What To Do When You’re Told: Do More With Less (& other corporate motivators)

Accomplish more with less. Less people, less hours, less resources, less supplies...but we still need you to produce.

Ok great, thanks boss! Bleh.

Followed by the obligatory pat on the back… “You’ll figure it out”.

If you are the boss in this situation…well, we need to address your approach. I mean, there are better ways to package this sentiment. For years we have heard, do more with less and it inspires no one. Until the recent minimalist movement, I think we can safely say that no one jumps up and down to do more with less.

People want to know the truth, but as a leader who needs them to rise to the occasion, it helps when you present it through the lens of hope.

But for today, it’s all about how you can get this done.

First things first: assess this statement. Is it actually doing more with less? Or is it doing more with what you have? It’s a small detail, but it can bring some relief and is a reality check. Either way, change is what's in front of you.

Since the rallying cry: do more with less, is oh so motivating, how can you get your team on board? Gathering your team, heaving a big sigh, and letting them know the doomsday news of the task you all have been handed down by the evil overlords at corporate may provide some camaraderie in your plight for a few minutes, but it’s old and defeating. People want to know the truth, but as a leader who needs them to rise to the occasion, it helps when you present it through the lens of hope.


Motivation: stretch goals


How can you motivate them to reach this stretch goal?
Let’s talk about  what we know about motivation and goal setting (because this is a goal, not a punishment).

Which leads up to Approach and Avoidance within motivation (How to motivate with what matters here).

Approach-oriented goals involve reaching a desired outcome. Avoidance-oriented goals focus on avoiding or eliminating undesired outcomes. Goals can be framed either way, it's all about perspective and presentation. For example: We show up for work so we don’t get fired aka collect a paycheck (avoidance), or  we show up for work because we get enjoyment from the results we produce and the feeling of pride we experience (approach). We exercise to feel good and have more energy (approach), we exercise so we don't get heart disease (avoid). 

What else is in our favor:

Autonomy: People like having the freedom to make their own decisions, create their own path. Review the goal with your team, ask them to take a close look at how they are executing processes, where could they make improvements and what are they? Is there something they have been wanting to change but just haven’t brought it up? Lots of times people have ideas, but the everyday forges on before they have a chance to bring them up. By the end of the week, have some ideas gathered.

What are you really trying to accomplish (NOT CUT). Focus on improvements, once you have looked at improving processes, what other avenues can you explore? For example, if the ‘less’ is that you have to cut labor by 10%, then maybe there is a way to increase sales? Run a contest for your team, pick a sales goal that you work towards rather than cutting their income. Run a special and get the team to really promote it. The point is, if you have the choice of being defeated in this scenario or strategic, be strategic. Getting them engaged in their fate is much more captivating then having them fly under the radar hoping they aren’t next for cutbacks. You don’t need to keep the challenges from them (labor is high, what can we do), but you also don’t need to approach it  laced with negativity and demotivation. Find the truth, add some hope, go light on the reality...and channel your inner Richard Branson: "Screw it. Let's Do It". 

Find the truth, add some hope, go light on the reality...and channel your inner Richard Branson: “Screw it. Let’s Do It”. 

Don't Rule Out Any Relevant Options: In one instance to 'save labor', we offered extended lunches to hourly employees. It was presented as a choice and received as a gain…a more relaxed enjoyable lunch rather than a rushed break to cram a pop tart down your gullet. (With 20 people a day doing that = 5 hours every day, 35/week, and 150 hours a month!)

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PRO TIP: As your team presents ideas, can you let them speak without saying these 3 words: ‘no', ‘but’, or ‘however’. These all bear judgement and are idea killers. Resist that and you will let their guard be down because they know you will listen, not dismiss, and they can just go.


Appreciation: thank them for whatever ideas they come up with. Do not miss this. Many organizations complain about lack of employee engagement, and then when the employees do engage, no one cares. Really look at what your leaders are bringing to you for ideas, see how far they can run with it, and always, always show gratitude for them caring enough to think it through. Again, these are the people who have shown they want to be involved, they will be there for you when you need them most, they believe in what you all are doing, and they want their contributions to matter.

The Hard Truth of Competition: will there be people vying to make sure their department ‘doesn’t lose out’? What do you do if all of a sudden it becomes an internal battle of who can get the most of the scraps rather than create, adapt, and overcome? You have to be prepared for this part, because not everyone will be ready to embrace kumbaya just yet. My encouragement here is to remind everyone of your common ground, your shared purpose, update them on the plan you have...it will ease that fear right off the bat. Engage them with questions, ease their fears. Providing certainty, something we know is imperative for people to collaborate, will shift their mindset away from worry toward committing to the cause.

In any system, where the parts make up the whole, there must be an understanding of the reciprocal relationship. Your lungs can’t hog all the air and not share it with your brain because your brain won’t work and then it will shut down your lungs. It always, always comes down to mutual understanding of how you are all tied together. Having a firm understanding of your collective why and purpose (and taking steps to align this) creates trust and pride in their leader and company.

While doing more with less just sounds awful, it’s a good way to assess what is working and what can be improved. It’s just a very poor choice of words that’s all. It’s coming from lack and angst.

How about cut the drama and let’s just ask: what can we do better? Ask your team, your clients, your vendors…there are always advancements and changes being made, sometimes the timing is just right of a new system, a new product out, a new way.

This I know, you'll figure it out.