Driving Results With a Lean Staff – The 15 Essentials

Working with a reduced number of staff during lean financial times can be either a blessing in disguise or a curse, depending on your outlook. For those of you who are working with limited staff due to budget cuts, reductions in force, or lean quality initiatives – here are my 15 essentials to help you achieve positive results.

When working with a lean staff, you should:

  1. Keep the flow of communication open. With limited staff and resources, effective listening and communication is vital to success. If you don’t keep your team regularly updated, you leave the work environment open to negative gossip and rumors that may be far from the truth.
  2. Create a high sense of trust. The quickest way to build trust is to demonstrate your loyalty to your team. When employees feel that you trust them and their judgment, they are more apt to go above and beyond to ensure the team’s success.
  3. Solicit good ideas. Don’t operate in a vacuum, solicit ideas from staff members on how to improve efficiencies within the department, and involve them in determining which ideas get implemented, tracked and measured for success. When you sincerely ask, with the intent of using their input to improve the work environment, it is amazing the positive feedback you will receive from staff.
  4. Reward and recognize. Even the small victories should be acknowledged, showing your appreciation for a job well done. When you are working with a lean staff, be sure to give them as much credit (in public) as possible for system improvements. And don’t forget, a sincere “thank you” at the end of the day will go miles in fostering employee engagement, trust and loyalty.
  5. Create a culture of teamwork. Create a “we” mentality through teamwork and self-accountability. When working with a lean staff, employees who don’t feel they are part of a team can quickly erode workplace morale and job satisfaction. Reward and recognize team achievements as much as possible to reinforce the need for everyone to be a valued contributor to team success.
  6. Create a culture of empowerment. Empowerment is giving employees the freedom and authority to make workplace decisions, after they have been properly trained. Make time to ensure the staff is properly cross-trained, and equipped with the skill, knowledge, and confidence to make sound decisions on your behalf.
  7. Focus on process improvement. Identify ways to streamline work processes, so they are efficient, save time, and enhance the product or service you provide. When working with a lean staff, it’s critical that systems and processes are refined to eliminate mistakes, rework, breakdowns, inefficiencies, and variations that create frustration and negativity in the workplace.
  8. Accelerate change. This is not the time to be apathetic, change must happen effectively, quickly, and with a high level of intensity. The longer you wait to implement changes in the way work gets done, the more time you will allow for negativity to contaminate the work environment.
  9. Informally measure satisfaction. Find cost-effective ways to assess the satisfaction of your internal and external customers. Comment cards can be used for customers, and possibly some form of anonymous feedback like suggestion boxes for employees. Whatever process you use to get the information, be certain to do something with it – don’t just gather the information for the sake of gathering it.
  10. Face the facts. Honestly, change and innovation are the only way your organization or team will survive in lean times. Help your team realistically and positively face the fact that change is both inevitable and good.
  11. Encourage cross-training. In lean times, it is vital that team members are capable of multi-tasking in a variety of roles. With accelerated change, comes the opportunity to learn new skills that may later lead to new and exciting career advancement opportunities. The more equipped your team is during lean times, the more likely they will be perceived as valued contributors to the organization.
  12. Encourage balance. During lean times, staff members often push themselves into a frenzy to get things done. This can lead to burn-out, low productivity, attendance issues, and low worker morale. So, be concerned and cautious of too much overtime and make sure staff members take their allotted lunch breaks and PTO to ensure work-life balance.
  13. Respect the company. Don’t encourage or allow negativity to fester within the team. In the beginning most employees are negative about working with a lean staff. However, over time as work systems and processes become more efficient they will no longer miss the additional bodies that staffed the department. Be the role model by respecting the company’s decision to operate with a lean team or consider seeking other employment.
  14. Handle workplace conflict right away. With the same level of intensity that you use in driving change during lean circumstances, you must also quickly move to resolve internal conflict. In the beginning tensions may be high, but that is no reason to allow conflict to fester and eventually become uncontrollable. So don’t avoid any inkling of conflict, confront and resolve it right away.
  15. View lean as permanent. Don’t consider having a lean staff as a temporary fix until the recession is over, otherwise the team will eventually revert back to their old, inefficient way of doing things. View lean as the new way that work gets done, encouraging the team to foster a work environment of continuous improvement forever.

Bottom-line, leaders are expected to drive results even in times when they are working with a lean staff. Certainly, teams who are able to create and sustain a culture of service, performance, and operational excellence under such circumstances well achieve success over the long-term.