Articles, Issues at Work, Leadership, Stress Management

Death by a Thousand Cuts …. and How to Avoid it

May 17, 2018, Author: bluesky6478

Death by a Thousand Cuts …. And how to avoid it

I have been working with a number of clients who have asked me to come in and help them. They have not been very specific about the issues but they know something has to change. The products are good and well received in the market, they have good people, the balance sheet is fairly healthy but something is not quite right.

As we work with them a number of key themes emerge

  1. There is no one issue that is really hurting them but when we look across the range of company activities we see they have allowed a number of these activities to damage them in a variety of ways. These range across all aspects from cultural to operational such as
    1. There may be meetings that are not as efficient as they should be or senior managers are still attending and so not developing and empowering their staff
    2. There may be projects that have drifted which, on closer examination, are a greater drain and strain that had been realised or certainly verbalised and acknowledged
    3. There may be a slight disconnect with staff “ which is inevitable as we grow”
  2. They is a decreasing sense of “Why.” Everyone needs a Why. The questions form the operational and tactical to the strategic and cultural. Why do I need to go to this meeting, why do we operate in this market, why are we better than our competitors and why do we come to work or what value does our work here have.
  3. Urgency – When we start the process there is a sense of we can add this Programme to our other activity and it can fit in around those. Very quickly this changes as the M.D. and/or senior managers realise and identify the damage that has been and is being done and the real scale of it. The big picture starts to take shape. The beneficial impacts of small changes become clear and the “why would we do this to ourselves” becomes “we need to stop injuring ourselves and do it now.”
  4. It becomes apparent that managers are “Prioritising the schedule rather than scheduling the priorities.” They have become reactive to events whether generated by clients, competitors, regulators or staff. There is a sense of being at the mercy of these events rather than being in control and driving a specific agenda or strategy.
  5. There is a sense of acceptance. Without realising it or being able to identify when it happened we seem to have lowered the bar particularly around people development, culture and standards of behaviour.
  6. People are tired and stressed. It is a feature that staff, particularly senior staff, are tired and stressed. They are out sure when it happened and now accept it is just part of corporate life. They do not seen all the behaviours and activity that they could change that contributes to this fatigue.
  7. There is a lack of joy and passion in what we do. We seem to have lost that spark which brought a belief and passion to what we did and also allowed for genuine joy to be taken on what we did.

So the question that remains as to what we can do stop inflicting and/or receiving these cuts which do so much damage to both the individual and the company.

  1. Recognise what is happening – This first point may seem self-evident but is at the heart of the issue. We need to take some time and space to look objectively at ourselves and our company to see where we have become complacent, disempowered and lacking in drive and ambition.
  2. Prioritise – We need to give this issue the time and resources to deal with the behaviours, norms and actions that have allowed and enabled us to injure ourselves in countless different ways. This also starts the signalling of the need to change and the expression of that need and desire
  3. Understand and articulate the Why – We need to remind ourselves of the Why. It may be that our why is to make money, be the best we can be, have a positive impact on people or communities. There can be a range of values and motivators and we need to take time to ensure we remind ourselves of them, check we are all aligned and articulate and reinforce them. Be ready to accept some people will start to self-select out as they may not share the common values
  4. Schedule our priorities – When we understand the why we can reassess our priorities whether it is developing our people, delighting customers, increasing turnover or margin etc. We can then identify how we can prioritise these knowing that if we do so the smaller issues often resolves themselves
  5. Respect or time and each other – When we truly respect our colleagues and, importantly, ourselves, we will no longer accept poor standards. We won’t tolerate people coming late to meetings or coming unprepared and will be prepared to articulate that. We will ask more of ourselves and others because we value ourselves and others.
  6. Allow time to recharge – Sometime we are tired because of the hours we work but, in my experience and observation, what tires and stresses us is creating input with no output. The meetings we go to with no output, the constant discussions about a poor performer or client with no action plan produced or delivered, dealing with people with different values – these are what make us tired. As we fix these so we will reenergise. In the short term just stop! Allow time to reassess priorities, review and remember our why. When we are told “I am too busy to do that” remember the context here is you are dying slowly and have a chance to address that and come out stronger. How can you not have time? What can be more important that survival and fulfilment?
  7. Actively build the culture – It is important to take time to actively build the culture. Identify and articulate it; ensure the décor is in keeping with it, ensure your decisions are in line with it; refer to it; ensure staff accept it and feel they can contribute to it. Breathe life into it constantly. This will bring joy back as people build trust and rapport. It creates an environment of passion and fun.


These activities will not seem challenging if the context is survival and fulfilment. The ability to take stock of where you are and drive improvement in a business that may already be successful is a gift denied to many. Appreciate and use the gift. The fulfilment of creating your own destiny allied to greater ease, less stress, more joy and passion will be huge.

I hope you enjoy the journey and I really would love to hear how you get on.

If you wish to learn more about this please contact me on 086 623 5551 or [email protected]