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Why our organizations need some slack


Over the past few decades, it has become increasingly popular to try and strip out the ‘fat’ from our organizations and make them as lean and efficient as possible.

We’ve seen a number of process improvement methodologies emerge that help to support us in this endeavor, whether it’s lean manufacturing, six sigma or total quality management.

On the surface it’s hard to dispute the value in making ourselves as efficient as possible.  Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir might disagree with this general premise however.

Their groundbreaking work on the psychology of scarcity has given us fresh insight into the various challenges facing those who have to make do with less than they need.

Whether that’s less money than is required, less time than we need or even less attention than we crave.  Being in this scarce state invokes changes to our thinking that often makes us much less effective.

Much of their work has been aimed at rethinking our approach to poverty, but their lessons apply equally well to organizational behavior.

Sometimes, this scarcity can be a definite bonus.  When we face a deadline for instance, we often focus more intently and are significantly more productive than faced with no such pressures.

Likewise, the definition of innovation often involves scarcity, as it emerges when we don’t have enough resources to do what we want to do.

Other times however, it can cause us to act and behave in a very sub-optimal way.  They talk about the IQ of those in a scarcity mindset dropped by around 10 points.

Building slack

The key to dealing with scarcity is having a buffer, or slack, that you can fall back on to manage unexpected events that you know are coming but don’t know when they’ll come.

One way of achieving this is to have a flexible workforce, which is where platforms such as ReadySub come in.

They’re supporting schools who want to quickly and easily find a substitute teacher at very short notice, thus allowing schools to cope with unforeseen circumstances.

Teachers join the platform free of charge, and then are notified of any schools that need a position filling.  The teacher can then apply for that position very quickly and easily from within the app.

On the other side, each school has a profile on the site, through which they post up any staffing requirements they have, including the location, length of the requirement and any other needs they may have.

The platform is available on iOS only at the moment, although Android and Windows versions are rolling out soon.  It’s an interesting way to allow organizations to build some slack into their staffing.

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