It’s the mantra of our times, ‘doing more with less’.
And it seems to have produced a frenzy of pace, of panic, of pushing, of blame, of shame, of anxiety. Hours worked go up, the number of emails circulating go up, and we turn ourselves into production machines, compensating in frantic measure for that which has been taken away from us. Everything and everyone feels like they’re on a knife edge.
And yet we’re not looking at the amount of waste this causes. The waste of attention as bodies first tire and then become exhausted. The waste of commitment as contributions are taken for granted. The waste of energy as we go faster doing work that’s not actually needed. The waste of trust as promises are broken. The waste of good will as relationships are allowed to wither and decay.
Doing more with less might, if you’re a machine, mean turning the crankshaft faster. But if you’re human, and working with others, it’s going to involve a certain measure of slowing down rather than speeding up.
You’re going to have to slow down to have conversations for relationship with the people around you. Are you all committed to the same thing? Are you sure? Have you addressed the differences in orientation between you? Have you listened well enough to understand what each of you care about? Have you worked out how you’ll respond to what you’re learning?
Going faster without doing this – and without returning to it regularly – is a way to become a supremely effective machine for producing resentment and resignation rather than the wholehearted commitment you’re going to need to get anything important done.
And you’re going to have to slow down to have conversations for possibility. Do you know what you’re actually aiming towards? Is everyone clear? Does everyone understand? Do you know how you’ll tell when you’re doing it? And how you’ll address the inevitable breakdowns along the way? Without making time for this conversation, you’ll be going faster but in different directions, spinning out further and further from one another as you go.
And you’re also going to have to slow down enough to have conversations for action, in which clear requests are made and clear offers made in return. Without skilfully doing this, you open up huge possibilities for duplication of effort, busy work, and the supreme waste of people working heroically to do something that nobody needs and nobody asked for. Modern organisations are full of this, and it leads to further resentment rather than the thrill of challenging work completed against the odds.
It takes bold, courageous leadership to take a stand against the tide of action and get people talking to one another in this way, because somehow we’ve concluded that talking and doing are in opposition to one another. But unless you make this stand and make it possible for others to do the same, you’ll be joining the growing ranks of depleted, exhausted organisations who tried to do more with less and ended up with a lot less than even they had bargained for.