Around the proverbial water cooler, I have heard business owners discussing the reduction of expenses and, of course, we always end up on the topic of reduction of staff. During this last period of business expansion, we have steadily been increasing our staff due to increased sales volume, service support and ability to handle all of the administrative paperwork that flies in the wake of success. One of the biggest mistakes a business owner can make is to think about letting go the highest paid, most experienced employees for a less experienced, yet less expensive replacement. If you remember reading “Good to Great,” Collins maintains that it is essential to have the “right people on the bus” that will secure your long-term success. These talented people do the right things, at the right time, because it is the right thing to do, and usually without you having to micro-manage or browbeat them to get it done.

This small group of highly productive, self-motivated, experienced and, yes, usually a bit more expensive employees can do more with less in a faster amount of time than two or three lesser experienced folks. During this time where we must cut back to accommodate the reduced load, consider maintaining your “A” team and letting go the second and/or third string. These folks will be able to multi-task, have proven they are committed to you for the long haul, will usually willingly sacrifice personal gain knowing it is for a good cause (keeping the ship afloat) and will be able to take the ball and run with it (without your chasing them).

Here are some recommended Do’s and Don’ts to consider as you look to maximize your business team with less:


  • Reward, encourage and retain loyal customers.
  • Keep advertising. Market your servicing capability, rather than product availability.
  • In reducing staff, if you have a departmental director, manager and area managers, consider reducing the number of area managers and have everyone above take a step down until business volume increases.
  • Owners should, if capable, step back into an operational role, reducing one more supervisory position.
  • If letting go of personnel does not fit your paradigm, consider offering some creative solutions, such as job sharing, reduced work weeks or hours, or across the board % pay cuts (including yours).

Do Not:

  • Stop marketing or advertising. Review your current marketing strategy and use your money where it can make the most impact. But don’t disappear or your customers will think you have gone out of business.
  • Stop meeting regularly with your management team and/or employees. This is the time where you should be meeting daily, weekly and monthly to discuss current performance, strategies and adjustments to the market in a timely and proactive manner. Most importantly, giving them instant feedback for how they are succeeding.
  • Stop educating your employees. The more they know you believe in them enough to keep giving them the tools to improve their performance, the more they will do just that.
  • Stop leadership training for your management team. You need thinkers, problem solvers and partners in your executive team to help you navigate these tricky times.
  • Stop encouraging, motivating and rewarding top performers. Remember the Whale Done and Gung Ho concepts described by leadership expert Ken Blanchard, the end is not the total sum of a job well done. All progress should be recognized and even celebrated. It’s in difficult times like these that we need to feel the pat on the back, even if we are not creating the same results we have historically experienced.

And when all else fails, don’t give up. Remember the little engine that could and think to yourself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and eventually you will find yourself atop of the mountain, looking over the summit smiling to yourself saying, “I knew I could!”

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