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? rbrenrswPXmtUnheFOtXoner@ChacOANoEkawllucaGyeoCanyon.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:

One negative outweighs a world of positivesWhen It Really Counts, Be Positive
When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one. We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
Hot and cold faucetsHot and Cold Running People
Do you consider yourself a body linguist? Can you tell what people are thinking just by looking at gestures and postures? Think again. Body language is much more complex and ambiguous than many would have us believe.
A horseEthical Influence: II
When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?
Shackleton, Scott and Wilson, of the British Antarctic Expedition 1902The Injured Teammate: II
You're a team lead, and one of the team members is suddenly very ill or has been severely injured. How do you handle it? Here are some suggestions for breaking the news to the team.
A tire reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, FloridaManaging Hindsight Bias Risk
Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.

See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Prof. Tom PettigrewComing February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.

Coaching services

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

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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.