Making the best of what we’ve got

Cutting our cloth: on making a little go a long way

Published on February 22, 2019

Along with uncertainty, lack of resource is often cited as a factor in limiting change. It can seem impossible to start making changes because we face some sort of constraint (usually time or money). What can we do at times like this?

I wonder if the problem is that when we are faced with a large-scale problem, we often assume the solution has to be heavyweight too. This can lead us into focussing on what can’t be done because of what we haven’t got.

If we turn this assumption on its head and consider that even small changes – if they’re the right ones – can have an impact on big problems, then perhaps we can start making progress.

When time is short or finance is restricted, what can we do to start change? The following suggestions are worth considering if you want to make changes in the way you work, without the wherewithal for significant outlay.

  • The first thing to consider is what we can stop doing to free up some energy for work elsewhere. I once worked with an excellent team who took a very pro-active and energetic approach to taking on board changes to their delivery in light of the regulatory body’s changing recommendations about best practice. Problems came up after a while when we realised that they hadn’t taken time to assess what they could stop doing as a result of the new recommendations. It’s something that is often overlooked, but by simply asking the question ‘what can you stop doing?’ we can encourage teams to see their work with fresh eyes.
  • Where the first suggestion may free up energy, sometimes we can identify things that we can stop doing which give us time and make improvements to the situation we’re trying to change. A reverse brainstorming exercise can also be a useful opportunity for a hard pressed team to let off steam.
  • A third option will take a small amount of resource, but it can be helpful to break the problem we’re facing down into the smallest possible tasks and address them incrementally over time. By steadily picking off a small item every day, I have seen teams burn down a seemingly impossible list of things to do over a surprising short period of time. This can often be a way of prompting action in other areas. By starting something, however small, we will be making progress and momentum builds for other changes to happen.
  • When progress really doesn’t seem possible, it might be worth having a look over the issue that’s causing trouble to see whether it is worth waiting out the storm; even if a situation doesn’t change, the context around it will. Sometimes, realising we don’t need to do anything for something to resolve itself can free up a bit of energy to use on making something else happen.
  • The last suggestion is the simplest but most difficult suggestion of all. It is best summarised by Maya Angelou’s quote to the effect that ‘If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude’, and sometimes this can provide us with a way forward when resources are in short supply. Changing the way we think about things can be the work of minutes, and doesn’t cost anything at all.

I’m all for doing things efficiently as well as effectively, so get in touch to let me know how it goes. Or share in the comments your tips for cutting your coat according to your cloth.