– Thoughts on Strategy and Management

The side-effects of over-downsizing – A story in two parts

Part One: What to do when your department was over-downsized

This question might be back on your agenda soon. Latest turmoil at the financial markets made the profits of banks and other investors drop sharply. Nobody knows how many more unrealized losses are to come. We have already seen first redundancies. With growing fears that a spill-over effect might lead to a global recession, the next wave of redundancies might not be too far away.

Let’s assume that you belong to the lucky ones; your department isn’t made redundant as a whole, it is just reduced in headcount. Experience tells us, that your departments workload is unlikely to be reduced to a matching degree. What do you do?

For reasons of illustration, let’s assume that your department is some sort of internal service provider, like IT, legal, finance, personnel etc. Here are some reality-tested strategies to get away with doing less than you should:

  • Redefine the boundaries of your department, i.e. redefine which tasks are really yours and which are not. During better times, it might have been nice to be involved in a broad set of tasks. You got all the information and were able to influence the other departments’ work to your favour. Now, with your strained capacity you have to focus on your core tasks. Everything else was just in order to oblige your co-workers in the other departments. They have to understand that you are not able to this any more.
  • Outsource as much as you can. You may not be allowed to hire new staff for your department. So try to hire external support: consultants, advisors, service providers, temporary workers or freelancers. It just takes a bit of creativity for you to define many of your departments tasks as a project for which you will need external expertise of as a temporary peak in workload for which you will need just a few temporary workers. With luck, the cost of these external helpers will not even be charged to your department’s budget. There might be some central budget for projects or consulting expenses which you could use.
  • Make sure everybody knows that your department is already working beyond its capacities. Prepare a list of good reasons why you can’t take on any more tasks / can’t join any more project teams / can’t even deliver the results the rest of the company has already been waiting for for weeks. Popular reasons are
    – Lack of support or missing input from other departments
    – unsuitable systems – It is almost always a smart move to blame IT
    – Other priorities. For this purpose, your department should be involved in at least two projects. Thus you can always claim that the other project is in a critical phase and needs 110 % of your attention

Your arguments will work best if they are very complex and if your department can’t do anything to solve the problem:

  • Say that you are more than happy to take on this very interesting additional project – You are aware of it’s importance for the company. Hence, you will reschedule some other very time-critical activities and will be able to start working on this project by the end of next month.
  • Make sure everyone in your department follows this strategy. This should not be too difficult.

If you know some other good strategies to cope with the higher workload in a downsized department, feel free to share them with us.
So far with part one – deliberately written in an ironic style and with some exaggeration – however, this is what I have seen in everyday-business life.
For those who still don’t see my point, I will discuss some more side effects of heavy downsizing in part two, which will follow soon.

LIKE WHAT YOU'VE READ? If so, subscribe to our mailing list. Just enter your best mail address and press the Subscribe button!