Efficient versus Effective

Efficent versus EffectiveEfficient vs. Effective – there is sometimes a very big difference between the two. So much so, that I have really come to cringe every time I hear the word efficiency. It’s not really that there is anything wrong with becoming more efficient, but what I find is that far too many executives major in the minors when it comes to efficiency. Let me ask you a question – Have you become so efficient that you’ve rendered yourself ineffective? At an organizational level have you focused so much on process improvements and incremental gains that you’ve failed to recognize opportunity and innovate? Are you efficient or effective, or do you know?

I really don’t have a problem with increasing efficiency so long as the tail doesn’t start wagging the dog. If efficiency starts diluting productivity rather than increasing it something is woefully amiss. This is more than a semantical issue – it’s become a systemic problem with many individuals and organizations. As I’ve said many times before, things don’t always have to boil down to either/or types of decisions – not everything must end-up on the altar of sacrificial decisioning. With the proper perspective and focus it is quite possible to be both efficient and effective.

If you’re not tracking with me yet, ask yourself the following questions: Do you send an email when you should make a phone call, or worse, do you hide behind the phone when you should be face-to-face? Do your sophisticated screening processes do such a great job of filtering that blind you to new opportunities and critical information? Here’s the thing – if your desk is so clean you don’t have anything to work on then you might be focusing on the wrong thing…it might be time to make a bit of a mess.

What I want you to recognize is that sometimes the least efficient thing can be lead to the most productive outcome. A great example of this would be carving out time in your already too busy schedule to mentor someone in your organization with great potential. Clearly this endeavor will take time, and may not yield immediate results, but the payoff organizationally, relationally, culturally, and in terms of future contribution can be huge.

Bottom line…check your motivations. When you ever so efficiently cross something off your to-do list has it moved you farther away from, or closer to, putting points on the board? Better yet, are the items on your to-do list even the right items to begin with? Lastly, I’ll leave you with this reminder – leadership is not about how many emails, memos and transmittals are sent under your signature – it’s about relationships, service, and engagement.

As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below…

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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“, and Managing Director of N2Growth.

Mike Myatt




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  1. Rick Ladd on November 4, 2010 at 11:13 am

    This may be one of the more misunderstood distinctions in business. As you rightly point out, it is not merely semantics. My dear, departed friend Russell Ackoff used to point out that when you become more efficient at doing the wrong thing, you become “wronger”! I like your take as well. Too much concentration on efficiency can blind us to doing the things that make sense and will increase our effectiveness which is, after all, the desired result of efficiency. Great post! Thanks.

  2. Scott on November 4, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I agree with you totally, pursuit of efficiency can be a limiting pursuit. It is a pursuit that assumes we know now how great we can become. What I mean is I can measure how far I am missing what I am aiming for. I am 96% efficient. Which means I can only get 4% better. Where as, if perfection is not my goal, but improvement everywhere, well in that case I might blow by 100% to be performing at a different level, where I am now only 80% efficient, but I am doing twice as much as when I was at 96%!

  3. Paul on November 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Very valuable information. A colleague of mine cautions against trading “buildable” hours for “billable” hours. I like the expression “perfection is the enemy of good enough”. I think it makes people feel good to perfect the small things, and avoid the important, and often more messing things. One more Quote, Michelangelo, when choosing assistants to complete epic works, used to say, “don’t find me someone who’s good, find me someone who’s fast”.

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