Is Grumbling Your First Response To Cutbacks?

If senior management cuts your budget, says no to replacing broken equipment, or reduces your headcount, what is the first feeling that wells up inside you? Irritation? Anger? Panic? A sense of unfairness? Probably not gratitude.

A situation on the home front recently triggered my thinking on this topic. When I opened my refrigerator a few weeks ago, the typical chill was absent.

The milk had curdled. The freezer smelled like dead fish. Melted ice cream dripped through the shelves, and previously frozen bread dough had started to rise, exploding out of its packaging.

A few choice expletives fleeted through my mind as I surveyed the mess. I was not mumbling in gratitude as I tossed over a hundred dollars of ruined food into the garbage and wiped sticky goop from the freezer drawer. And I was not brimming with excitement when I learned that we either needed to remodel the kitchen or wait a month for a special-order fridge to fit our current space.

In the ensuing days, however, frustration gave way to resignation and eventually to acceptance and a desire to explore the experience. In hindsight, I found myself wishing that my initial reaction to our dead refrigerator had been a sense of adventure, not dread.

Next time you face a workplace cutback, consider these four points:

1. Adversity Is A Team-Building Opportunity - After discovering that we would be waiting a month for a permanent solution, our family members had a brainstorming session. What could we adjust on a day-to-day basis to meet our food storage needs?

2. Adversity Offers A Chance To Get Creative - I once read that creativity is a product of boundaries and constraints, not unlimited budgets and freedoms. Our kids would have been pleased with three restaurant meals a day, but we decided to look only at options that would cost the same as or less than what we typically pay for food in a month.

3. Take Time To Examine & Reflect - I’m perpetually curious. The lack of refrigerator led me to wonder, “How many people in the world actually have mechanical refrigeration?” According to recent estimates, somewhere between 97.8 and 99 percent of U.S. households have a fridge, including most impoverished families. It’s something we think of as a necessity.

In contrast, it’s an aspirational purchase in India. According to India’s most recent census data (2011), only 11.04 percent of rural households have a refrigerator. In some areas, electricity is spotty, meaning there isn’t always power to run appliances.

I was also fascinated to find a small but growing number of people in the U.S. who are voluntarily giving up refrigerators to reduce their carbon footprints and live a greener lifestyle.

I ended up exploring a number of topics I hadn’t previously considered - what U.S. poverty really looks like; the differences in market penetration for various types of technology (not just refrigerators); the carbon footprint aspects of the technologies we use; and new ways to think about food purchasing and preparation.

In the end, we discovered a refrigerator is a nice-to-have item, not an essential.

4. Adversity Presents An Occasion To Rethink Assumptions & Priorities - You can resist change and expend energy complaining about it or trying to maintain the status quo. Or you can flow with a change and use it as a chance for experimentation and evaluating how you do things.

During our time without a fridge, I went to the store at 6 a.m. each day to purchase ice and only the groceries needed for that day. Living just fine with what fits in a camping cooler, we realized we don’t need six different salad dressings and 10 cooking sauces. Previously, we had assumed our bulk shopping was more economical and convenient than once-a-day trips to the supermarket, but we discovered this wasn’t true for our family. We spent much less on groceries by purchasing a small amount each day and had far less food waste.

A Cutback Is A Change

Change shakes things up and forces you to revisit your habits, and that’s a good outcome. So, before you balk at a resource reduction and before you petition to keep the status quo, step back and consider what you might learn from the changed circumstances. You may discover a new and better way of doing business.