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Are You Efficient or Effective?

Striving for Both

I heard a fitness expert talk about how we can become efficient at certain movements even when the movements are not effective in improving our fitness. An example was using helper muscles instead of the intended larger muscles to accomplish specific movements. You can perform the movements and become really efficient at them, but you're not improving your fitness because you're not using the larger, correct muscles. Focusing on efficiency in this case can even cause joint injury over time.

There is a parallel between physical fitness and how we work with respect to efficiency and effectiveness. It's quite possible for us to be very efficient at our work but lose, or never achieve, effectiveness.

What's the difference between efficiency and effectiveness? Efficiency is about producing results without wasting materials, time, or energy. Effectiveness is about being successful or achieving results that you want. The definitions are similar, but the nuance is plain. When you're efficient, you're focused on not wasting resources, but when you're effective, you're focused on the right results.

In the ideal workplace, everyone exhibits both qualities. Wouldn't it be great to be doing the right things AND doing them correctly and without wasting time, money, and effort?

The typical organization isn't ideal. Most people are very busy, working really hard, completing a lot of tasks. They've become proficient at getting loads of stuff done with limited resources in a very short time. Their customers, however, both external and internal, are often not satisfied. The complaints are varied, but they center around the work done being insufficient or missing a key component. The team is efficient but not effective.

We've all also seen the flip side. I've had colleagues who seemed to get their work done. When it was finished, it was superb. But the delay usually cost us in terms of a potential customer who walked away thinking that we didn't know what we were doing or critical time to market, allowing a competitor to catch up. The colleague was effective but not efficient.

So, how can we be efficient AND effective?

As a leader, I advised my more perfectionist team members to abide by the 80% rule. I knew that their 80% was probably closer to 95% for most of us, so the work product would still be great. That usually ensured that the work was effective, meeting the expectations and targets, and efficient, delivered in an amount of time that was acceptable to the customer.

For the team members who valued efficiency the most, I guided them to work in stages. There was a draft, a review, a redo (rewrite, added design work, or whatever else was needed), then at least one more review before completion. This helped to ensure that the work was not just completed on time but also delivered the quality and depth needed to satisfy the customer.

It's sometimes a tough call to make to achieve the right level of effectiveness to also meet efficiency goals. But when you do, it's magic for your customers.

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