"If you think you're understaffed, you might be, but you might not be. I'm not making light of the situation, but the way you think about staffing has a huge influence on how you deal with staffing shortages.
There's something called Parkinson's principle and here's what it says, it says 'work expands to the time available'. If we have an hour available for a meeting, the meeting tends to take an hour, even if we can do it in only 30 minutes. And staffing is going to be the same way.
If you have eight positions allocated to you, you design your function to rely on eight people. Anybody would. But then two people quit and one goes out on leave and all of a sudden, we're understaffed. But are we really understaffed?
There's another principle called the Pareto principle. You may know it is the 80/20 rule. It says that 80% of the outputs come from 20% of the inputs. Think about that meeting again. Most people agree that 80% of the meeting's value happens in about 20% of the discussion. Now, I'm not saying that 80% of the work your team does can be done by 20% of your staff. But what if 80% of the work could be done by 50% of the staff? It buys you some flexibility and it buys you some peace of mind. And it should be a goal of every manager.
Now, how do you do that? Think of what you do if you're cutting an hour long meeting in half, you'd be clear upfront on changes that needed to be made. You'd prioritize and eliminate all non-essential topics. You eliminate the small talk and any wasted time, and you emphasize teamwork and communication. If you want to get 80% of your work done with 50% of the people, you do the same thing. You'd make the case for change and plan for the changes upfront. You'd prioritize the work that's important and urgent, and you'd be very specific as to what that work is.
In an hour long meeting, you can spend time on stuff that's not as urgent or as important. In a 30-minute meeting, you can't. Everyone's work day is spent on tasks that aren't as important or urgent as we'd like to think. Keep the Parkinson's and the Pareto principle in mind. Don't assume that you need 100% of your people to get 100% of the work done. If you do, you're always going to feel short staffed."
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