Saturday, July 30, 2011

Seeking Inefficiencies

We see it all of the time and last week I read and heard it repeatedly, the terms "effective" and "efficient" used as if they were synonyms with the assumption that an efficient process is a de facto effective process. Yes, they sound pretty when used together and they roll off the tongue nicely. Go ahead and say it, "Our process improvement initiatives will help us to become more effective and efficient." See. Now consider the definitions...

Effective - Successful in producing a desired or intended result.
Efficient - Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort.

I offer that by focusing our efforts on being both, we make incremental improvements at best and, more often than not, we allow our goal of being efficient to trump our need to be effective. We've all heard the old adage, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." That is to say, we should be doing everything with a purpose and that purpose is measured first and foremost by its effectiveness. Sometimes we achieve greater effectiveness by seeking efficiencies, but often times we find the two driving desires may start us down a singular path but they quickly diverge, leading us toward conflicting courses of action.

Learning from a book...
Effective Actions - Read it, take notes and talk about it
Efficient Actions - Audio Book, Book Abstract or Cliff Notes

Losing Weight...
Effective Actions - Working out and eating right over an extended period of time
Efficient Actions - Liposuction, fad diets, starvation

Getting to work on time...
Effective Actions - Get up well before work, eat healthy breakfast, drive the speed limit
Efficient Actions - Get up at the last minute possible and exceed the speed limit

In this fiscal environment, our military is being asked with greater frequency to find more efficient ways to do all that we currently do, and then some. As we focus more and more on creating efficiencies, our effectiveness is diminished. Those of us who are members of "The Information Dominance Corps" are able to point to ways we are continually becoming more efficient, as we partner with other communities with complementary core competencies. The challenge is finding specific contributions that demonstrate we are more effective.

If being efficient negatively affects our ability to be effective, maybe we shouldn't do that something. Maybe we should close that business line down altogether, divert resources to other somethings, and ensure we do those somethings in the most effective way possible. At the same time, there are many instances where we should migrate toward being even more inefficient in the name of being more effective. And there is no greater example where seeking inefficiencies should be the encouraged behavior than in the area of leadership.

- Reporting seniors personally delivering mid-term counseling and eval/FITREP debriefs is not efficient, but it is effective...
- Personally training/coaching/mentoring our future reliefs is not efficient, but it is effective...
- Creating ways to personally connect with peers and subordinates is not efficient, but it is effective...
- Parents personally educating their children in favor of public education is not efficient, but it is effective...

Let's be effective using the most efficient means, but let's be effective first and foremost, as we maintain or raise our standards. It's OK to divest as we admit we no longer have the means to satisfy all of our desirements; It's paramount that we appropriately invest in our true requirements; It's OK to "waste time" for the good of the team.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Please Say "Rats!"

Over the last two months, my son has been prepring for his roles as both a rat and a child in the Pensacola Little Theater's production of The Pied Piper of Hammelin. The production has since ended, but before it did, I had the pleasure of watching it on three occassions. Though the most enjoyable part of the performance for me was watching his every move (even the times he chose to make faces on stage in an effort to get me to laugh...mission accomplished), even a simple story like this initiated thoughtful reflection on my daily life.

Early in the play, the Mayor of Hammelin Town makes it very clear to the citizens that the rats infesting the town will go away on their own if everyone chooses to ignore them. At the same time, visitors won't even notice the rats if the word is not uttered. Using such logic, he went as far as to make the word "Rats" illegal. "Don't say rats!" was the town's motto. Though most follow his direction and refuse to say "the forbidden word", a few choose to speak up and remind all that the rat problem is real and getting worse. The majority of the citizens tell these outspoken individuals to be quiet, but to no avail. These same individuals decide enough is enough and demand the mayor take action before the tourists refuse to return and the townspeople pick up and leave. The Mayor is disturbed by the unruly few who choose to acknowledge the problem and though he admits that the rats do exist, he chooses to do nothing about it, asking others to do the same..."Don't say rats!"

Those of us familiar with the story know the Pied Piper addresses and ultimately solves the problem. As I watched and laughed about how flawed the Mayor's logic was, I couldn't help but see parallel examples in my professional life.

- Do we believe ignoring a problem fixes anything?
- Do we tell those willing to speak up and make a case for meaningful action that they need to go along with our charade and pretend all is well?
- Do we merely tell our seniors of the problem without attempting to fix it at our level through personal initiative?

We need to speak up when we see rats, encourage others to do the same, and personally address the problem as much as we can before portraying ourselves as helpless victims. It is one thing to acknowledge there is a problem, it is far more to do something about it. To be so unaware as to not know we are surrounded by rats is bad enough; To know there are rats and choose to do nothing about it is far worse. We need not wait on a Pied Piper to rid us of our problem, but if we do, we must be prepared to pay him. If we are not, we might want to think about leaving town.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Work - Play Alignment

"Work - Life Balance", we've heard the phrase many times and each time my stomach turns. Either the intended message is completely miscommunicated or the primary assumption that one's work and life have to be at conflict is flawed. According to wikipedia, the phrase describes the prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) on the one hand and "life" (Health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) on the other. Just using the term "balance" to describe the relationship between work and life demonstrates that the individual using the phrase believes that work and life are opposing forces. Consequently, their lot in life is to play the role of fulcrum, keeping the lever from touching the ground in either direction, which in essence prevents the other end of the lever from reaching the heights it could and likely should.

I have been known to publicly declare that I "work to live" as opposed to those hard chargers who give the appearance that they "live to work". That logic, is equally flawed. I have grown to acknowledge that work is part of life and my objective is to optimize "Work - Play Alignment". If life is full of "Have Tos" and "Want Tos", I'd like my "Have Tos" to look a lot like my "Want Tos". In essence, I strive to be "at play" when I am "at work" and there are times when my wife believes I am "at work" when I am home "at play". When I am not at work, I choose to surround myself with people I enjoy, doing things that make me smile, and creating both meaningful and shared memories. At this point in time, I feel pretty good about stating that to be my reality. As I think about how I spend the bulk of my days (at work), I realize that I am surrounded by people whom I enjoy, while I do things that make me smile and add many good times to my memory bank. Weird? Evidently, my work and play overlap quite a bit.

Each week I send out a book abstract to my Shipmates at NIOC Pensacola. Last week, I sent one out on the book Life Matters. One of the results was a nice exchange with a valued colleague on the term "balance" used in this context. He offered the "Yin Yang" model where life is the entire circle, "Yin" represents work life, and "Yang" depicts personal life, acknowledging the two forces were both complementary at times and opposing at others. That visual works much better than a fulcrum and reenforces that life is the sum of work and play, not the counterbalance to work.

Those who seek "Work - Life Balance" either don't enjoy what they do for a living, are not satisfied with their personal life, or are ambivalent all of the way around. Please don't be content playing the roll of fulcrum in an unbalanced life. Instead, make your work a reflection of your passions, surround yourself with people you enjoy, and give yourself and those around you reason to smile (note: It is possible to do all three without changing your current employer). I learned long ago that "Who Begets What", so when given the choice, I choose to start with WHO. Fortunately, my work and play have never been better aligned than they are right now. I know that when I move to the next duty station, I will need to proactively approach both aspects of life to reach the level of alignment (not balance) my family and I have grown to appreciate. If I am unable to do so, it won't be the play that is sacrificed, the work (or at least my approach to it) will need to be modified.