Reminder: The Challenge is to be both Efficient and Effective

The very thing that helps us be more efficient can stop us from being more effective. Management guru, Peter Drucker, used to ask groups, “If you had to pick between being more efficient or being more effective, which would you choose?” If you selected effectiveness over efficiency, you’re correct. Here’s how Drucker defines each: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” The ideal is to have both.

Efficiency by its definition indicates that we are able to save time, do things in less steps or save resources – all things that are usually rewarded in the workplace. Effectiveness separates you from the routine and helps you stand apart. However, effectiveness can take time, requires re-thinking the situation or can take us down a path we didn’t expect. There are no guarantees that the time you invest in being effective will have an immediate or any return on effort. In our attempt to be more effective, we can flounder or worse yet, abandon an idea or strategy all together. Who has time?

The more experience you have in your area of expertise, the more vulnerable you are to choosing efficiency. Why? Because efficiency doesn’t require re-assessing if you are doing the right thing. The goal is to improve how the same thing is done. As a creature of habit, it’s easy to fall into a pattern where we no longer look at things with fresh eyes. Challenging effectiveness is different. When you ask yourself, why am I/are we addressing this issue the same way? What could a different strategy be like? You get innovation.

I attended a meeting for CEOs recently where the guest speaker relayed a story about an experienced CIO and a young new hire. The CIO wanted to maintain the efficiency and security of the operation. The new hire saw an opportunity to create a new way of handling data that would boost efficiency and effectiveness. The CIO was closed to the suggestion. The new hire, (let’s call him Brad), asked if he worked on his own time, would the CIO be open to his new direction. After a lot of back and forth, the young man worked diligently on his own time for almost a year. The “seasoned” CIO still put up roadblocks. Brad sold his idea to Google for millions.

The point here isn’t to be closed to ideas or you will lose. The questions to ask ourselves are more like:

  • Am I continuing to see the work I/we do with curiosity? Or am I in a rut?
  • What are the most important priorities? What could we be doing to address them differently?
  • Am I/are we making time to innovate?