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Speed It Up, Boys!

Why doing more with less can be a recipe for disaster

It has to be one of the funniest sketches ever. A dozen times I’ve watched Lucy in the chocolate factory, and I still laugh. The faster the production line goes, the more chocolates she stuffs in her mouth, blouse, and hat. The supervisor checks in and, finding a clear conveyor belt, compliments Lucy, then shouts, “Speed it up, boys!” while the camera gives us a close-up of Lucy’s horrified face.

I happened to see the sketch again during a period when I was carrying on a respectful argument with a top executive at one of our client companies. We had trained hundreds of his people on sales and service. Now, due to failures in other parts of the company, he was making massive cuts to sales and service staff.  Naturally, he was keeping sales and service goals almost as high!

It was blindingly evident to me that he was making a colossal mistake asking them to do more with less without providing his people with a methodology for obtaining those goals. Good sales and service practices don’t take more time than bad ones, but they do take time, and he wasn’t claiming his people had time on their hands before the layoffs. Instead his rationale seemed to be, “We all have to do more with less. We all have to adapt.” Necessity as a strategy, if you will.

Lucy proved how well that works. She gives us an intimate look at how a person starts out trying to do a good job and then slowly but surely loses her dignity trying to do the impossible. That’s pathos, and it’s only Lucy’s comedic talent that makes that pathos funny.

But in the real world, pathos stays pathos – it doesn’t get funny. It ruins the work environment. It kills morale, productivity, and profits.

So why is Lucy in the chocolate factory relevant today? Because…budgets remain frozen and workforces continue to be slashed….

The workforces left in these companies still have to keep the company running and running well. These managers and employees left behind to pick up the workload of thousands of laid-off colleagues, already stressed, stretched, and buffeted by constant change before the layoffs, now face Sisyphean odds. Management keeps their goals unrelentingly high – for quality service, new revenue, higher productivity, better innovation, perfect compliance, surer safety, and tighter security.

And now they have to do it with fewer people.

How will they do it?  Technology can sometimes help, but the essential work of any company – forming relationships, understanding customers, producing more, and making wise decisions – is still done by humans with two hands, one head, and must be squeezed into eight or so hours a day. When management has wrung all the sweat equity it can from the employees, and they are taxed beyond their ability to work well, their work suffers, along with their job satisfaction and, ultimately, customer satisfaction.

In today’s downsized business world, legions of proud professionals are “doing a Lucy” every day, scrambling to do their jobs when they have no chance of succeeding because they do not have the time. Time, especially in this period of rampant layoffs, is as precious as water in the midst of a drought. They say time is money, and maybe it is – we all know what is meant by that. But time is a lot more than money. It’s how we measure out our lives. Our lifetimes. The time of our lives.

With reduced staff, wasting time at work is unconscionable – that’s why we all feel so guilty when we find ourselves doing just that, unwillingly, unintentionally, but definitely doing it. Imagine knowing that you could change this behavioral phenomenon – that you would never again waste time against your will.

Better time management is good for more than productivity – it builds self-confidence, self-esteem, job satisfaction (just as its absence in the chocolate factory made Lucy miserable) and it engenders gratitude from clients and colleagues.

Okay, “Speed it up, boys!”

Edward G. Brown is the author of “The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had,” from which this article is excerpted. He is the co-founder of the No. 1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group. For more information, please visit, www.timebanditsolution.com and connect with Mr. Brown on Twitter, @EdwardGBrown.