The New Reality: Doing LESS with Less

How many of us (I include myself in this number) have bought into the notion that we have to do “more with less” in these challenging economic times? A conversation with colleagues this week opened my eyes to the realization that we are shooting ourselves in the foot when we subscribe to this misguided approach. Instead, we need to focus on how to do LESS with less.

The reality is that while most organizations can find legitimate ways to become more effective, 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 some exceptions, the overwhelming 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.

We need 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. And if we continue to try going down this path, we will succeed only in burning out more employees than we have already, and cutting corners or otherwise engaging in activities that will come back to haunt us in the long-run if not in the short-run.

The new reality is NOT about doing more with less, it’s about letting things go.

How do we do that? Letting go of things 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 on its face, doing “less with less” actually provides organizational stakeholders, including employees, with a number of wonderful opportunities. Here are two major ones:

1. Clearing 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 in times that require us to tighten our belts, the question usually is “How can we cut back on what we have?” instead of “Do we really need what we have or will something else work just as well or better?”

2. Uncovering hidden talents and resources

My experience is that 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. This is a great time to take stock of the talent employees have and leverage it in ways that serve everyone well. Encourage people to be creative and innovative, and support their efforts. 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.

In what ways is your organization effectively doing less with less? I invite you to share your success stories with us!

© 2009 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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