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Doing More With Less – How Effective Leaders Show Up and Manage Up

How do great leaders keep their business moving forward when resources are insufficient? 

It’s becoming increasingly common for leaders to have to do more with less. In fact, in a 2024 industry-wide survey of ed-tech leaders, more than half of respondents said their company had conducted layoffs the previous year and 70% of those leaders were being asked to maintain the same productivity with fewer resources. "Doing More with Less." 

While there are often situations where teams need to dig deeper and give greater discretionary effort on a critical initiative, there is a finite number of hours in a day. Burning out your employees can have disastrous consequences.

"Doing More with Less" is actually about finding a way to have the greatest impact with limited resources.

When companies no longer have the resources to accomplish the work in front of them, the best leaders will focus on the following important steps.


Be Clear About Your Strategic Priorities 

Successfully managing through scarce resources requires you to be 100% aligned with your C-suite and your departmental teams on the rank order of your company’s strategic priorities (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.). If everything’s a priority, then nothing's a priority. That’s a recipe for failure. 

When priorities are unclear and tasks outnumber your resources, teams can quickly tailspin into feeling overwhelmed and gravitate towards focusing on the easiest or least stressful activities, rather than the ones most important to the business. Your team may feel like they’re making progress—because work is getting completed—but unless the right work is getting completed, you will fall short on your goals. 

Strong leaders anchor their work on a clear understanding of what’s most important to the business and focus their teams accordingly.


Clear the Path for Your Top Priority

When resources are scarce, your highest-priority initiative should be the last thing impacted. Lower-priority work should either be delayed or adjusted in scope in order to keep your top priority items on track. As you adjust resources, work your way down the list keeping the highest priority items intact, and redirecting resources from lower-priority initiatives.

This is going to force some difficult conversations as lower-priority items get delayed, rescoped or canceled. Stay true to your priorities and ensure that the most critical initiatives for the business get accomplished. Again, if everything’s a priority, then nothing's a priority.


Four Steps for Managing Up

When your company needs to "Do More with Less," it’s important to take a solutions-oriented approach. Unsuccessful leaders focus on stockpiling reasons why they can’t accomplish their goals with the available resources. Strong leaders figure out how to get things done and then effectively manage up to adjust expectations or secure more resources and time.  

  1. Start by outlining what you can accomplish with the available time/resources. Partially meeting the initial goals—or adjusting the timeline—might be an acceptable trade-off. As part of this step, take a careful look at your plans and ensure that you aren't over-delivering to the point of diminishing returns. Doing so may affect your ability to resource other key aspects of the business. 
  2. Outline the additional time/resources required to accomplish the full scope of the initiative(s). Be sure to include specific details on what time/resources are needed, offer context regarding why they are necessary, and provide data on the anticipated ROI. You'll be using this information to make your business case later on.
  3. Examine your lower-priority initiatives to determine if you can rescope, reschedule or redirect resources towards your higher priority items. Reducing or eliminating lower-priority initiatives may be a reasonable trade-off for the business, particularly if the ROI is not as compelling as your top priority initiatives.
  4. Make a recommendation for how you’d like to proceed. By remaining focused on your top priorities, measuring the gap in time/resources, and identifying ways to redirect resources, you’ve given your organization the best opportunity to carefully weigh the trade-offs. Don't just present options; actively recommend a course of action to your manager or colleagues based on your knowledge, experience, and your understanding of the macro-issues affecting the business. Remember: the ability to evaluate a business scenario, articulate the risks and benefits of alternative paths, and make a strong recommendation are the foundational skills required for successful leadership and future advancement. 


Communicate Up, Down and Across

Adjusting scope, redistributing resources and changing timelines always entail compromises and nuanced trade-offs. Some initiatives will be affected more than others, but almost all of these changes will have impacts further downstream. Be conscious of the cross-functional interdependencies in your organization and how these adjustments may create ripples across departments. If you redirect resources to your top priorities but create massive disruption in doing so, you may ultimately jeopardize your overall success. 

Communicating effectively at all levels—up, down, and across—is critical throughout this process as you conduct your situational analysis, form your recommendations and ultimately put your plans into place. Ideally, programmatic decisions of this kind should not come as a surprise when they are rolled out. Work to ensure that your colleagues (up/down/across) feel as though they’ve had a voice in the process to inform these decisions and that the potential impact on their teams has been taken into consideration. 


Moving the Business Forward

“Doing More with Less” is a reality for the post-ESSER ed-tech industry. But in these situations, teams can easily get overwhelmed, frustrated and pessimistic if they don’t have a systematic way to find a solution. Strong leaders will be able to move the business forward by focusing on what they can accomplish and by continuing to identify ways to redirect resources towards the company’s top priorities. When leadership examines the situation through this lens, the decisions about ROI and where to invest time and energy become much simpler. This begins with leaders—at every level of management—bringing clarity to the situation and a shared commitment to embrace change.