What's your Problem?

How do I cut costs without hurting morale?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: My department is seriously under-resourced, with further cuts to follow. My team is already running at full stretch and still I've been told to cut budgets. I'm at a loss as to how to reduce costs, especially as we have had to let one member of staff go already. Morale is at rock-bottom too. I care deeply about the work but I don't know how I can keep things going at the quality that is expected, as well as keeping the team's morale up. Help!

A: There are times when I feel thoroughly uneasy about the advice that I give: not because I know it may be wrong but because it involves inviting other people to take risks with their careers while posing absolutely no risk to myself. It's like urging others to plunge into a raging river after a drowning dog while I remain safely on the riverbank. This, I'm afraid, is going to be one such occasion.

As the leader of a team, you're paid to manage. That means you're expected not just to accept instructions but to make decisions. And your first and overriding consideration, as you imply in your question, should be the quality of the work that you and your team deliver. Care for the individual members of your team and care for the quality of the work they produce should go hand in hand: the work will be good if your team have the time to do it well and feel adequately trained, recognised and rewarded. Your team will expect you, as their leader, to represent them to higher management and protect them from exploitation.

From what you tell me, you can't any longer postpone exercising this extremely uncomfortable responsibility. I'm assuming you've done everything you possibly could - and even, perhaps, rather more than that - to improve efficiency and eliminate waste. You've now got to formulate your case with great care and put it to your management.

Your company's prosperity is dependent on the quality of the work it produces. Despite having had to reduce its numbers, your team has managed to maintain standards so far - but you can no longer be confident of your ability to do so in the future.

To continue to do the job you're paid to do, you'll need certain specific guarantees - and do be sure they are specific and followed up in writing. Simply asking for vague reassurances about less demanding targets would make the meeting a lot less scary but would almost certainly achieve absolutely nothing. You must be able to return to your team with a short list of agreed concessions.

And if your company then reneges on those agreements, I suspect your self-respect will leave you with only one option.

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