How to manage better with less resource: an opportunity and a challenge

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How to manage better with less resource: an opportunity and a challenge.
What advice is available to managers facing the challenge of working with fewer resources?
The reality is clear. Public spending has been cut and further cuts are on the horizon. Organisational leaders are challenging their managers with the need to operate with ‘less’. Can this really be an opportunity?
Einstein understood the merits of operating with less, his three rules of work were;

  1. Out of clutter, find simplicity

  2. From discord, find harmony

  3. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity

In this ‘how to’ guide, we highlight that operating with less is both an opportunity and a challenge. Success will only be achieved by those managers who have the skill and the capability to see the big picture and engage with their teams. In these challenging times, organisations may be implementing changes that may impact on resources. These might include restructuring, freezing recruitment and overtime, pulling costly training interventions and/or cutting the ‘nice to haves’. These changes will only be the beginning and it is important that those with management responsibilities step up as leaders, determine the top priorities and realign resources at the right levels. We can all do better, but missing a trick and trying to do ’more of the same’ with less will be unsustainable and highly de-motivating. Managed well, this is the opportunity to finally focus on those things that truly add value and eliminate cumbersome processes.
Successfully managing with less requires a strategic approach and the application effective skills in managing individuals and teams.


  • Stakeholder support

Whilst senior stakeholders are usually the decision makers and therefore the drivers of departmental cuts to resource, it is important that all key stakeholders are on board and support the need for change in light of reduced resource. Whilst you may not have been the sole decision maker about where the cuts are being made, as a manager, you will be responsible for deciding how this will be managed and implemented locally. Be proactive about communicating to both senior stakeholders and those who report to you that you will be needing their involvement and support. Keep communication lines open and update on your progress on a regular basis to maintain the engagement and support of those that hold positions of power. Be sure to identify and involve those who hold ‘unofficial’ positions of power, as they can be pivotal players in achieving the required change (Gardner et al, 1986).

  • Get the big picture

Take the time to assess how resources are currently being used. Tom Peters advocated ‘MBWA’ (management by walking about) meaning taking the time to personally review work being completed and assessing efficiency and effectiveness. Another approach commonly used is by completing ‘Day in life of ’ (DILO) diaries completed by all team members over a set time period, capturing exactly what is being done, by whom and for how long. It will be vital to involve your team in the process of analysing current use of resource, in order to improve the accuracy of the information provided and to secure their commitment to the agreed outcomes. Process maps are a useful method of engaging team members. Processes are mapped end to end, detailing each step and who completes each part. Completed maps can then be used to identify and eliminate inefficiencies. Choose a method of analysis that works for you and your team and look for answers to the following questions;

  • What is currently being achieved?

  • What is working well?

  • What are the issues? Is there obvious inefficiency / duplication?

  • Are we doing work that does not add value?

  • Are we spending enough time on the activities which add the greatest value?

  • Is work being completed at the right level?

  • Goal Setting and implementation

We know that employees are motivated by clear goals and appropriate feedback (Locke, 1968). Locke stated that working towards a goal provides a major source of motivation to actually reach the goal which, in turn, improves performance. Following your analysis you will be able to prioritise activity and you will be able to identify required changes including the elimination of inefficient process. This will form the basis of your action plan. It is essential that you manage how and when this will be achieved through a set of well articulated goals.

  • Ensure that the goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound). Locke’s work highlighted that levels of performance were significantly lower when goals were vague or unrealistic.

  • Communicate the goals to your team within the context of required change, explain clearly how the achievement of the goals will add value. Put the goals in writing and refer to them regularly.

  • Ensure the goals and the action plan are clearly linked. Each team member should be clear about their accountability.

  • Stick with it! Do not let initial setbacks deter you from the end goal.

Whilst many academics will maintain that performance management (PM) is complex, the idea behind it is simple. If performance is measured, we are able to manage and ultimately improve it.

You may be working to a ‘performance management system’ which is already established. In this case it will be important to reassess the key performance indicators to ensure that they are still relevant and focus attention on priority activity. Some common PM tools include EFQM and Balanced Scorecards.

As a manager of a department or team which has no performance management tools in place, it may be useful to consider a set of benchmarks or KPI’s which provide the ability to regularly review and assess levels of efficiency and effectiveness. Your HR team or provider may be able to assist you in understanding what PM system, if any, is readily available and how you might apply measures to your own team.


Stephen Covey famously wrote about the habits of highly effective people, including pro-activity, seeing the end goal, seeking to understand others and engaging in trustful communication. Covey famously said that effectiveness starts from within. Managers must take responsibility for honing the skills which will be fundamental in achieving more with less and using the tools at their disposal. We highlight a few of these below;



It seems simple, but the most basic of skills in making the best use of your own time is to prioritize your to do list. List the ‘to dos’ and then number them in order of urgency and importance. A useful visual approach is to draw a simple four boxed grid which includes axes reflecting task importance and urgency. You may find that some tasks which you enjoy and therefore tend to spend time on sit in the low importance / low urgency box. This is your cue to re-focus your time and energy.

Apply the 80/20 principle

Most of us know what the Pareto principle is about, but may have been reticent to apply it in the past. The truth is, in the face of fewer resources we can no longer afford to ‘sweat the small stuff’. Do not allow yourself or your team members to engage in minor unimportant details or chase fruitless projects. Instead, identify the 20% core activity which produces 80% of the value in your department and focus energy there.

‘Put all your eggs in the one basket and watch it like a hawk! ‘(Richard Koch, 1999)
Manage interruptions and minimize distractions

As a manager you will be well used to dealing with interruptions and distractions. Develop the ability to minimize non urgent interruptions with appropriate use of voicemail or call screening. Making your diary accessible is also a useful tool in indicating to reports when you are unavailable. Empower your team to say ‘no’ within reason if they are asked to step in at short notice. Lead by example.


Making the best use of resources will at some point involve delegating tasks. Tasks should be delegated to people at the right level, with the capability to achieve the desired outcomes. Good practice in delegation involves consideration of;


Tasks can and should be delegated;

-when the recipient of the work has the time and capability to take the work on,

-when you have the time to check over the work when completed and,

-when the work itself is not so critical that it must be completed personally.


When delegating work it is important to;

-provide the recipient of the work with clear expectations about the required outcomes.

-be clear about how much involvement you expect to have in the work.

Good delegation involves outlining agreed objectives and the consequences involved in failing to meet them as well as any rewards related to exceeding the agreed objective.


Effective team management, including coaching, developing and engaging your team will be increasingly important in achieving results with less resource. Understanding the capability and work preferences of your team members will be particularly important in maximising team effectiveness.

  • Ensure an up to date picture of your team’s skill set has been completed. Identify any gaps which exist collectively within the team which will impact on delivery of prioritized objectives and ensure these gaps are the focus of development activity.

  • Gain an understanding of individual style and preference. DISC and Myers Briggs profiles are just two of a number of simple psychometric tests which can provide an accurate picture. If psychometric testing is unavailable, a similar, if cruder, understanding can be gleaned from observing and reviewing performance and simply asking individuals in what conditions they wok best.

Consider how you are allocating tasks and aim to match them with individual skill and preference to maximise the quality and effectiveness of the outcome.


You may be daunted by the prospect of managing with less. Consider that your team are likely to be feeling at best, similarly daunted and at worst extremely anxious about their job security and / or the requirement to take on additional work. Think carefully about how and what you communicate. Put simply, it will be important to gain the trust of your team through open and honest communication and listen and act upon the views of the team. Discuss the impact of reduced resource.

Aim for a common understanding that the objective is not to manage ‘more of the same with less’.

The message is that we can ‘manage better with less’.

Are you up to the challenge?

Gardner et al (1986) Handbook of strategic planning
Peters, T & Waterman (1982) ‘In Search of Excellence’ Harper Collins
Locke (1968) ‘Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives’ Organizational behavior and human performance, (3)2: 157-189
Covey, S (1989) ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Simon & Schuster UK
Koch, R (1999) ‘The 80/20 principle: the secret to achieving more with less’ Doubleday publishing group

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