Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 28;   July 14, 2004: Those Across-the-Board Cuts That Aren't

Those Across-the-Board Cuts That Aren't

by

One widespread feature of organizational life is the announcement of across-the-board cuts. Although they're announced, they're rarely "across-the-board." What's behind this pattern? How can we change it to a more effective, truthful pattern?
Scissors

Revolutionary War scissors. Photo courtesy Guilford Courthouse National Military Park of the U.S. National Park Service.

When we hear about across-the-board reductions in resources or staff, we know two things right away. First, it isn't good news. Second, the cuts probably won't be "across-the-board." Experience tells us that very often those with clout who object to the cuts will receive smaller cuts or perhaps even increases. The terminology of uniformity is at odds with experience.

And suppose you're one of the (usually) few who are fired or laid off. For you, the cut is 100%, not 5% or 8%. If you're one of these, your experience of "across-the-board" is rather different from the experience of almost everyone else.

Still, despite the high price we pay for the contrast between language and action, we continue to use metaphors of uniformity as we execute the uneven reductions. Why? And what can we do instead?

Fairness
We do want to be fair. We believe that "spreading the pain" proportionately is most likely to be fair.
Numerical fairness is an illusion. Because reducing waste in larger, more mature organizations is easier than in smaller, younger ones, identical proportional cuts in projects or departments both large and small, both mature and youthful, are inherently unfair.
Instead of devising mathematical algorithms, choose to monitor waste — even in good times. Understand that the larger, more mature business units are better able to resist waste monitoring and reduction efforts. To truly achieve fair reductions, make reductions that are progressive with the scale and maturity of the business unit.
Urgency
Because we Across-the-board decisions
are fast, but they're
rarely thoughtful.
Thoughtful decisions
take time.
usually have to make reductions quickly, we rarely have time to tailor a reduction profile that conforms accurately to the needs and objectives of the organization. Simple proportionality is an enticing expedient.
Thoughtful decisions take time. Not having time to make a thoughtful decision is a poor excuse for making a less-than-thoughtful decision, and it's an indicator of inadequate resources at the level of the decision-maker.
Apply whatever resources you need to make smarter decisions. If you have to, spend a little to avoid misspending even more.
Placating the about-to-be-wounded
The message that "we're all affected equally" calms the population. Exploiting their sense of fairness, we help people justify their own inaction and powerlessness, and we make it easier to manage the horde.
Manipulation does work in the short term, but its effects expire quickly, leaving a residue of simmering, unresolved, and disempowering resentment. We pay for it all eventually, in distrust, cynicism, low morale and depressed performance.
Encourage people to voice objections and then deal with them. Recognize that even though stifling objections might make the ride smoother today, it makes the ride rougher tomorrow.

A commitment to telling the truth entails a commitment to using language that fairly describes our own actions. To do otherwise in the interest of fairness is unfair. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Ties that Bind  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenNGfmdMQZruFOQrYUner@ChacEIwoChAPApilhaUioCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

The triangleThe Triangulation Zone
When somebody complains to you about someone else's performance, you're entering into another dimension — a dimension of three minds. That's the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Triangulation Zone.
A pair of kayakersTotally at Home
Getting home from work is far more than a question of transportation. What can we do to come home totally — to move not only our bodies, but our minds and our spirits from work to home?
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond OdiernoWhen Change Is Hard: I
Sometimes changing organizations goes smoothly. More often, it doesn't. Whatever methodology we use — and there are many methodologies available — difficulties can arise. When change is hard, what's happening? What makes change hard?
Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelFooling Ourselves
Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
Timber blowdown in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National ForestCoercion by Presupposition
Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal responsibility for ending it.

See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Cargo containers at a port of entryComing May 31: Unresponsive Suppliers: III
When suppliers have a customer orientation, we can usually depend on them. But government suppliers are a special case. Available here and by RSS on May 31.
A blue peacock of IndiaAnd on June 7: The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's ability to collaborate. Available here and by RSS on June 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbreniZBfnOOWwVuWQQXjner@ChacMHSAlHzlQUVLaCPOoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.