Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 76 – Doing More With Less

Back in November 2008 we took a look at the issue of recession proofing our jobs in the economic downturn. As the world’s governments attempt to make some sort of headway into stopping the problem and providing stimulus to make improvements, organisations are taking a good look at their own businesses and business models and practices. This of course is a euphemism for determining whether they can survive without certain overheads – one of which is people.

Did you take the opportunity over Christmas and New Year to determine what you want the future to look like for you? Are you ready for the next set of challenges? Or are you keeping your fingers crossed it won’t happen to you?

In this issue we will look at:

• Coping when the team is down

Coping when the team is down!
It is a rare organisation that does not have staffing problems on a daily basis.  With illness, maternity leave, annual leave and sabbaticals to take into account, most organisations rarely if ever, operate at full staffing capacity – every single day of the year. The larger the organisation is, the more likely it will be that there will be a small percentage of people not at work on any particular day.

Should it come as any surprise then, when most organisations will consider re-structuring at some point during their operational lifetime? Whilst it could be seen to be a cost-cutting exercise, in some cases it is a simple way to ensure that the right number of people are doing the work that is available, and allowing the people who work with the organisation to do the job they are good at.

It may be true that “today” we are seeing and hearing about more redundancies than we have in a very long time. The truth is, this kind of shuffling is going on all the time. It is the ones who do it pro-actively that perhaps get it right. Re-structuring because of a fall off in work can lead to hasty decisions being made, and yes – perhaps the wrong decisions being made as a result.

I read a book some time ago – fiction as it happens – but nonetheless – the story line involved picking up two people from an opposing force. In a bid to get information from “the enemy” the commanding officer opens the door of the helicopter, chooses one of the people they have just “rescued” and throws him out of the door. Then says to the one who was left – now tell me what you know about the battle plans – to which the horrified man said – I don’t know anything I’m just the cook.

Whilst this may sound like an over simplistic exaggeration, the truth of the matter is that at some point in every person’s working life time they will undergo, or be a part of a down-sizing, right sizing or redundancy program.  During my 20 plus year career in information management I have been subjected to a hostile take-over (the company that took over us, was subsequently taken over), a corporate collapse (due to the bottom falling out of the commodities market) and a merger.  I am sure most other people will have similar stories to tell. The question is how do you carry on regardless, when all around you chaos reigns?

It is relatively easy to pick up additional work if a colleague is away on holiday or on sick leave, or if a person leaves and the gap cannot be filled straight away. There is usually enough left in the reserve tank to do a bit more at work every day (to help out). Few people can honestly say they work every single minute of the day, without any kind of downtime for email reading, internet searching (surfing), meetings that go on for too long or shouldn’t have taken place at all and a whole myriad of other reasons.

What can happen is people can work over capacity for short periods of time, especially if they can see the light at the end of the tunnel – for example they can take on some extra duties if the position becomes vacant – knowing the position will be filled eventually.  However, some times if a position cannot be filled straight away, a decision may be taken to keep the position vacant.  Whilst the work is still there, the “person” isn’t and “Natural Attrition” takes place. Of course management can use this strategy to increase workloads whilst effectively reducing wages and other overheads.  Whilst Natural Attrition is a form of “down sizing” by stealth, being made “redundant” is far more stressful for all parties concerned, and not just for the people who are leaving. Handled correctly, downsizing an organisations workforce can have positive ramifications for the people who are left behind.  Handled badly and the remaining workforce may wonder if it would be better to find another job before they too are dismissed. 

As we all know, redundancies can be caused by some (or all) of the following reasons:
• Internal re-organisation;
• Change of business emphasis;
• Withdrawal from a market or product;
• Cost cutting (included in this are organisations who use redundancies to improve shareholder value);
• A merger or acquisition or
• Technology development.

The impact can be minimised with some careful planning and consideration and should cover:
• How to minimise the stress and strain on those who are leaving the organisation;
• How to promote a corporate image of care and concern; and
• How to minimise the impact on morale and motivation of those people who will be staying with the organisation.

There are several good things that can come from re-structuring a workplace. It allows you to:
• Re-evaluate the way you work;
• The business you work in;
• The areas you target; and
• Areas that can be improved

And this does not just apply to the owners / managers, but everyone who works within a particular business or organisation. You cannot say “it’s not my fault” “it’s not up to me what happens in the business” I’d like to say I think you are wrong.

• It is entirely up to you whether you stay with the organisation or try your hand somewhere else.
• It is entirely up to you to determine whether or not you work in an efficient and effective manner.
• You can make suggestions for improvement that allows the organisation to cut costs, make savings, move into new areas. Depending on the culture of the organisation in which you work, you may get rewarded for your brilliance, or you may not – but you can add that to your CV as one of the “Significant Achievements” whilst you were working for the organisation. And don’t forget to keep a copy of the email / memo / note you sent for your “brag file”.

A lot of it is about choice – our choice. Do we save a bit of money for a rainy day or do we spend all that we earn every week and then panic when a bill comes in and we can’t pay it? Do we eat healthy food every day or just now and then? Do we take time out to exercise or sit on the couch getting worried whilst we watch how bad the world is getting on the news? Do we take time for personal and professional development so that when an opportunity does arrive we are ready for it? Or do we prefer to ignore the fact our qualifications are rather old and we haven’t bothered to undertake any kind of on the job training since?

And with recession and downsizing comes a lot of choices being made by the people who employ us.

• Are people doing the job they are being paid to do? Are they doing more or less than they should?
• Are they always on time or pushing the boundaries a little?
• Do they still dress to impress the organisational culture?
• Do they get on with the other people? Or are they the kind of person who others avoid because looks can kill – especially before they’ve had their third cup of morning coffee?
• Are they more trouble than they are worth?
• Are they always threatening to leave – and then never do? (Hint this is one of those times loyalty can come into play) – well you think you can do better elsewhere – well by all means see you later !!
• Have they outgrown the role but haven’t moved on?
• If they cut your salary how many other jobs would be saved?
• Has your performance been all that it should have been or is there a LOT of room for improvement?

And if you are not sure about the last comment – a simple test for you to try. Simply write down what you did and when. This time log can tell you immediately how much work you have really done during the day.  All you have to be is truthful and complete the log for a couple of days. Believe me it can be a real eye opener. If you would like a copy – one can be downloaded from – and yes I have permission to tell you about it, because I created it.

We hope you enjoyed reading, have a great week.

With many thoughts