Federal Agencies: Still Do More with Less
Just last week I was doing some research for a project I’m working on when I came across this lead quote from a story in the Washington Post about the challenges facing the Federal government:
“Now more than ever, Federal workers are being told that they will be expected to do “more with less” for the foreseeable future.”
The article describes the steps many agencies are taking to increase efficiency and maintain critical citizen support functions in the face of shrinking budgets and fewer staff and it includes this line from an employee at the Department of Commerce:
“If it were possible to do more with less, eventually we would be doing everything with nothing.”
The article is from 2011. For more than half a decade Federal agencies have been challenged to meet increasing expectations for citizen services, improved citizen experience, and effective performance with declining resources. And the results from our survey captured in our report on Successful Change Management Practices in the Public Sector suggest that the trend will continue for at least the next three years. In fact, 85% of respondents from public sector organizations expect retaining talent to be a major driver of change over the next three years. However, 70% of those respondents also say they don’t anticipate negative impacts on productivity or performance due to shortages of talent, suggesting that those organizations have, indeed, discovered the secret to doing more with less.
But, given the long period of time when Federal agencies have had to navigate the complexities that come with fewer resources but greater expectations, it’s not a stretch to believe many agencies may be approaching a breaking point.
So, how can you avoid going over the edge and maintain productivity and performance with fewer resources? One key may be building organizational resilience. Resilience is the ability to effectively recover and thrive after facing stress, challenges, or adversity. Resilience is fostered by maintaining balance physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, and by keeping a strategic view of the work of the organization. Here are a few tips for building resilience in your organization:
- Clarify goals, expectations, and priorities – When the organization is clear about where you are heading and has guidance to help in making difficult decisions on priority work, there’s less stress and uncertainty.
- Focus on the positive – Identify and put energy towards the things the organization has power to influence. Maintain awareness of outside influences and environmental conditions that may impact the work of the organization, but don’t dwell on things you can’t change.
- Be realistic – Communicate openly about the reality of the situation and what limitations exist. Set reasonable expectations, and be clear when impediments to success exist that may ultimately limit the ability to achieve goals.
- Take time to invest – Pay attention to what’s happening in your organization and do frequent “pulse checks” to detect changes and risks early. Ask questions, listen, and critically examine what you hear. By gathering valuable information about what the organization, and in particular its workforce needs to be successful, you can head off potential risks before they impact results.
There’s clearly some fallacy built into the notion of asking agencies to do “more with less,” particularly after five (or more) years of the same mantra. But Federal agencies can remain productive and effective in resource-constrained environments. Building resilient individuals, teams, and organizations can help your organization thrive during change.
What techniques will you use to build resilience and maintain performance while dealing with reduced staff and challenges in recruiting new workers?