A better alternative to ‘do more with less’

As the new term starts and we see children everywhere getting back into uniform, the sight of so many kids wearing oversized blazers, trousers and skirts has got me thinking about one of the age-old leadership challenges that is perhaps even more prevalent than ever: the imperative to do more with less.

As a parent, I get it. Uniforms are expensive, so we always buy them with growing room. But every kid hates trudging around with overhanging sleeves, excess ankle-flapping fabric and a skirt that reaches south of the knees. We impose our ‘more bang for our buck’ approach on the children and they just have to lump it. The result? Disgruntlement, possibly some DIY ‘adjustments’ that end up being more costly, or even outright rebellion (the ‘lost’ blazer that is never seen again).

The drive to do more with less as a leader can so often have similar consequences. How often do we ask our teams how they feel about being pressured to work harder, longer, more intensively? If we cut heads and pile on the workload, does that produce better performance and happier employees? Almost certainly not.

In a challenging economy where it’s hard to fill vacancies, employee engagement is low and productivity is in the doldrums, isn’t it time leaders reappraise the ‘do more with less’ approach, and take greater notice of the impact on their teams?

The downside of ‘do more with less’

The UK has seen persistently low consumer and business confidence in recent years after a long period of austerity and economic underperformance, forcing us all to do more with less. Similarly, in organisations where leaders consistently push the workforce to do the same, the result has been record levels of burnout, ‘quiet quitting’, and large numbers of people opting out of the workplace all together.

Doing less to achieve more

As we’ve explored previously, busyness is a modern malaise that impinges on performance and helps to perpetuate harmful working practices. Doing more with less is the worst kind of busyness because it maximises pressure to perform while minimising support.

Rather than focusing on a drive to do more with less, I’d advocate for a far better alternative: doing less to get more.

Developing the ability to do less while achieving more is a skill that will transform your leadership, your team’s performance and the success of your organisation. It’s the bedrock of our development programmes and is the key to growing Profit and Smiles.

That said, it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us.  The challenge is perfectly captured by one of our clients:

“I couldn’t see how to move from a more operational role to a more strategic position…I couldn’t see that I had the time or space to make it a reality. But we worked through the great need for delegation to free up my time, and as we went on my focus shifted wholesale from being caught up in the detail to more strategic topics beyond the day-to-day firefighting.”

Three tips for success

Delegation, as mentioned in the quote, is indeed part of the solution, but before we delegate it’s important to sense-check whether the task itself is necessary. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of doing things for the sake of it, because ‘it’s always been done like that’, or sticking to outmoded systems because we’re too busy or too scared to challenge them. Leaders who take the time and have the courage to question such things can bring about radical change which frees up time and shakes off the shackles which hold their team back.

#1 Ask yourself what is really necessary and valuable and cut out the extraneous drains on time and energy.

#2 Don’t be afraid to stop doing things that aren’t working. Empower your team to find new, smarter solutions to the challenges you all face.

#3 Place a value on reviewing and thinking, not just doing. Our workplace culture tends to reward action but, by pausing to think, to review, to improve, you will learn from past mistakes and boost performance. After Action Reviewis an outstanding tool for achieving this.

There’s a great way to sense check what you’re doing too, just by asking everyone in the team to answer one question:

“Why is this the WRONG thing to do?”

In my experience this is a powerful challenge which can alleviate future pain or reassure the team that their course of action is correct.

If you and your team are struggling to do more with less, and would like help to do less and achieve more, we can help. Please get in touch.

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