Growing up poor, I understand the scarcity mentality. Never having enough money makes you view the world in a particular way. There’s the sense of impermanence – what you have today likely won’t be there tomorrow. The constant fear of upheaval. Learning not to expect much. Decision-fatigue. You hear stories of hardship making you stronger, and maybe that’s true, but mostly it makes you anxious and unsettled, even when things are good.
The same is true in an organization. An atmosphere of scarcity leads to an underdeveloped infrastructure and undervalued employees. It also creates limiting behaviors across your team. Scarcity makes people risk-averse. It teaches them to protect what they have. To fear failure. And these are not characteristics you want in your team. You want your team focused on what they CAN do, not on what they don’t have. Your team needs the confidence to try new things, to risk failure, to shoot for crazy goals. Without that, you’re not going to get the results you need as a manager.
So how do you combat a culture of scarcity? You probably don’t have control over resource allocation decisions at an organizational level. But you can have an impact on how your team responds to their situation.
Start with yourself and recognize when you use scarcity language. Stop talking only about what you lack and focus on articulating what is possible. The “Yes, and…” technique is amazing for reframing your language and opening up creative possibilities. Share your grand vision and set bold goals.
We often respond to a sense of scarcity by assuming we need more help. Have you ever been on a team that didn’t feel overworked? I haven’t. We always assume that if we could just hire one more person – maybe an admin to pick up all the little tasks that bog us down – we could get on top of it. But work expands to fit the number of people there are to do it. So look for efficiencies within your current head count. Perhaps it’s training on time management. Or a workflow analysis to highlight non-value-added activities. Find the person on your team with the most effective approach to a process and then share that out. Encourage your team to learn from each other to foster a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment.
A scarcity mentality is fed by a lack of information. Human nature tends toward worst-case scenario thinking. When we don’t have all the details about a given situation, we fill in the blanks from our imagination. Or from past experience – Last time we fell short of quarterly numbers, there was a layoff. So this time, the same thing will happen. Avoid this by creating a culture of transparency and share as much information as you can with your staff. You may not control all the decisions that affect your team but you can earn their trust and respect by being a resource and an ally.
How about you? How have you experienced a culture of scarcity?
(Photo by Nick Kean via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)