The efficiency-effectiveness motif

When you fit bulbs onto lamp-posts along the vast stretches of an express way, the way to get the job done quick and fast is one after the other. The bulky crane-like contraption of a vehicle  lumbers along as if nodding in agreement. Hardly something to think about in this set procedure.

Indisputably efficient and alarmingly ineffective. Why so? Read on.

The efficiency and effectiveness motif is well-recognized by most in business and social enterprises. Peter Drucker laid it out for us. Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. He then admonishes us by saying “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all 

Effectiveness is the real deal. When the bulbs are fitted in a row, they start with the same shelf-life. They will blow out at more or less the same time, and plunge that patch of road into dangerous darkness for fast-moving traffic. The focus on effectiveness here leads us to the question,  “What is the purpose of setting up these lamp-posts? What is the right thing to do in going about the task so as to fulfill this purpose?”

The right thing would be to fit in bulbs at time-intervals that will ensure they don’t significantly darken the road. This might mean more rounds for putting them on; in other words; being deliberatively inefficient. But surely effective.

The challenge is in the way we set things up for ourselves as organizations. Hopefully, municipal agencies practice this discipline. Far more subtle is identifying the same efficiency-effectiveness motif in tasks perceived to be clinically efficient, like the intake of a sizable batch of fresh MBA recruits or a performance appraisal process.

Since it makes the job of everyone involved easier and ‘efficient’, the company plans to induct everyone in an impressive orientation program. An effective question is, what  opportunities lie in rethinking the way we organize influx of fresh talent? This might lead to the idea of a pilot batch of those willing to join early or a staggered induction of the batch.

There can be so much to gain. We get an opportunity to grasp the distinctive character of this batch. We can renegotiate the trade-off between a generalized program & customized one. The talent management or the L&D team gets early bird advantage in figuring out how best to equip this batch to perform.The line of thought is nothing earth-shattering.And so gets buried in the dust of time.

Efficiency is exalted as a deity in the succession of rituals, year after year. Rituals do not gather dust especially when they are easy to perform.

To regain the focus on effectiveness, we need to ask, ” What is the purpose of getting in fresh MBA recruits? What is the right thing to do in going about the task so as to fulfill this purpose?” Learning from phased-in inductions can help in making adaptations for each successive batch.

Onto the ritual of performance appraisal. A line-manager conveniently blocks the second half of his day for three back-to-back performance appraisals. One after the another. Highly efficient. Finishing it in one go.

He can schedule it in a way that allows for him to really process & reflect on an individual session and create his own learning curve for the next one. Inefficient on the face of it. And here, he gives himself a chance to step back, create the dots that can later be connected. But, how does one begin to become mindfully inefficient? So much easier to….

To become effective in an ever changing world will inevitably make us inefficient. Most companies and organizations are wedded to the comfort of ‘measurable’ efficiency to reinforce a self-serving sense of control. But as Drucker says, results lie outside the organization. The results give us another chance to acknowledge the lesson – there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Effectiveness is the real deal.

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