the unexamined picture we had conjured up in our minds. Similarly, people usually find that the "worst case" outcome is something they can live with easily.

What can you do today to optimize your personal life by doing less with less?

 

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Date of Publication: September, 2009
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2009 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch