Being a manager right now may feel a lot like you’re being asked to juggle a chainsaw, a crystal vase, and a flaming bowling pin – except you need to do it with only one hand.
For many team leads, there’s just as much (if not more) work to get done, but fewer resources in terms of time, money, or even people. On top of that, you may also be carrying the the heavy responsibility of shielding your team from downsizing.
If you and your team are feeling the “pandemic pinch,” you’re not alone. Research from the Society for Human Resource Management found that two in three employers admit that maintaining employee morale has been a challenge.
So how can you keep morale high while doing more with less? Here are five strategies that can help.
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1. Establish laser-focus on team priorities
Remember the beginning of the year when you were filled with optimism about everything your team would accomplish? Yeah, things have changed a bit since then. What was considered a pressing priority for your team six months ago might not even be on your radar right now. It’s critical to not waste resources on outdated priorities.
If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to clearly and formally re-establish expectations with your entire team – which means you may need a refresher on your company’s priorities first. Unfortunately, not all companies are great about communicating changes. A survey of 124 organizations conducted by MIT found that only 28 percent of executives and middle managers could successfully list three of their company’s five strategic priorities.
Check in with your company’s leadership to make sure you understand their intentions as you navigate this rocky period. With that information in your back pocket, you can readjust your team’s priorities accordingly.
Share this information in a team-wide meeting, making sure to cover these three items:
- The main focus for the team right now.
- The company-wide priorities the team’s work is supporting.
- What success looks like for the team for the rest of this year and the first quarter of next year.
To boost clarity even further, use an Eisenhower matrix (also called a priorities matrix). This simple tool is split into four quadrants, with “urgent” and “not urgent” along the horizontal axis and “important” and “not important” along the vertical axis.
Together, you can collect all the work that’s currently on your plates and put it in the appropriate quadrants. This will help your team separate the wheat from the chaff and channel their time, energy, and resources into the most impactful work.
Remember, if everything is a priority, nothing is.
2. Take a magnifying glass to the tools your team is using
Maybe you’ve taken several passes at cutting non-essential costs. Perhaps you have a temporary freeze on hiring, business travel, and discretionary spending. Props to you for trimming the fat – we know it can be hard. But there’s another spot in your budget that could use some attention: tools and software.
A study conducted by IE of 129 companies across 14 different industry sectors over a four-year period found that 37 percent of installed software was not being used. That’s why it’s time to go through your team’s digital tools and software with a fine-tooth comb to make sure you’re adequately using everything you’re paying for. Questions to ask:
- Are we actively using this tool? If not, why not? Do we still have the problem we hoped this tool would solve?
- Are we using this tool to its full potential? Are there other features we should learn to use that will save time elsewhere? Can we set up some training to fill in knowledge gaps?
- Are we subscribed at the appropriate plan level based on our current staff numbers?
- Are we paying for another tool that does this same thing? Which one should be eliminated?
While you’re at it, it’s worth looking at your team’s other subscriptions and dues (like industry publications and professional associations) to see if there are some other areas where you could cut costs. It’s tough, but every little bit helps.
3. Prioritize automation and templatization
Research from McKinsey found that in about 60 percent of occupations, at least 30 percent of activities could be automated. When your team’s time and energy is at an all-time low, you can’t afford to waste their efforts on to-dos that could easily be automated.
It’s true that automation may feel daunting for some teams. To keep your people from devolving into rallying cries of “The robots are coming!” remind them that automation will make their lives easier – and it doesn’t need to be complicated. Solutions like Zapier or IFTTT make it easy to link your commonly used apps and set up workflows for redundant tasks – like automatically creating Jira issues from Google Forms responses. And yes, both solutions have free plans. (See this post for some great tips on how to automate all kinds of things with machine learning.)
Automation only scratches the surface of how you can make work a little smoother for your team. Anywhere you can create a procedure, template, or cheat sheet, you should do it.
For example, if your team frequently has to respond to requests from other departments, standardize your work-intake process. Something as simple as creating a request form that people need to complete will help ensure that your team has all the required information upfront, without needing to waste time chasing it down.
These things will require a little elbow grease from you, but are well worth it. When you’re trying to cut costs and maximize resources, streamline what you can.
4. Rethink meetings
Time is always your team’s most valuable resource – especially now, when every other resource is strapped. The same Society for Human Resource Management found that 34 percent of employers are struggling with changes in employee productivity at the moment.
As the one leading the charge, you need to do everything you can to protect your team’s working hours and use them as efficiently as possible.
In the course of one month, employees can spend up to 31 hours in unproductive meetings. Some ways you can confirm meetings are an effective use of time:
- Require an agenda for every single meeting. This agenda should state who will attend, what will be discussed, and what the goal of the meeting is. If there isn’t an agenda, your team won’t attend.
- Re-evaluate your recurring meetings. Are these conversations productive, or have they turned into glorified catch-up sessions?
Additionally, equip your team with enough time for focused work by instituting some meeting-free periods each week.
Take this concept up a notch by making those times notification-free, too. During these times, nobody is allowed to set a meeting, send an email, or ping someone via instant message unless a fire is truly burning out of control. When 75 percent of people admit that digital notifications tank their focus, find times when you can silence that siren song.
The point is, you can’t add more hours to the day, but you can give your team their most valuable resource back: their time.
5. Break down silos to avoid redundant work
Departmental silos cause confusion and frustration, but there’s another big drawback of siloed communication: duplicate work.
Maybe someone on your marketing team is compiling a report every month, without realizing that somebody on the sales team is writing essentially the same one. Or perhaps three different teams are pouring over your customer feedback surveys in detail – but they’re looking for slightly different things.
This is more common than you might think. In a survey of more than 1,000 American employees conducted by Panopto, one in three employees say they spend more than six redundant hours every week. Even scarier? For 14 percent of respondents, duplicative work takes up a minimum of 10 hours.
Boosting transparency between departments will help teams avoid reinventing the wheel. We recognize that it can be tough to do, especially in colossal organizations. But something as simple as sending a monthly company-wide email about what your team is working on, or starting a dedicated Slack channel for key team updates, can knock those walls down and combine duplicate tasks.
Juggling more with less is tough – but so are you
You need to accomplish just as much work with fewer resources than ever. Plus, you’re facing hard decision after hard decision as you try to keep your team afloat.
It can be exhausting, but we’re confident the above strategies can help as you cut costs and make the most of what your team does still have. You’ve got this.