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.

2 comments:

  1. Usually your blogs really speak very positively to me and although I don’t comment much (besides my “like” click in Facebook), I think you articulate many difficult concepts very well.

    In this case, I agree that effective and efficient ARE different and believe that we should focus on effective first, then focus on efficient - if there are worthwhile efficiencies to be found without sacrificing effectiveness. However, I disagree with your examples because you mix an assumed best method along with effectiveness and make “efficient” seem like a bad concept. I see this too often where we focus on an action vice an outcome, and I am sure you didn’t mean it that way. Although the actions you list above under “effective” are good, it clouds the vision of the end-state and could stifle creativity. I see it more as:

    Getting to work on time:

    Effective: ANY method that allows you to arrive at work safe and on time (barring illegality).
    Efficient: getting to work as using as little time/gas/stress/shortest route/etc. as possible (pick your efficiency(ies))

    Learning from a book...

    Effective: ANY method that allows the reader to grasp the author’s intended concept (or causes the reader to think, etc. – many possible effects here)
    Efficient: whatever method takes the least time/effort/etc. for the particular reader (including emailed book abstracts :) )

    Losing Weight...

    Effective: ANY method where weight loss occurs safely
    Efficient: weight loss occurs safely with the least time/money/stress/etc. (again, pick your efficiency(ies))

    Similarly with the closing examples – they are really recommended ACTIONS with unstated EFFECTS:

    - Reporting seniors personally delivering mid-term counseling and eval/FITREP debriefs is not efficient, but it is effective... (with the effect of accurately communicating the message of the mid-term counseling and the fact that the senior cares enough about the counseling and the counselee to be present – but this could be done other ways depending on the relationship between the two)

    - Personally training/coaching/mentoring our future reliefs is not efficient, but it is effective... (but this is likely effective – at passing on a legacy that is (hopefully) positive – AND efficient – because who better to train a relief than the expert in the job)

    - 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...

    The last two could be effective AND efficient, effective OR efficient, or neither effective nor efficient depending on the implementation. There is no defined goal or endstate in the last two, they are just competing methods that may be effective in some scenarios and not in others (e.g., public school vs. home schooling).

    So as I said in the beginning, I agree with the starting premise, then got confused by the examples and the conclusion that seemed to relegate “efficient” to the realm of bad ideas. I believe “effective” and “efficient” are both good and complementary concepts, with effective the most important focus, but efficient (i.e., automating tasks that free up low-density/high-demand analysts to focus on yet-unsolved problems) is just as critical to success.

    Cheers, Brian

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  2. Two of the many reasons I share is to improve upon my communication skills and to engage in conversation in hopes of learning with others. Thanks for responding in such a way as to feed both desires. For what it is worth, I agree with most of what you shared in your comment. I in no way meant to imply that being efficient is bad, nor do I assume the examples I listed of effective behavior as "best". I offered a few examples of effective/efficient behavior and in no way meant it to be all inclusive. Sometimes a message gets lost in the specificity, so well done…I like your version better.

    As far as the examples of inefficient actions, they were merely examples of things I do that others might see as effective but dismiss because they are inefficient. Who makes the time to sit down with every direct report? Who makes the time to mentor as many people as they come in contact? Who makes the time to engage peers serving in far off places? Someone who truly cares about the people with whom they serve and who is primarily concerned about working on the organization vice the often mundane tasks associated with their overly specific job description.

    You nailed it in that any action I offered could be efficient and/or effective or neither depending on implementation. My push is that we strive to be effective in the most efficient way possible, vice accepting the level of effectiveness that the most efficient means is able to deliver (The most efficient way of coin things 1/2 way is to not do it at all). I may be wrong (happens every day), but I believe we are saying the same things differently. Would love to see you share more of your thoughts in public forums and your wisdom with the rest of the team. Too few make the time to share..

    I write with no expectation of everyone agreeing, nor do I profess to be a model communicator. I merely write because I care too much to sit on the sidelines.

    Thanks again for your comment!

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