Question 35 of 365: How should we react to budget cuts?

The pressure of budget concerns is absolutely crushing us right now. It is the reverberating hum in all conversations. In meetings is reaches climax, because the only reason we have staff meetings now is to discuss budget issues. They are all that matters to the people who sit in those chairs. And why not? We are talking about jobs, livelihoods, and careers. What could be more important than that?

My initial reaction to budget cuts is to say that I have a unique enough skill set that will save me from getting the ax. I react by distancing myself from anyone who does not have such a “skill set”. This is just as much of a defense mechanism as those who are trying to huddle next to one another for warmth and solidarity. My reaction to bad news is to state that I am above it, while others reactions range from disbelief, to intense debate, to outright overworking. I don’t think that any of these reactions are better than any other.

But, perhaps there is a strategic reaction that can be found somewhere in there. It is possible that among all of the gossip and unending rumors, there lies a truth about what to do when you realize that people’s jobs are on the line (including yours). As much as anyone can really have an answer, here is mine: make lots and lots of noise. Ignore all gossip and start talking about what matters to you. Get into the conversation with and about content because it is one of the only times that other people will be talking about everything but content.

When budget cuts are discussed, real work gets pushed to the side. Don’t let it. Stay on message. I’m not talking about being insensitive to the plight of your fellow worker, but I am talking about bringing things to the table that you are working on. Send out e-mail about projects you are a part of and ask for opinions and help. Blog about what it is that you are doing. Have conversations with anyone who will listen about what is going on in your district, your company, or your organization. Whenever anyone brings up the budget, you can tell them something new about what you are developing. You are a fountain of stories about what you have done and are going to do. Tell those stories repeatedly.

If you make that kind of noise, you will be one of the only ones who looks collected and calm, even if you have never felt a more potent fear. If you approach people with content and questions, there is very little they can do but to respond in kind. Yet, you are not ignoring the problem. In fact, you are facing the problem head on. You are telling anyone who cares to listen what value you have and by involving other people, you are stating their value too. While this is not an original idea, it is one that I need to be reminded of every day that I sit in on a meeting listening to an interim super-intendant talk about the “difficult economy” or “tough times.”

THIS is a part of my noise making effort. While it may not save my job, I know that someone will hear it and start a conversation of their own. If I can create a space that continues to work despite the paralyzing gridlock that happens when you turn people into numbers on a spreadsheet, then I will be truly “saved” in a much larger sense.

I did not get into my position in order to feel job security. Nor did I start my work to steer clear of controversy. I did, however, start in order to create change. And that is what I plan to do until someone tells me I can’t do it from here anymore.

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