by Anand Sanwal I'm a huge proponent of thoughtful, surgical and ongoing cost optimization -- not the stuff we read about today which is reactive and hatchet-like in most organizations.  People like Tom Peters, who I wrote about in my last post, seem to agree with this viewpoint as well. 

When I talk to organizations, they universally decry the idea of quick-hit efforts to cut costs and insist they take a very thoughtful and surgical approach.  However, after we dig into what's being done, it becomes obvious that the efforts are reactive and far from surgical.  While consultants may come in to put "lipstick on the pig", the efforts are typically characterized by high degrees of politicized decision-making and horse-trading and little focus on distinguishing between strategic and non-strategic expenses.

So with that said, if companies will be cutting somewhat indiscriminately, what is an employee to do -- especially finance employees who may be especially vulnerable in organizations that undertake SG&A reviews.  Compounding the problem is that with the slowing economy, there may actually be less work to do.

In an effort to help employees justify their existence, below are my suggestions on what you can do to look busy when the cost-cutting goblins are lurking.  The key is to look busy, but that's not the only thing.  So here are some tips that may help you stay off the cost-cutting radar.

  1. Come in earlier than your boss and stay later
  2. Plan lots of meetings, prepare the agenda and then send out followup emails which spell out lots of nebulous next steps
  3. Keep your desk a bit messy with lots of papers
  4. When you're boss drops by to ask a question, tell him or her that you've got to make a quick call but will come by in a few minutes
  5. Talk about how you feel the long-term prospects of the organization are very solid and throw in some language about remaining customer-centric, customer value propositions and being value-added.  Suggest that you start to do work to plan for when the down-turn ends so your company can be best positioned.
  6. Get up-to-date on the latest jargon and throw words out like leverage, synergy and always ensure that everyone is "on the same page"
  7. Get a screen blocker so people cannot see you on gmail or instant messenger.  Better yet, keep lots of documents open on your desktop.  Extra points for impressive powerpoints and large excel spreadsheets.
  8. Send emails late at night.
  9. Have meetings with friends in other parts of the organization and try to learn a thing or two that you can drop into conversation with your boss so you can look informed

Ultimately, the best way to look busy is probably to actually be busy.  One word of caution - if you're boss is someone who may be vulnerable in a cost-cutting effort, make sure you don't overshadow them.  They may perceive you as a risk.

Best of luck avoiding that hatchet.