I still have flashbacks. They don't happen too often, but it is not a pretty site when they do. Just the thought of the ridiculous business term Do More with Less and I start to feel faint.
First of all, let's be clear where this term originated. A quick Google search will tell you that R. Buckminster Fuller termed the phrase which in lay terms inferred: the ability of technological advancement to do "more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing," that is, an accelerating increase in the efficiency of achieving the same or more output (products, services, information, etc.) while requiring less input (effort, time, resources, etc.).
However, the meaning of this term has now morphed into the rationale of creating sweat shops in the workplace – hardly what he had in mind....or did he? Did he ever stop to consider the consequences of some bone head who would misinterpret his cute little ditty into a means to their personal Machiavellian end? Did he even once think of the workers and what they may be subject to in order to achieve this crazy notion? How about explaining himself a little more clearly, that in order to do more with less, you need to replace existing methods and resources with more efficient and reliable processes?
What he did was open the door wide open to a bunch of crazed creeps at the top who thought it meant to squeeze every last ounce of life out of the poor saps unfortunate enough to be their direct reports. I have lived this slow death and it is a slow and painful one; one where you beg to be put out of your misery!
As head of an operational department that ensured smooth transitional supply/demand management and execution, I was often on the receiving end of this ‘do more with less’ BS. Adding insult to injury, the other lofty and unrealistic goals of Six Sigma were often thrown in for good measure (expletive). This was pure madness.
The backwards interpretation within my industry of this asinine quip was; When an employee went on sick leave; their colleagues were expected to pick up the slack, maintain, improve, and surpass current productivity and efficiency. When an employee retired; their colleagues were expected to pick up the slack, maintain, improve, and surpass current productivity and efficiency. When an employee quit; their colleagues were expected to pick up the slack, maintain, improve, and surpass current productivity and efficiency.
See the pattern?
Not only were employees expected to do more with less ‘actual people’, they were also expected to do so without recognition or compensation.
In no shape or form were bigger and better systems, software or even hardware, brought in to facilitate the transition of doing more with less. This was decidedly put on the backs of the humans left to man the fort after they had lost a comrade. This was war, and a bloody one at that! Luckily, I am adept in the skills of combat!
Do more with less? That we did. Over the course of three years, our performance measures indicated bottom line savings as a result of the decreased headcount, discontinued antiquated methods, and streamlined processes to be substantial.
Sounds like exactly what they wanted right? We did more with less. We were successful, but the company as a whole lost, and I made sure to measure and graph this in detail.
When we drilled down to the human level, what we were left with was highly productive, resentful, exhausted and demoralized employees who were barely hanging on, and customers who were registering many more complaints in terms of quality of service.
Over the course of three years, five employees had run screaming into the arms of our competition, seven employees had taken sick leaves, four had retired, five became pregnant and did not return, two had simply walked out in the middle of a workday, and another melted down in the restroom and had to be escorted home. Total sick days costs were calculated in addition to the man-hours involved in training existing staff in their suddenly-acquired responsibilities, and all previous gains were obliterated by the collateral damage caused by doing more with less. Company-wide moral was so low that department heads were actively helping their reports to find jobs elsewhere!
So the next time you are thinking of even uttering those 4 very harmful words, make sure you have the processes and technology behind you to back them up. If you don’t, there won’t be anyone around to hear you preach.
Heidi Crux is the author of Public Speaking Simplified and Demystified. Communication Basics to Create Lasting Impressions. Heidi is a graduate of Dale Carnegie Training with over 25 years of experience both in and out of the boardroom teaching communication basics and management principles at the university level. As a trainer and coach Heidi conducts seminars and workshops upon request as well as public speaking engagements.