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? rbrenVQttaCTWIidFbBOvner@ChacETJwuIbjNdxYSEJvoCanyon.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:

Capitol Hill at nightThe Slippery Slope That Isn't
"If we promote you, we'll have to promote all of them, too." This "slippery-slope" tactic for winning debates works by exploiting our fears. Another in a series about rhetorical tricks that push our buttons.
A Protestant church in Tuttlingen, GermanyBlind Agendas
Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.
Two redwoods in the Stout Memorial Grove of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in CaliforniaNot Really Part of the Team: I
Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team members. How does this come about?
A Canada Goose nestingBig Egos and Other Misconceptions
We often describe someone who arrogantly breezes through life with swagger and evident disregard for others as having a "big ego." Maybe so. And maybe not. Let's have a closer look.
An artist's conception of a planetary accretion diskWhy Scope Expands: II
The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often? One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.

See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

British mathematician Christopher Zeeman in 2009Coming October 18: Missing the Obvious: II
With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on October 18.
Five almondsAnd on October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbreneqRxHlGjxOmJVJYaner@ChaciJXEYUyVYpAhbaqroCanyon.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

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about 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.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!
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.