The boss wants a cut of 20%; so what's the next step for Marvin?

I've been friends for a long time with a guy we'll call Marvin Blotnick. He was flying home from Chicago the other day after two tough days at a corporate senior management meeting. Marvin was stressed. He said every executive there was asked to do scenario planning, which meant Marvin had to come back with two new budgets, one reflecting a 10% cut, the other 20%.

I've been friends for a long time with a guy we'll call Marvin Blotnick. He was flying home from Chicago the other day after two tough days at a corporate senior management meeting. Marvin was stressed. He said every executive there was asked to do scenario planning, which meant Marvin had to come back with two new budgets, one reflecting a 10% cut, the other 20%.

Marvin is the global communications head at Couldashouldawoulda Enterprises, a US-based producer of industrial appliances. In his 10 years with the company, he's been through his fair share of budget reviews.

But Marvin's boss, the new president and COO, is being blunt and demanding. His focus now: immediately achieve notable productivity gains and expense reductions.

Marvin was very anxious on the flight. He wondered: How do I meet the growing demands the company places on my organization, yet be a team player and come back with constructive ways to run a leaner organization?

Here's a roadmap for Marvin:

  • On the left side of one sheet of paper, list and prioritize the company's business goals for the next 12 to 24 months. If it's important, it goes on the list.
  • Now, on the right side, prioritize the goals for the communications organization. Be sure top executives would agree; this exercise is to focus on business priority support. Check for goal alignment.
  • Force rank all of your department's work. Carefully evaluate the ratio of priority impact: time/resources consumed. It will take time to inventory the work and assess it, but it's worth it. Now cut the bottom 10%. If it's good enough for Jack Welch, it's good enough for Marvin.
  • Now, re-evaluate the remaining 90%. Is it being done efficiently? Are you working smart, e.g. do you access other markets for research and analysis to achieve cost, time, and quality advantages? Can you cut unnecessary internal reporting? Can you reduce the number of internal meetings to ensure more work actually gets done?
  • Take a hard look at your staff. Cuts are never easy. Good times accommodate mediocrity, but now it's time to be tough. If people aren't excellent performers and they've been given a fair opportunity, move them out.
  • Manage your staff as an internal professional services firm. Assign budgets, track productivity, measure results, and implement internal client accountability.
  • Assess agency partnerships. Do you have the right number of firms? Are they 100% focused on achieving your new priority goals? Is their performance worthy of at least a 4 on a five-point scale?

If Marvin moves forward on each one of the above action items, he will build an efficient, sustainable organization that's always focused on business priorities. His scenario planning will be a lot easier and his next plane ride home from Chicago should be a lot smoother.

Bob Feldman is CEO of Feldman & Partners, a communications management consulting firm. He can be reached at bob@feldmanandpartners.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate comms function.

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