You can’t do more with less. However…

Colin Ellis
3 min readAug 16, 2023
Running on empty is a recipe for failure

I remember the sports team that I follow winning a match once having had a player sent off. Coming out of the ground my brother and I joked that we should play with less players every week!

Of course, in reality, if any team did that, whilst they may manage to draw or win a game approximately 11% of the time (according to statistics), they will not only lose the rest, but players would be exhausted and eventually — given the continuing failure — utterly demoralised.

They would question the strategy, the decision-making of leaders, and their technical abilities. This would in turn undermine the team culture and give rise to a fixed mindset where players would start every game thinking they were going to lose.

Not only that, but the opportunity for toxicity, where players actively work against the management (and often each other) would be increased. At which point, the media would get involved and bring outside pressure to the management and expose their inability to do the basic things really well.

This is something I think about when I hear senior managers saying things like ‘we need to do more with less’. Depending on the seniority of the person saying it, it’s a warning sign that the culture is about to be compromised.

Whilst every now and then — often in a crisis — a team will pull together to produce an unexpected result despite their numbers, consistently doing more with less is ultimately a strategy for failure for the reasons I’ve just mentioned.

And yet, in business where fewer people are available or there has been a reduction in the money to do the things that need to be done, there is an option that breeds continual success, and that is to do less.

It feels counterintuitive to say that, however, teams that focus on doing fewer things to a high level of quality, will always achieve more than those that are overwhelmed by work.

When employees have time to think and plan, this will always lead to increased speed of delivery as they are better able to anticipate what may happen and concentrate on what needs to get done. They’ll be fresher, have greater clarity and be more responsive to change, because they don’t have a thousand things that have to be rescheduled.

This will lead to more efficient execution, which means that you’ll be able to move onto the next priority quickly and repeat the cycle all over again. It also has the intangible benefit of dissipating the tornado of busy-ness that many people and organisations find themselves in.

What this requires of senior managers is to be clear — at all times — as to what the priorities of the business are and to free up the time to concentrate on these (and only these) things.

Where a piece of work suddenly becomes a priority, then something gets stopped (not put on hold — as that only creates uncertainty) and effort is diverted to the new initiative.

At a minimum senior managers should reconfirm the priorities every quarter, although managers might like to undertake this exercise monthly to ensure that no time is being wasted on low value activity.

In his book Joy Inc. author Richard Sheridan said that ‘A company defines itself by what it chooses to say no to as much as what it says yes to’ and I couldn’t agree more.

The companies that say no to ‘doing more with less’ will be repaid by employees with positivity, productivity, flexibility, loyalty, and ultimately delivery, which in turn will achieve more. And this should always be the priority.

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Colin Ellis

Best-selling Author of Culture Fix | Keynote Speaker | Facilitator | Devoted Dad | Evertonian | Whisky Lover | Likes to laugh, a lot www.colindellis.com