If you’re saying ‘do more with less,’ it’s probably too late

January 10, 2012

“Do more with less” is the battle cry of the modern workplace, with bosses wielding swords of Damocles:

Do it or we’ll send all your jobs overseas.

Do it or we’ll have to make cutbacks.

Do it or we’ll replace you with automation.

It’s easy to demonize such bosses as modern-day Simon Legrees but it’s not quite that simple.

Put yourself in a for-profit or non-profit manager’s shoes. In fatter times, you might have allowed your workforce to also get fat and perhaps even sloppy. In those more booming, less-global-competitive times, you could more easily survive.

Today’s landscape is different. Customers are more likely to be price-conscious and leave you for a competitor who prudently kept labor costs moderate, forcing you out of business and costing 100 percent of your employers to lose their jobs. If you find yourself running a fat and sloppy business today, “do more with less” is what you should have said a decade ago.

If, for example, GM had made that their mantra ten years earlier, the taxpayers might not have had to bail them out. We bought $49.5 billion in GM stock at $33 a share knowing we wouldn’t break even until it reached $53 per share. The stock has, as of the writing of this piece, since dropped to $23 per share.

If the major airlines hadn’t paid captains $300,000 to fly a plane, they mightn’t, like United and American Airlines, have gone bankrupt, and like Eastern, PanAm, TWA and Braniff, among others, gone out of business .

But fact is in many, if not most, workplaces workers are already working long and smart. There is a point at which the bottom line’s definition needs to be expanded to what John Elkington calls, “the triple bottom line”: profits, planet, and people. Otherwise, we’re in a race to the bottom of humanity, a “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”-competition to see who will—to keep their job—work themselves until they collapse.

Here’s the big idea: Every boss should, in deciding whether to say, “Do more with less,” consider how it would affect the triple bottom line: profits, planet, and, yes, people.

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