Doing More with Less. Seriously?

Over the past few years, the mantra of “doing more with less” has been heard at virtually every Loss Prevention conference, in industry publications, and within the halls of corporate offices across the retail industry. Of course, what is usually meant by this is that we are not going to have the same levels of resources, funding, or people as in the past but we still need to deliver the same or, if taken literally, better results.

This article is not meant to criticize those who have used this phrase, but let’s take a look at this statement literally and see the implications of it. Perhaps, by breaking it down, it might help us as we negotiate these tough times and deal with the reduced levels of funding and personnel. In fact, before we even look at the concept of “doing more with less,” let’s look at “doing the same with less.” Many times, this is actually what is meant anyway.

Breaking Down How?

The inspiration for this article actually came to me a couple of weeks ago when I was flying home from a meeting. We were about 25 minutes late in pushing back from the gate when the pilot came on the public address system. He said that he still anticipated an on-time arrival as we would “try to make up some time en-route.” After thinking about this for a few minutes, I could only come up with three possible ways that could happen:

 We could fly faster

 We could fly a more direct route

 There was already time built into the original schedule to mitigate these types of delays

Those were the only possibilities I could come up with that would allow us to arrive on-time unless we flew to a closer destination, which was not an option on the table.

Doing the Same with Less

Let’s apply a similar analysis to the statement that we are going to “do the same with less” in the business environment. How is this possible? There are three possibilities that are analogous to the airplane example I just used:

 We are going to have our people work more hours (“fly faster”).

 We have discovered a more effective way to do the same work (“more direct route”).

 We had excess capacity previously (“extra time already built into the schedule”). In other words, we had people or resources that were not fully being utilized.

In looking at the above list, the first and last options are not particularly palatable to a senior executive as they suggest that they were not running their department very efficiently previously. Who wants to admit that they had some “fat” in the budget before?

The idea of finding a more effective way to accomplish the same work is probably the ideal goal of any executive in this position. However, it seems, at least most of the time, senior executives have a hard time articulating exactly what is being done more effectively.

The Reality

In reality, even though it does not match the definition of “doing the same with less,” this is what happens:

 We stop doing some things we were doing before.

This could be a little less of everything or a complete elimination of certain tasks. For instance, we could go from auditing every location three times each period to only twice per period. Or, we could audit the same number of times but not go as in-depth on each item and spend a little less time going over the results with the Store Manager. Each of these would be a way to do a “little less” than before in hopes that it won’t affect the desired results.

Another strategy would be to completely eliminate certain questions or audit points from the audit or stop conducting audits in low shrinkage locations. Again, the goal would be to eliminate certain low-value tasks in hopes that results are not impacted.

Achieving Desired Results

The point is that it’s probably unrealistic to think we are going to be able to “do the same with less” much less more. Therefore, if we want to achieve the desired results, it is imperative on the part of senior management to be engaged in deciding what tasks and responsibilities are eliminated or done less thoroughly. Otherwise, those decisions will be made – consciously or unconsciously – by each individual in the field who is trying to squeeze 80 hours of work into a 50 hour work week.

If that happens, you will have a tremendous amount of variance on what is actually being done in the field and when your results come in – good or bad – you will have a hard time evaluating whether to continue with current budget levels or not.