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Home No. 74: How to get buy-in after budget cuts

May 02

No. 74: How to get buy-in after budget cuts

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How to get buy-in after budget cuts

Reader question: Our university has cut some of its funding for our lab. It's a classic situation where we're going to have to "do more with less" How can I get buy-in from lab staffers to pull together during difficult times without hurting productivity?

Expert Comments: The most important thing: Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Acknowledge the situation and how your lab workers might feel about the situation. People can deal with hardship and are willing to adjust if they have accurate information. This is a time you can build trust with your team.

Here are some keys for leading your team:

  • Stay positive. Your employees’ attitude and mental state will feed off yours. Be the example that keeps then motivated and focused.

  • Communicate that university and lab funding is always up on the air. This is even truer now as the economy is not rebounding from the recession as quickly as everyone had anticipated. Everyone is predisposed to understanding how rough it is out there. All companies (private, corporate and especially non-profit) are struggling with the same challenge of asking everyone to do more with less. University labs are no different.

  • Enlist your managers to determine how to do more with less. They’ll be more engaged in the lab’s future if they’re involved in shaping it. Have them come up with individual plans for their teams. Be realistic about what must be done — sometimes there will be tradeoffs, delayed time lines and simplifying projects — that you cannot avoid.

  • A crucial part of buy-in comes with input from the people doing the work, that is, frontline staff. You don’t want to impose a solution where they had little to no input. Strong leaders won’t be afraid to survey staff candidly and ask for their suggestions to save time and expense. When people feel you have listened to them, they’re more likely to accept greater challenges.

  • Lastly, thank people for their increased efforts and their input. Follow up with lots of communication about how you’re meeting goals, and when appropriate, express pride in how they’re doing.

Expert comments by Valerie Grubb, president of Val Grubb & Associates, an operations consulting firm in New York.

Comments (3)
Research administrator
written by TK6200, May 02, 2011
There's something to be said for muddling through. Be realistic about what can be accomplished. A "can do" attitude is great, as long as you "can do" it. If people feel the goals are realistic, that they can be accomplished in the deadlines required, and you're honest, they'll probably understand.

What they won't understand is if there's a lack of communication, or they see things falling unevenly -- we're sacrificing over here, but they're not over there. It's important for everyone to share somewhat. My two cents.
written by David E. Harrison, May 09, 2011
The last expert comment sounds unrealistic. How can people already working unpaid overtime as hard as they can (as your group should be) increase efforts? You should be already working as efficiently as possible.
The hardest thing is to let good people go because funds are simply not available. While people who need security should not be in basic research jobs, honestly discuss with your team ideas for increasing funding, as well as for doing as much as possible with less.
If people may have to leave, warn them as soon as possible, and give them realistic estimates of their chances at least several months in advance.
Explain grant deadlines and funding dates and keep the people at risk up on how hard they should be looking for other jobs.
If you give only the 2 week notice required, you will be treating people as disposable employees rather than as full members of your team; all those on your team will notice.
written by Victor, May 09, 2011
The policies of some organizations forbid supervisors/managers to leak any information as to the employments prospects. People are typically laid off with a 60-min notice, not even two weeks. The supervisors face serious consequences if they found not to follow this policy. One of the possible explanation I heard was to prevent fired employeees from "going postal".

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