Why Efficiency isn't Always Efficient...

My dictionary defines efficient as "performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; having and using requisite knowledge, skill, and industry." That sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Who wouldn't want to work in the best possible manner, wasting as little time as possible? Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

But what is efficiency taken all by itself? A highly efficient motor is great, but if you simply hook it up to your Christmas lawn decorations to keep Rudolf rotating, are you making good use of that efficiency?

High efficiency loudspeakers produce walls of sound from very little input, but if all you play through them is white noise, what's the point?

My dictionary also defines another word, effective.

adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result

See the difference?

Difference in Focus

Efficiency is all about the internals of the process. Are we doing the most with the least? Are we best utilizing our resources? Are we applying our skills and resources properly? Are we minimizing waste?

Effectiveness is all about externals. Are we producing the result we expect? Are we accomplishing a purpose?

Put the Motor to Work

Think about the following scenarios and about how being efficient might actually detract from being effective in a larger sense:

  • A project is due in two days and your teammate is behind on his work. You could easily complete the work yourself in an afternoon, or you could spend the rest of the day coaching your teammate, trying to instill those skills in him.
  • Your daughter wants to help you wash your windows. You know could do it in a fraction of the time yourself, or you could guide her through the process and spend extra time going back to fix the work she's done afterwards.
  • A dispute has arisen between two employees. You can see a simple solution immediately. Do you give it to them so they can get back to work, or do you guide them to look for resolution themselves?

Choosing effectiveness always seems to result in a short-term sacrifice of efficiency in the hope of longer term gains. By taking time now and instilling values, skills, and showing others that you value them enough to work with them, you help to create copies of yourself that will eventually enable you to work more effectively and efficiently.

So choosing to be effective now just might make you more efficient over the long haul.

Sounds like a great plan to me!

What do you think? What other tradeoffs can you see between being efficient and being effective? Leave a comment and tell us about it.