I came across an article some time ago that caught my eye as it used cows as a vehicle to explain Communism (among other political and economic systems such as capitalism, socialism, fascism etc). As it turns out this is quite an old political science satire called ‘You Have Two Cows’ that has been in use since the 1930s.
Since then the exercise has grown arms, legs and horns thanks to social media and the concept has been applied to all manner of cultural-‘isms’. Eventually and inevitably being used to poke some fun at different corporations and regimes around the world. (Honestly, worth your time to Google it!).
On the list that I saw, it explained an American Corporation in this way:
Whilst I can’t remember exactly what platform I originally saw the article on, I do remember noticing that despite there being tens of different example the engagement on this particular one was huge, significantly greater than any of the others, with thousands of likes and hundreds of comments, most of which voicing their support for the premise.
The reason it came to mind recently is because I think there is a real danger that this is the sort of unintended reaction of myriad organisations dealing with the the impact of a change in adverse market scenarios.
As revenue shrinks and margins become tighter, organisations are being forced to reduce expenditure. Whilst this is often unavoidable for businesses to stay afloat, the reduction is often treated as the solution in and of itself. But when the budget or available resource is reduced it is all too often not followed by any change in expectations or ways of working throughout the business… Do you see the problem?
To use the maintenance sector as an example. When budgets are cut, and outsourced resources are reduced, obviously major scopes are shelved. Often though the volume of routine work that needs to be executed remains unchanged as, of course, repairs still need to be made and equipment still needs to be maintained. In many instances there were already significant maintenance backlogs before any cuts, therefore this reduction in expenditure makes a difficult task impossible.
If available resource is reduced the organisation cannot reasonably expect the same volume of maintenance work to be executed as before without something changing.
It must do one of two things:
- Maintain Output: Increase the productivity of the remaining resources to maintain the same output level - Finding additional horsepower from within.
- Reduce Output: Accept that output will fall relative to the reduction in available resources - and be explicit with exactly what work will still be executed and what will not.
If output is to be maintained with fewer resources, the productivity of the remaining resource has to go up. This won’t happen on its own. Simply giving the remaining workforce more work today and expecting them to be able to do it is putting hope ahead of reason. One of my favourite quotes sums this up:
“Hope is not a strategy”
— Vince Lombardi
To improve productivity, organisations must assess how their work is being executed, identify areas for productivity improvement and then invest effort in improving those areas.
They have to actively work to make these improvements otherwise the work simply cannot be executed, and the downward spiral will continue.
The alternative is for organisations to accept that output will reduce because of these circumstances.
In adopting this approach, it is essential that the organisation is honest and explicit with what work is not going to be executed as a result of the reduction in resources. They have to actively invest effort to identify what work is critical and must be completed and, often more importantly, what work can be postponed further (increasing backlog) or spared altogether (potentially reducing profit).
If a structured approach carefully considering that work which is business critical and that which is not is not taken by senior management, then the decision inevitably falls to those supervising and the workforce itself. Whilst these decisions may always be made with the best intentions, they are also likely to be made focusing on what is arbitrarily deemed to be the highest priority on any given day, with the rest falling into backlog. It is unreasonable to expect supervisors and the workforce at large to make these decisions day to day maintaining full awareness and recognition of what cumulative impact they may or may not have on medium- and long-term business strategy.
To be successful it needs to be a conscious, outcome driven choice by the organisation what work is left out. Simply leaving backlogs to increase and wishfully hoping to maintain the same levels of reliability and availability is, once again, putting hope ahead of reason.
Whenever less work is to be executed it is essential that the work that is completed provides the greatest return for the effort invested. All work must be reviewed and reprioritised in light of the reduced execution capacity in an active, structured way. The impact of work not being completed should also be factored into any reliability and availability modelling for the assets going forward. If there are not sufficient resources within the organisation with the capacity to carry out these reviews then it may be worth considering calling in a consultant before the cow has died, as opposed to after.
THE WRONG PATH IS INACTION
Whatever approach is taken, what organisations cannot afford to do is to simply reduce budget and available resources then do nothing else.
To expect the same volume of work as was executed before, or to simply accept that backlogs will further increase without making conscious and strategic decisions on what work is not going to be complete, is to surrender delivery of the organisations outcome to hope.