2013 02-17 Frustrated Office Worker iStock_000015900242XSmallWhen the “great recession” began, companies got lean and they went there quickly. This worked, for employers, owners and employees.  Now 3+ years into recovery, lean continues while sales have grown. The result is increased profits.  So….what’s the issue?

I have been hearing a troubling refrain lately. I began hearing this from middle managers in large public companies I work with; and I am now hearing it from small and midsize companies.

Middle Managers say it like this:  “My team is exhausted and the workload continues to increase. I am struggling with how to become more efficient than we are and I am seeing signs that we are becoming less effective”.

High Performing employees put it this way: “The saying used to be, the best thing you can do for a high performing employee was terminate a low performing employee. I don’t feel this way anymore. In fact, quite the opposite. When anyone leaves, I groan. I groan, because I know there is going to be more work for me and I am struggling to get the work I already have done”.

As business leaders and owners, I encourage you to ask:

  • Are my middle managers and high performing employees saying similar things?
  • Am I listening?
  • Am I perhaps too lean? What are the risks to production, client servicing, morale and ultimately profitability if I am?

Elisa K. Spain


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  • Pete Langas

    Many of us went lean with the recession and we found two things…it was a good way to cut low performers who shouldn’t have been with the organization anyway. Also, it was a way to get lean to weather the storm. The recession brought less sales for most and so being lean via cutting low performers actually lined up well. The people left may have worked a little harder, but most of us found we could do what we needed with less. Now with the recovery, we need to ramp back up. Smart people got ahead of this or will get ahead by poaching overworked folks at other companies.

    • Elisa Spain

      Thank you for your comments. Your point about getting ahead of the recovery is critical. My sense is we tend to move faster to get ahead of a downturn than to get ahead of opportunity.

  • Andy

    I’m hoping this post is an indicator of some good news for jobs. Yes, for many businesses, it’s time to hire. We’ve added four people this year (although only two were new positions) and it’s a relief for everyone. There is a limit to lean!

    Thanks for the great post, Elisa.

    • Elisa Spain

      Thank you for sharing your experience, congratulations on getting ahead and hiring so that you retain your key people. In terms of jobs, I am certainly hearing a war for talent once again. The sticky unemployment on the other hand, is a subject for another post.

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